Archive for June, 2015

Calentita! Street Food or Gourmet Nosh?

The Spring Festival came to its climactic ending with Calentita! Gibraltar’s annual food festival.  40 stalls served food to over 6000 people throughout the evening spread between Grand Casemates Square and Market Place.  The live kitchen with professional chefs was televised on big screens so that the crowd could see the food being prepared.  The Big Table which proved popular last year was expanded to allow a larger volume of eating traffic.

There were several innovations to the line up this year – the most impressive I suppose was the Argentinian Grill.  White coals were spread directly onto the ground between two bus shelters, atop of which rested a purpose made grill able to accommodate 100 spatchcocked chickens!  It was beautiful to see, a delight to smell and mouth-wateringly tantalising.  For a mere £5 I was treated to a protein boxful of Argentinian cuts of meat; churrasco, short ribs, bife de chorizo.  Apparently the stall sold out by 9:30pm!  Meat sweats imminent…
Argentinian GrillTwo of the food stalls that have been around since the inception of Calentita! 9 years ago continue to be the most popular with the crowds; the Moroccan and Indian food stalls.

The crowds were gathered around the Moroccan stall by 6:30pm awaiting the 7pm bell; salivating like Pavlovian dogs.  This stall always does well with hundreds of beef and chicken pinchitos cooking at any one time.  (Actually, I’ve never been able to tell whether they sell anything else?) I remember that last year people came directly off the beach in their swimwear and queued up for these delicious pinchitos!
IMG_8663When the bell rang at 7pm the stall I was nearest to was the Indian food stall.  I managed to beat the queues and went straight to the front whereupon I was served immediately.  There were several options to choose from.  For £5 I ordered a Cobra Beer and a chicken biryani.  The biryani was delicious and heavily scented with cardamom, cinnamon and clove; the chicken fall-off-the-bone tender.  I’m sure it was unintentional; the pots the biryani was served in fit snugly in the pint glass which meant I could walk around eating and drinking without the need to ask someone to hold my glass.  This meant I could continue walking around, soaking up the atmosphere whilst enjoying the food.  Vital at a food festival.

My last foodie experience of the evening came by the Gastronomic Tapas Tasting at El Capote.  £20 got you 5 tapas cooked in El Capote’s deconstructed/molecular gastronomy manner.  The dishes were: Snack, Sangria, Atún and BBQ.

For those of you who have either experienced these evenings at El Capote for yourself or have read my blogs/reviews previously you’ll know about this approach.  For those uninitiated, it is basically taking a dish, separating each of its constituent parts and presenting it in a way using new techniques.

IMG_8676SNACK – a dish of two parts, the first a pesto calentita served with toasted pinenuts and olive oil beads which was very nice however, not a true calentita in the purest sense of the word, the second  jamón de toro.  This ‘jamón’ was thinly sliced fatty tuna (ventresca) brushed with fat (good fat).  The fat tasted like Spanish jamón de pata negra so therefore acorn rendered fat.  And just like high end Spanish hams, the fat coated the inside of the mouth and made you question whether this was really cured ham or tuna.  Delicious.IMG_8673

SANGRIA – as Chef Lede called it, “Sangria Solida”.  A few cubes of sangria were served on ice and topped with zest of lime.  How was the sangria solidified and kept from melting I hear you ask?  Chef Lede infused watermelon cubes with homemade sangria.  The cubes were easy to bite into – they had the texture of watermelon and the sangria taste was clearly present – with a dash of spirits here and there and brought to life with the lime zest – dangerously refreshing!

IMG_8681ATÚN – diced tuna marinated in kimchi (a spicy Korean dressing with citrus notes) and served with red cherries and salmon roe.  This was my favourite of the five tapas – tuna from Barbate, Spain is of such a high quality that raw is how to best enjoy the product.  The kimchi dressing both spicy and sour a perfect counterpoint to the sweet, fruity cherry and salty roe.  Beautiful!  My greedy side wanted a bucket load of this dish, however, with rich tuna – less can sometimes be more.

BBQ – the most inventive of all the tapas and visually mindblowing! IMG_8682 Imagine 3 items on a plate sitting on tomato sauce.  Two are slow cooked cuts of meat, the other a piece of charcoal.  Yes, charcoal.  Then you are told that the charcoal is edible.  You poke and prod it with your fork and it really does have the look of charcoal – however when you cut into it, it has the texture of a scorched-roasted chestnut.  Its taste was much like a yam, or white sweet potato.  This was in fact yuca – not to be confused with the plant yucca!  I have since been informed that the milk white flesh was dyed black with food colouring to give it its distinctive charcoal look.

Check out my Calentita! 2015 movie:

So from street food to gourmet tapas, I left Calentita! a very happy man.  But it did make me wonder what Gibraltarians want to get out of this food festival.  Do we want new food experiences; new flavours that we haven’t been able to try in Gibraltar previously or are we just looking to fill our belly?  Judging by the queue surrounding the popular stalls, it is clear that people are going for food that is familiar to them.

Does this a food festival actually make?

Next year marks the 10th Anniversary of Calentita!  From its humble beginnings to an event that unites the community through food.  What foods would you like to see making an appearance next year?  What would you like to see to mark the occasion?  Please don’t say, “fireworks!”

AbdesalemWe all have our memories of The Moroccan Restaurant and its owner, chef, maitre-d, waiter and great Gibraltarian character that was Abdesalam.

Sadly, the surly-comic character that was Abdesalam passed away this week and since hearing of his passing, many turned to social media to pay their respects and proclaim his pinchitos to be “the best in town!”

For those that knew where his establishment was hidden, it was a little jewel tucked away behind the hustle and bustle of Main Street, in humble Turnbull’s Lane.  With only a few tables inside; 6 could sit comfortably, 8 would be a squeeze as no-one wanted to sit infront of the sliding door that unveiled the toilet!

In summer, Abdesalam would set up a couple of tables outside and even though this extended his restaurant he wouldn’t necessarily want the demand.  As Abdesalam’s approach was not that of a multi-tasking chef catering for several tables at a time.  His was a methodical table-by-table approach.  Pre-ordering was an advantage known only to some, otherwise, when you arrived he would take your order and start prepping and cooking especially for you; whoever arrived after you would have to wait until your table’s order was complete!

Not the sort of place to go to in a rush.

When at The Moroccan Restaurant it was like being stuck in a time machine where everything ran on Abdesalam-time – and everyone was the happier for it.

I remember once pre-ordering several pinchitos for a group of 6 of us (approx 30 pinchitos) and a family arrived off a cruiseHeiniken
ship and ordered chicken tagines and cous-cous.  They were on a tight schedule; we were having a leisurely lunch with the endless supply of green Heineken bottles from the self-service fridge!  The more anxious they became, the more thorough he seemed to stoke the BBQ to get the perfect white-hot charcoals to cook on. Thankfully they had been to Gibraltar before and had done all the tourist sites previously!

Several people have recalled Abdesalam’s mantra, “Para gente de familia, no borrachos!” (A family restaurant not for drunkards) and, “Esto es un restaurante, no un bar.” (This is a restaurant not a bar.)  As one of his pet peeves was people sitting at his tables drinking the cold drinks he was chilling for his clients.

pinchitosAbdesalam took great pride in providing you with his taste of Morocco whether it was a tagine (chicken or lamb), pinchitos (beef or chicken), cous-cous or even a simple tomato and onion salad.  He would tell me that the reason why his beef pinchitos were the best was because he would buy good quality beef (carne de calidad amigo!) and then meticulously trim off the excess fat before marinating in his ‘secret’ spice rub.

Not to everyone’s tastes; the decor with its chintzy relics of Morocco, dusty souvenirs of the red fez, babouche slippers and mint teapot variety adorning the cobwebbed shelves above the bar, the sliding door for the toilet that hung on a hinge and the service that ran on Abdeslam-time but I liked it, as did many.

I am sad to say that I will miss being sat outside on Turnbull’s Lane with a green bottle in my hand, watching Abdeslam stood in the archway to The Moroccan Restaurant,  fanning the flames of his pinchito bbq with his raffia fan, wafting the smoke over in my direction as if sat around a tuareg campfire in the Sahara, salivating at the smell of meat caramelising on hot coals…


My article as it appeared in Calentita! press.