Wednesday, June 27, 2018

MENU's Iberian Exploit 13. Toledo

It is so great when a plan comes together and it did on May Day. We had booked our AirBnB in Toledo in what looked like a central place and boy was it ever. A mansion block on a main road with a lift to the large and comfortable apartment which was just 300 meters from the escalator that takes you up the steep hill to the old town. There was safe, free parking in the area too, near the local park. Once we were settled in, it was time for some lunch and our landlord recommended this local restaurant, Reconquista. It was a Public Holiday, so many places in the area were closed. As you can see from the clothing worn in the photo below, the cold weather was back
A popular and busy bar too
We got a table just in time; it was 2 o’clock, the time most Spaniards seem to start lunch
Tapas of the day was baby elvers and aioli on bruschetta with good green olives. We suspect that these were rather like the crab sticks we are used to, not real elvers but made from gelatin, flavour and colouring but interesting and enjoyable. The glass of white wine was part of our Menu de Dia and was a Vino Blanco Verdejo; grapey, Chenin-like with perfume, greengages and pineapple, crisp acidity and a short finish
John chose the creamed soup for his starter which turned out to be a mushroom soup, so we swapped. Rich but not creamy, lots of puréed mushroom, Evidence of truffle oil on the top
Lynne had chosen the dish of beans and prawns. Well not quite prawns, just four tiny shrimps which topped a dish of long-cooked green and wax beans, carrots, aubergine, with interesting flavours of cumin and turmeric, with the plate dressed with a balsamic glaze
We both chose the same main course, an entrecote steak, nicely en point, well seared outside, seasoned with flaked salt and pink and juicy inside. It came with sliced potatoes in olive oil, some pimento, and half a lemon. The flavour was good, the steak a bit chewy, Lynne liked the good crisp fat, John did NOT
With our main course, we each had a glass of a Castilian Tempranillo from Toledo. Rich and full of vanilla oak, heady and lactic with nice spice, some floral notes and it went well with the steak for John. Lynne found it overpowering. Typically, it was included in the price of the meal
The waiter brought John a glass of this wine, a Vino Tinto from La Mancha, Mano à Mano. Not too tannic and with ripe cherry fruit, a hint of tomato and a little tobacco on the nose
For dessert we chose a flan and cheesecake, nice but unremarkable and we forgot to take photographs.  The bill, with a coffee for John
The view up to the old town from the road where we were staying. On the right, you can see the system of escalators which take people up and down the steep hill
The old city wall and the Alcazar
The view of the new town going up the escalator. We think this is such a clever innovation for a city on the top of a very steep hill
There is no way you would want to drive up here. No parking except for residents and small narrow streets which are a nightmare for driving, the buildings are often medieval. The best way to get around is to walk
And we do mean narrow
And it is not flat, even on top of the hill, you walk up hill and down dale the whole day

Blue sky above a city emblem
We headed for the Charles V Hotel which has a rooftop bar with a view and were shown, after a short wait, to a table on the side with great views of the old city and its rooftops, looking toward the Church of San Lorenzo 
Craft beer at the rooftop bar. €4 a pop for 330ml = ±R56 a glass, but we were only there once! You get a bowl of nibbles and a bowl of sweeties with the beers
Very good German style craft beer
For lovers of Iberian ham. Hams hanging from the ceiling of a Charcuterie shop 

And other local delicacies for sale below them
A shop selling marzipan
The Tagus river almost circles the city. At this point, we realised we were in the wrong place. It was at this point that we found that there are two escalators and we were at the top of the wrong one. You could not see the river from ours. We had another long exploratory walk through the town until we came to the right one
The following morning it was up to the old town again. The old city of Toledo dates back about 2000 years. It was built on top of a steep hill, a challenge for old, tired legs
To help, a seven stage escalator system was built on the east side of the city and another 
in the west to take pedestrians from the new city at the bottom of the hill up to the top. 
It was opened by King Juan Carlos I in 2000
This is the view of the street we were staying in. Our building is the second block down
Wandering through the old town and finding old palaces, churches and other historic buildings
Lots of tourists and lots of guided tours. We prefer to follow a map and just wander

Villas in the hills beyond
The beautiful ceiling of the foyer in the 15th Century Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes
The Tagus River, which reaches the sea at Lisbon
The memorial to Doménikos Theotokópoulos, widely known as the artist El Greco,
opposite the El Greco museum 
We wanted to go to his museum but need to let you know that not all is what it seems. It is in a house in the Jewish quarter in which they thought he once lived. It turns out that it is not his old house, but it has been turned into his museum. Entrance was free for us (not sure why but probably because we looked ancient and pensioners get in free of charge)
The house has been lovingly restored to represent the way
his house is believed to have looked in his time
Wine or olive oil amphora and lovely tiles
What they are really saying is that there is only one El Greco picture in the museum, 
most are elsewhere
No Smeg or Bosch equipment here! The reconstruction of the kitchen
A gallery above a beautiful carved door
And the paintings; copies of El Greco's work, other local artists and works of his pupils
Blue skies but still chilly
Looking down at the central courtyard
And finally we found the one el Greco painting - or was it? Painted to be placed high on a wall and observed from far below, the figures are elongated and out of proportion. The hands on his figures are so long and feminine
The room has a magnificent ceiling with Moorish influences
The garden is pretty with seating areas
And you can visit the cellars which have been excavated beneath the building.
Apparently they are all that remains of the palace built by Samuel ha Levi in the mid 14th Century.
He was the treasurer of king Pedro I "the Cruel" of Castile and founder 
of the Synagogue of El Transito in the Jewish Quarter of Toledo
Apparently some of these were water cisterns. They date back to medieval times
John thought we were going to have another café Menu del Dia. But Lynne thought it was time we pushed the boat out and she'd spotted this hotel restaurant on our way to the museum. The draw card was the 7 course degustation menu. She was missing complex food. We were reverting to type! This was our lunch menu. The name of the Restaurant is La Fabrica de Harinas (the flour factory)
We chatted to our nearest neighbours, a pleasant couple from Britain who were taking a similar trip to ours and who were staying in the hotel. It has a rather strange name: Hotel 5JR
The drinks menu
Our waitress, who was also the Sommelier, suggested we try two different white wines and so we had a glass of each and shared. The Blanco Nieva Verdejo had a grape almond whiff and was refreshing and clean, no challenge. The other packed a punch with full on fruit with some tannins, leesy with some slight bitterness on the end
The first course was supposed to be a tasting of different local Extra Virgin olive oils with bread. We were given only one. Good bread, a bland and safe olive oil, but not what was promised. This amuse was served first. A small pita bread topped with an aubergine purée, rather moreish and possibly Moorish, topped with a honey and date syrup and some chopped chives
The first course promised a salad topped with shaved Foie. The foie didn’t taste of anything but fat, definitely not gras as we know it. It was accompanied by red berries from a tin, tomatoes and grapes with a yoghurt and lime dressing. Strange, different, the 'foie' left a fatty coating on the mouth and we were grateful for the white wines 
Described as red tuna belly, the small shavings of fish were delightful but the three slivers disappeared in an instant. It was placed on wafer thin prawn crackers, guacamole, samphire, lime and lemon spheres and pansies. Absolutely delicious, but only a moment's satisfaction as it was so minute. More tuna please chef. That is the olive oil in the background
Squid, charcoal onion and Kimchi mayonnaise. One mini squid, cut in two, cooked beautifully in tempura batter on a bed of delicious caramelized sticky onion jam. The squid and the onion jam did not go together, but were good on their own. This came with some slightly acid (from the Kimchi pickle) pink mayonnaise reminiscent of prawn cocktail mayo with a rather unpleasant smell, so it was easy to avoid
Time for some red wine, a glass of the house Tempranillo. Incense wood, violets, herbs, mulberry; this spent 3 months in wood. Robust fruit on the palate, rhubarb and plums and dark berries, fizzy, bitter wood and grippy tannins on the end; the way Spain enjoys its reds
Venison loin, slightly smoked as it was grilled over an open fire. Very tender and well flavoured, salty, pink inside but a bit stringy, with tendons. Accompanied by baby corn, asparagus and baby carrots with a green apple purée (with no hint of apple or the raspberry that the menu promised)- it tasted more of vegetables
Time for dessert and there were two. We think the pastry chef is very talented. The white chocolate had been subjected to dry ice which gives it a puffy meringue-like consistency which melts in the mouth but still tastes of chocolate. The apple sorbet was sharp and showed green apple at its best, served with cream and some rather sharp early season berries - a lovely refreshing dessert
We feared this because of the menu description, what we got was life changing. Described as Manchego cheesecake with thyme ice cream on more red berries. It looked very deconstructed, with not a crumb in sight.  Blobs of what tasted like thickened old fashioned condensed milk (who doesn't like that?) interspersed with heady, savoury thyme ice cream.  The cheese was there but hiding well, Manchego is a robust hard cheese. We have to use Thyme in desserts more, it was absolutely fantastic in its thick creaminess. Lynne is seeking a recipe
We felt that the chefs are trying for a Michelin star or at least for attention, but with only one waitress for the whole restaurant at lunchtime, who was willing and pleasant but rushed off her feet, this won’t happen. Sad for the obvious talent in the kitchen. Despite some small off notes, we really enjoyed this meal. The bill was large as we expected, but worth the experience. And, yes, we did add a tip for our hard working waitress who really looked after us
Back to the streets to walk off lunch and see more of this historic city which was once the capital of Spain
One of the main Plazas
The spire of Toledo Cathedral. Very difficult to reproduce when photographed from a confined space. Thank you Photoshop. With a professional view camera it would have been easier. An SLR makes Photoshop a necessity
We found a tour of some catacombs showing Roman and later ruins beneath the city
And chanced on an open door with the wonderful smell of freshly worked wood. 
Invited inside, we saw this talented craftsman in his little workshop, working at his lathe 
and with pieces he has made on display

The Toledo turner at his lathe, turning a ball from a block made up from different 
coloured pieces of wood. So nice to see a real craftsman and his tools
The next morning it was time to leave Toledo to travel to Madrid.
John walked through the park to collect the car

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