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Down at the Hay Book festival on the Welsh border over the weekend, for once the sun shone brightly and, better still, I got my fix of authentic Spanish tapas. Que placer! How did that happen? Well Britain’s favourite Spanish chef, José PIzarro, pulled it off again – this time a pop-up tapas bar in the heart of literary England, just outside the village of Hay-on-Wye which, due to a long tradition of second-hand bookshops, spawned this festival 26 years ago.


The annual event hauls in top writers and thinkers from all over to chew the proverbial cud in huge marquees planted in verdant fields – often soggy. Behind them, the silhouette of the dramatic Black Mountains watches protectively over the verbal antics. So this year, knowing that tapas were on tap, I thought I’d prime myself by listening to one of my favourite contemporary authors, Lionel Shriver, talking about her latest book, Big Brother, and the subject of obesity (and no, I am not – yet).

You may have read enough press on it by now, but suffice to say Shriver is a magnetic speaker with her low, gruff voice, rivalled here by baby-pink ankle wellies and acute intelligence. Veering from the tragedy of her brother’s death from obesity to deadpan American humour, she easily subjugated the audience, particularly when she claimed that, despite all appearances (she’s tiny and very slim) and the “nutritional Nazi” character in her book, she’s actually pro-food.

According to Shriver, overeating stems from anger and vengeance, but boomerangs to become self-destructive. But “We can ruin the experience of eating by being grotesquely judgemental and neurotic about other people’s weight and our own – weight is not a measure of our value as human beings – that’s warped!”

So with those wise words ringing in my ears, I headed for José Pizarro’s tapas bar. Partly constructed out of potato crates (to be re-cycled at the end of the festival), it certainly had visual presence – so much so that I could hardly get to the bar through the massed punters, let alone take a decent photo.


But there was José himself, expertly carving a prime jamon ibérico while his assistants beavered away in the background, cooking up bean and chorizo stew, grilling Welsh lamb chops, slicing Manchego, sautéing pimientos de Padron, and lining up impeccably gooey-looking potato tortillas. Alhambra beer flowed beside a tempting line-up of Spanish wines, although for once I abstained in the interests of a clear head for the afternoon sessions.


When I managed a quick chat with José, I gathered that his offerings were going down a storm with the literati – in fact when I got down to some essential sampling I overheard a couple next to me commenting – “It’s better than that last bar we went to in Madrid”. Who knows which one that was, but I can guarantee that these were the real deal, made with top ingredients. However such success meant that five legs of jamon iberico were already reduced to three, and Manchego cheese was fast on its way to extinction (in Hay at least). Returning next day for some boquerones, I found they were already off the board – but replaced triumphantly by mega Cardinal prawns from Huelva – carabineros.


Here’s one ready to demolish, plus our jamon and the minimal remains of pimientos de Padron- but sorry, the succulent Welsh chops had already been devoured. My partner, not me. Note the compostable plates – wooden utensils out of sight: setting the sustainable example.


jamon Iberico


pimientos de Padron

For more on Pizarro’s excellent Bermondsey restaurant, see an earlier post of mine here

And if you are anywhere near Hay-on-Wye between now and June 2, then make a beeline for the potato crates.

[…] on his principles and life. And, one up on the better known Hay Festival (read my blogs about it here and here), at Charleston there is zero stress, as only one talk takes place at a time and they are […]

Pingback by Charleston Festival - & sunny Sussex | FionaDunlop on May 19, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

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