People flock to Jerez for three reasons: horses, flamenco and sherry bodegas, not necessarily in that order. All well and good, but this cheerful Andalucian city also offers a very decent sideline in tapas bars. So having just returned from a sherry refresher, I thought I’d flag up a few choice venues.
Remember that sherry doesn’t stop at ‘bone-dry Manzanilla’ (the male travel writer’s classic crutch, not mine) or ‘crisp fino‘ (idem). Vary your Jerez tipples by sipping a more complex oloroso or a nutty amontillado with bite – both good with strong cheese. Then hit the PX (Pedro Ximenez – delectably sticky & raisiny sweet) to toast a dessert. Sherry pairing with food is becoming an art – yet another gastro activity to add to the agenda. Chef Juan Muñoz at La Carbona has created a menu de maridaje that is well worth investigating.
Before the hit list, I’ll explain the word tabanco which crops up repeatedly in Jerez in place of ‘tapas bar’. Tabanco refers to an old sherry store where regulars would sample and buy the wine straight from the barrel. This developed into having a few bites, and ending up in full song while knuckle-tapping flamenco rhythms on the counter. That still happens – though the impromptu variety is rare.
The concept of this cross between tavern and wine shop allegedly goes back to the 17th c, proof being that Cervantes referred to a tabanco in a poem. 15 years ago they were fast approaching extinction, but their revival is gathering momentum. So viva el tabanco – and of course only in Jerez.
1. Tabanco Plateros calle Francos 1 – tel 956 104458 Plateros
Nothing fancy here, but what a buzz! This friendly tapas bar is on one of the prettiest squares in town, sprinkled with orange trees, and far from alone, so the area really heaves in the evening. On offer are straightforward cold tapas like chorizo, spicy cured sausage, mojama (that’s air-dried tuna, an acquired taste), melva (frigate mackerel) and some excellent cheeses – all in generous portions and washed down with sherries at 1€ a glass. Yes! Draught beer and spirits are also poured like there’s no tomorrow.
2. El Almacen (above)
calle Latorre 6, tel 696 426953
This cool wine-bar is in the heart of the pedestrian area, off the main drag. Exposed brick walls, a beamed ceiling, an endless bar top and low lighting give it smart, moody appeal. Go here for a fantastic choice of Spanish wines with imaginative tapas and raciones – try the cod fritters with wasabi mayo, octopus with taramasalata or foie gras on egg-bread toast. Interesting local wines include Barbazul (red) and Entrechuelos (white).
3. El Bichero
calle Pescaderia Vieja, 4 tel 956 342986 El Bichero
More a restaurant, but you can have tapas and wine early in the evening, or inside at the bar. On another of the city’s picturesque side-streets, this one time-cobbled, with its very own fish-shop opposite (above). Surprise surprise, El Bichero specialises in seafood, ultra-fresh, varied and simply prepared. Next door, another Jerez tapas institution, Bar Juanito has staggered on since the 1940s.
4. Las Cuadras (above)
Plaza de la Asuncion 2 tel 956 340096 Las Cuadras
This tabanco has to be the most popular in the old centre (I’m talking late 2014). The large, rambling bar started life as horse-stables, keeping a rustic air with flagstone floors and whitewashed walls hung with dozens of farming implements. Smokers go to heaven in the patio-garden, or at tables on the pretty plaza outside. Order grilled prawns from Sanlucar and drink draught beer, Tierra de Cadiz house wines or Italian Lambrusco.
5. Tabanco San Pablo
calle San Pablo 12, tel 956 338436 San Pablo
Atmospheric old bar from 1934, still family run, hidden down a narrow street beside the Plaza Arenal (though no pic I’m afraid). Outside tables, plenty of big barrels inside, popular, and an easy mix of ages. Good homemade tapas like Spanish tortilla, boquerones, pork scratchings and roast pork rolls, while Tio Pepe sherries, local wine and beer all flow harmoniously.
6. La Cruz Blanca
calle Consistorio 16 tel 956 324535 Cruz Blanca
On a strategic corner overlooking another leafy square, this busy yet welcoming café-bar-restaurant is conveniently open all day & evening. Order from their menu section called Picoteo (snacking) – mackerel with potatoes, cod croquetas with sweet mustard, sautéd Padron peppers (above) or crisp shrimp tortillita – all dependably tasty. It’s smart yet easy-going, with an army of pavement tables for watching Jerez society saunter by. Inside, designer touches make it a seductive place for a full meal.