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I have Spanish friends in Madrid whose opinion on food and wine I trust. Their gems of gastronomic wisdom have always opened my eyes to some gourmet delights of Spain that I maybe wouldn’t otherwise appreciate.
The latest of these gems came from a recent trip they made to this area a few weeks ago. I missed sharing the experience – I was on the road.
Now, I’ve always been a bit iffy about Barbate. Fantastic market, delicious El Campero, the discovery of Peña del Atún and well – that’s about it. I really thought I knew it all. Who dines on Barbate’s sea front? A parade of restaurants reminiscent of Benalmadena Costa. Not my idea of a gourmet treat.
They dined there. In Barbate, on the sea front. At Casa Rufo. “Casa where?” “Casa Rufo”
“Casa Rufo, just on the beach, with a incredible view of the sea with the Cabo Espinel just opposite. Tomate con Melva, huevas aliñadas, atun encebollado (what an escabeche) and barriga de atún a la plancha“
Seemingly this was all washed down with a bottle of Tierra Blanca. They drink Tierra Blanca!?!?!? Tierra Blanca is a young white wine of Cádiz. Low in alcohol and pretty low on excitement too. Made predominantly from the Palomino grape, this is how our wonderful Sherry starts its life. Fortify, age and blend the Palomino grape and miracles happen. But drinking it or Barbadillo, the other young white wine of Cádiz from Palomino grapes,has never been my idea of pleasure. Not that it’s a bad wine, I just prefer others.
I felt an education brewing, so yesterday, off I went to Barbate to find Casa Rufo and it’s glorious delights.
It wasn’t difficult to find Casa Rufo. It was closed. Desolate. Not even a bag of rubbish outside. I felt desolate. Standing there, in front of a dry oasis.
Several doors along, at the very beginning of the parade of restaurants, Bar Oscar caught my eye. No real reason other than it was small and busy. Then jumping out at me from the chalk blackboards hanging outside was “Arroz con Atun Rojo”. A few weeks earlier, I ate this for the very first time during the Ruta del Atun in Conil. It was extraordinarily delicious. So with one free table winking at us, we sat down at Casa Óscar and there followed one of the best lunches ever.
Crispy Croquetas of Pargo – succulent flakes of Pargo, mixed with cubes of tender boiled potatoes, chopped onion, all held together with small amount of béchamel, then dipped in flour and lightly fried. No breadcrumbs in sight. Possibly the best Croquetas ever.
Then the obligatory Ensalada Mixta. A plate full of the predictable crunchy lettuce, sun kissed tomatoes, new season’s sweet onion, tuna, corn etc but when drizzled with the table Olive Oil and Sherry vinegar it became clear that these ingredients were selected by someone who really cared.
And then the Arroz arrived. A steaming paella pan of shimmering orange liquid. A couple of stirs uncovered tender rice with small cubes of neatly diced Atun. After the first forkful I was in heaven. I bit the bullet and asked for a glass of Tierra Blanca but only Barbadillo was on offer. What a huge surprise! The combo of the fragrant young Barbadillo paired perfectly with the succulent sweetness of the Arroz con Atun Rojo.
I’m pretty sure this place was family run. A tiny kitchen behind curtains, immaculate loos, great olives, bread and Olive Oil. Brilliant service.
It wasn’t the smartest place but the food was spectacular in its simplicity and care. As was the setting. All consumed in front of the Almadraba trap of Barbate, set a short distance out at sea from the shore, its orange buoys bobbing around in the Atlantic waves.
And the bill for 2 people – Croquetas, Salad, Arroz con Atun Rojo, 3 x beers, 3 x glasses wine and 1 x coffee – a staggering €41.50
So thank you to my gastro gurus in Madrid for leading me to the most delicious lunch. Ignorance is not bliss. Casa Óscar is a bit of bliss that should have been on my radar years ago. And the view - oh, yes the view – right on the beach.