Tuna Sashimi Recipe!

Fresh Tuna Sashimi. Not an easy thing to find in BA. And after several years of not finding it you have to make a choice. Either stop moaning or do something about it. So I did. Turns out it’s pretty easy if you put your mind to it. Here is how to make it perfectly.

Simply rent one of these, somewhere like this.

Fish1Make sure you are well hydrated for the ensuing battle.

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Choose a lurid, psychedelic squid lure that you know tuna will just love!

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Now its time to put in the hard work. Actual fishing (and reeling) and yes these things are heavier than they look! Scoop out a few.

FishYou don’t get fresher than that!

Fish5Of course you need to make sure your lawyer (La Doctora) documents the whole thing so no one can accuse you of cheating.

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And then you just cut it up.
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Of course you need a highly trained, elegantly dressed, traditional japanese waiter with a barrel of sake.

Fish8And once you’ve drunk that, a little siesta might be in order. After all that was a lot of hard work!

Fish9Who’s making the Old Fashioneds when I awake?

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Fish Corner

la foto-23It’s winter in Buenos Aires. Except it’s not really. Yes we had three days where the temperature dropped to nearly zero. I used to laugh at the whining Argies in their polar outfits, claiming they were about to die. Now after four years here I have lost all resistance to climatic adversity, so I cry along with them.

Thank god it was only three days though, because this weekend involved a lot of parties and a several of them were held outside. While no Englishman would plan such a thing in the depths of winter, they are a bunch of optimists here. And obviously Papa Francis had got on the hotline and said hey, how can I explain the purgatory thing is only metaphorical if you keep punishing us with this diabolical cold? Basta! Turn the heat back on!! And so it warmed…. delightfully.

So despite Guantanamo style sleep deprivation, we were up again with the larks. Well around 2 pm actually, still in time for a nice shower and a walk to a suitable brunching spot. And it was sunny outside with that crisp cool seaside air that puts you in mind of crisp, cool, white wine and a bit of fish….or maybe a lot of fish? After all we’d danced off a billion calories at least.

As readers may know, my go to place for fish is the estimable Chipper, the only place in Buenos Aires where you can get crunchy battered, moist fish with all the trimmings and order seven desks, ten wardrobes, 7 bedheads and 14 bedside tables, to be delivered within six weeks please with a side order of pickled eggs. Actually, possibly the only place in the world you can do this!

But we walked a little vigorously, overshot the cross street and ended up approaching Chipper from the other side, which meant we had to pass La Pescadorita, situated a mere 50 yards away, on what now may reasonably be described as Fish Corner (Humbolt and Costa Rica). And we saw people eating a range of fishy delights and the corner was still bathed in sun and a chardonnay was definitely going to taste better drunk outside, so while we felt a little guilty communing with the competition, we rapidly rationalised it as entirely supportive market research and bagged ourselves a table.

If I seem a little effusive about encounters with piscine comestibles, it”s because it’s easier to arrange a Mormon marriage with Paraguayan triplets here, than find someone that can source a decent fish and then not destroy it in the cooking process. Other than the aforementioned, only Marcelo’s, Crizia and Damblee have ever tickled my fancy. However, one of my favourite food writers, Dan Perlman ( http://www.saltshaker.net/), had recently given LP a thumbs up for their seafood parrillada. I’m happy to report, strictly in terms of disciplined market research you understand  (I will never go there again unless heavily disguised), that La Pescadorita delivered in spades.

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A light, fresh Rutini Chardonnay, fit the bill. 2012, 9 months in French oak, not overpowering, well priced at 150 pesos. Just what we wanted (and you will notice from the photo that I don’t look too bad for a man that has partied for 30 hours out of the last 50???).

And while Dan had commented on the abundance of the parrillada, he’d eaten alone. We went for a little starter of chipirones, though we were so hungry we forgot to photograph them until they were nearly gone.

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Did I mention it was winter? And 4 pm? And still sunny? Like this…

image-10And so to the parrillada. Highlights were the abundance of juicy prawns, a perfectly cooked salmon fillet blasted with heat from below (crispy skinned, soft juicy flesh), more mini chipirones with tiny crunchy tentacles, a fat octopus tentacle (luscious) and a variety of fish fillets and scallops. More than enough for two for 240 peso and well seasoned with a variety of strongly flavoured sauces. We regretted having the starter as we failed to finish.

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Obviously we were feeling pretty content after such an admirable spread, so I popped over to Chipper to invite the guys over to share a little liquid desert of coffee and Amaretto. LD staff remained charming even though the place was officially closed, when we asked for another.

Conclusion? If you are looking for for marine sustenance, pop down to fish corner. All your needs will be catered for there, though when I asked my LD waitress whether she could knock up a bookcase for me, she looked a bit blank. Some people still don’t understand customer service.

Interior Design? Just let me buy the lighting! And buying art in Buenos Aires.

I think they call this a colour palette?

As readers of this blog may already be aware, I have been struggling to get in touch with my feminine side, a.k.a. my inner interior designer. While I had strong views on what The 5th Floor should end up looking like, I didn’t really have the roadmap to get me there. And while I intuitively knew what furniture I wanted, I couldn’t find it so realised I would have to have it made.

Luckily the Irish bird who runs the local fish and chip shop (yes we now have one in BA) said she’d take care of it, and as she has a way with cod, I had absolute confidence she would have a similar way with colours. When she told me that her boyfriend was a dab hand with a saw and a hammer (not necessarily in that order), I asked if he could whip me up 8 desks, 14 bedside tables, 7 mirrors, 7 bedheads, a load of cupboards and a few sundry other items, all to Art Deco designs and in a range of elaborate finishes.

“No problem, would you like salt and vinegar with that?” she replied.

As you can imagine it was a weight off my mind.

But a man has to take responsibility for something in this process, put his stamp on his creation so to speak, and strangely while spending months trawling through auction catalogues, markets and antique stores,  I have developed something of a passion for the lighting of the 30’s and 40’s (with possible deviation into the next decade if I’m feeling frisky). Deco chandeliers you might describe them as, lights that make a statement, retain an elegance that modernism slowly sort to erode but without the dripping crystals that either make you think of your grandparents or a Russian oligarch.

Indeed, now I can tell the difference between chrome and nickelled silver at a glance, appreciate the glow of alabaster and have developed a particular weakness for Murano glass, especially this one, the main living room light:

Living Room LightI was in two minds whether to post pictures of some of my other recent acquisitions. Would anyone really be interested? Would it seem either pretentious or a bit precious? A couple of things convinced me. The first felt like a little victory. La Doctora and I have a shared vice. Every now and then we pop into one of the 4 amazing shops in San Telmo belonging to one or other of the Guevara brothers. While apparently the brothers no longer talk, they are still the undoubted kings of high end Art Deco, growing as others wither, serving an almost exclusively international clientele (at least that is my presumption).

When we first visited for inspiration, we were immediately immersed in a one stop shop that provided all our furnishing needs. Then we asked for a few prices and realised that a couple of armchairs and a desk had blown our entire budget and that our guests would have to sit sharing them in the dark because we wouldn’t be able to afford the appropriate lighting. So we decided to go the “Americano” route. Light, small, comfortable furniture, whose retro charm is very fashionable here at the moment as people try and give some character to their increasingly modern and decreasingly sized, apartments.

“Ah,” said the bird from the fish and chip shop. “You’re trying to go for the set of “Mad Men” look?”

“No I’m bloody not,” I replied. “I’m trying to go for Buenos Aires, golden age elegance and Art Deco styling.” She smiled knowingly. I realised that the Americano was not going to cut it. I pulled a couple of photos of stuff I liked out of my back pocket and asked her to tell her boyfriend to get his hammer out.

So this weekend we went back to the Guevaras for a little look-see. And while we were still impressed we weren’t overawed. We listened quietly to their sales pitch, the provenance of the articles, the dates, the designers and then giggled at the prices. The reason being, we already own half of this stuff. They had two different chandeliers for sale that were identical to ones we had recently bought. On average they were selling them for 22 times the price we had paid. I went home and looked up dealer prices in New York and London. Even higher. I realised I had learnt a new profession, so the last 6 months in grubby antique stores has not been a waste of time. Throughout the war years Buenos Aires benefitted from its country’s enormous export capacity, and as 40’s design revolves back into fashion and Poteños move from elegant mansions into high-rise penthouses, there is lots of the good stuff on the market if you know where to look. Which now we do!

Secondly, I was contacted by someone who actually read my blog. He and his wife are interior designers coming for a stay in BA. It got me thinking about what they might be interested in. Maybe they too would like to see what lighting or furniture is available here, though for most it might be too bulky and difficult to ship. However, they should certainly have a look at some Argentine art.

The fact is, other than Quinquela Martin (who sadly is my favourite), early to mid 20th century art here is surprisingly affordable, and surprisingly good (at least to my tastes). The market for Argentine masters is actually quite liquid, but strangely doesn’t seem to increase much, at least in dollar terms. Buenos Aires is one of the few places where you can go to a national gallery or museum, browse through exhibitions of its greatest painters and then go to an auction house preview and discover comparable works that are actually within your price range. And unlike many “emerging markets,” Argentina’s artistic tradition and accompanying European style documentation makes issues such as provenance far more reliable. Further I would recommend the auction house previews as an excellent way to get a feel for the tastes of the private collectors of the era, and an idea of how Argentina then saw itself. Currently, you can acquire unique paintings by many of Argentina’s well known artists for a couple of thousand USD and upwards, while good limited edition serigraphs and agufuertes, start in the early hundreds. I suspect few are the tourists wandering round the Museo de Bellas Artes who find a favourite work and think “I’ll have one of them”, while in reality they could acquire something stunning for little more than the price of their plane ticket. Further, as long as the work is not over 100 years old there is apparently no problem exporting it.

Anyway, back to my own past months of acquisitiveness, and some photos for those who might be interested;

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This light now hangs at the top of the stairs, and frankly looks as though it has been there forever.

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Though it’s a lot bigger than it looks in the picture.

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This now hangs proudly in the bar, with a matching alabaster standard lamp.

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Something for a bedroom above.

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And another bedroom (don’t ask me why the sizes of the photos come out differently, I know about lights not technology).

la fotoAnd another, one of the classic designs.

So, I won’t bore you with the rest. After all there are quite a few rooms. Though the only modern ones are the studio bedroom and the dining room. My friend Gustavo is designing a far reaching and thus food illuminating, bronze sputnik for the latter.

la fotoAbove is his mock up.

I do occasionally ask myself whether my guests will care. Would they be equally happy with nice chrome circles above their heads. Am I doing this for the pleasure of my future clientele or to feed my new obsession.

Well the other thing I do care about is comfort, and during my banking days I stayed at too many cutting edge design hotels where the furniture looked cool but gave you a backache in 5 minutes. Not for me! So here are some of the things we are/ have been restoring.

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And it you really need to relax and put your feet up with a large scotch in hand see below;

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Just hoping mine doesn’t arrive with a resident blonde!

It’s frustrating when people ask you to send information about your hotel, but it is still a work in progress. We are opening in six weeks, but I wont have any marketing material before we do, as it isn’t quite finished yet. So for those of you with imagination, envisage the above accoutrements, installed in a place that looks like this;

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With an excellent breakfast included, and an owner who will make you the cocktail of your desires before you venture out in the evening and partners that know their way round the best that BsAs has to offer.

Are you ready to book?

Jesus creates, the fish and chip shop decorates!

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As regular readers of this blog will know, I was intelligent enough to choose an architect whose name suggests he is God’s right hand man, a handy thing in a relatively religious society when you need to get notoriously laid back Argentine suppliers to deliver on time! One presumes that if there is a real problem, we can get Francis to intervene. After all, what self respecting new Pope isn’t going to take a call from Jesus? A further advantage is that Jesus is a very good friend, the sort of guy that I can ring late in the evening (I call this praying) to discuss some entirely vital design feature that has just occurred to me, and he will actually reply. This never happened to me in all the years I was obliged to pray to Jesus in a cold chapel under a gothic abbey, at my resolutely uncomfortable Benedictine monastery boarding school.

But it appears that even Jesus has his limitations (no hate mail please). I wasn’t entirely convinced about his colour schemes. I was even less convinced about my own. Jesus is a structural guy. I have no visual imagination. What to do? Obviously go and eat somewhere to ponder the quandary. And fish is good for the brain and I had heard about Chipper, a new traditional fish and chip restaurant, and the sun was out, so off I trotted. And as I have previously mentioned in this blog, the fish and chips was excellent and the place was quiet as I had arrived well after the lunchtime rush, so I got chatting to Susan the Irish co-owner. And obviously, given the commercial chaos that is running a business in Buenos Aires, especially for a foreigner, I soon asked the question, ” So how the hell did you end up here?”

It turns out that Susan’s vocation has not always been to stare into the oily depths of the deep fat fryer. I might have difficulties with the very defined God thing, in the form of old man with beard etc, but I do have a feel for synchronicity. When Susan explained that she had been an interior designer working in New York, who had come over to work on a hotel in Recoleta, during which period she had fallen in love with The City and more importantly with Marcelo who was making all the furniture for said hotel, I knew I was onto something. “So you know about colours?” I asked.

“I like to think interior design is a little more sophisticated than that,” she replied.

“And Marcelo (who I had already worked out was a thoroughly good bloke), can make the furniture that I am having some difficulty finding?”

“Yes of course.”

Great, problem solved, consign all the responsibility to the guys at the local chippie! Who wouldn’t? I just hope that their fish and chip empire doesn’t take off too rapidly and that they deliver on the marvellous deco designs that they have come up with.

If they don’t, I know where they live!!!!

So some before and not quite after photos, as in more work in progress…..And with few lights in place all the illumination is natural.

Passage leading to the dining room, Before:

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And now, waiting for the floor to be polished:

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Dining room leading to terrace, Before:

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Now a sage green which should look great when the green marble floor gets polished:

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And look at the Andalusian terrace! Can you already imagine yourself feasting on asado from its parilla?

The Master Bedroom, Before:

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And Now:

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Master Bedroom, view to balcony, Before:

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And Now:

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The Living Room, Before:

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And Now (wait till the 75 year old oak parquet is polished up):

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The Bar and its terrace, Before:

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And Now (lacking the amazing bar/library that Susan has designed of course):

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And finally the biggest change, the old workshop which will now be the Studio Room, with its own deck for sun lovers, Before:

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And Now:

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So the decorating should be finished by the end of the month, God (currently in the bodily form of Sebastian, the Jefe of the painters) willing. The furniture should arrive a few weeks later. Of course this is Buenos Aires, so I didn’t bother to negotiate a penalty clause. As I mentioned I know where my designers live but more importantly I know where their restaurant is. If my hotel has no furniture, then I have no income, no money left and not much to do. But I like fish, especially their octopus dish (Pulpo a la Gallega -Pulpo is very expensive here). And being an Irish chippie they serve Jameson’s, which I also like, as do my friends. So rather than than sitting miserably in my unfurnished hotel, I intend to set up shop in their restaurant, at least for lunch and dinner. And invite friends, on my tab of course! Which I won’t have any money to pay.

Sounds like a penalty clause to me! What’s the betting they deliver on time?

Besos to Susan and Marcelo and if you are over here and suffering from meat overload go to their restaurant, Chipper.

If they look nervous and there is a drunken Brit in the corner with a bunch of friends you will know why…

So what do you expect for a hundred pesos?

Saturday was a long day. Feeling slightly jaded from the previous night’s Oasis Club 2nd Anniversary celebrations, we went to lunch with the creator of All Things and more specifically the creator of my little hostelry, Jesus, architect extraordinaire. He’d just arrived back in town so we had a lot to discuss, though little that was relevant to the actual project. We just like to talk and we hadn’t seen each other for some time. I suggested fish and chips at the excellent Chipper (Humboldt 1893). It was my second time there so I insisted that both Jesus and Veronica ate exactly the same as I had eaten the first time. Abadejo (cod or as close to it as you can get), chips, tartar sauce and a pint of freshly made ginger lemonade. Everything perfectly cooked, as good as any fish and chips I’ve had in the UK, and the abadejo seems to retain much more of its flavour and moistness encased as it is in a light crispy batter. 71 pesos for this combo meal, including the pleasure of sitting outside in the gentle autumn sun, being waited on by their very amenable staff. That’s value. I have not tried anything else from their menu and have no intention of ever doing so. I don’t really care about the chips even. I am scarred from my many mediocre fish eating experiences in BA, so will be happy to eat this quality-assured treat whenever a piscivorous urge hits me. I would strongly recommend you follow my lead.

I wouldn’t drink a coffee in a fish and chip shop in England and neither would I here; To each his speciality. But Jesus and I had several more hours of important talking to do, so we trotted round the corner in In Boca al Lupo (Bonpland 1965). Strong and short was what we were looking for and what we got along with a little tiramisu to share, just to make a rounded meal of it. Which it did perfectly and if you add the fish and chips and if we had stopped there, we could certainly claim to have eaten magnificently for under 100 pesos. Of course we didn’t stop there. Even though the afternoon was turning chillier, Enrico has added some nuclear powered outside heating to his pretty courtyard and it’s strong enough to banish Siberia’s most brutal chills. So we stripped down to t-shirts and decided to make sure the café served consistent quality by ordering another, along with a sticky amaretto, followed be a little whiskey followed by another little…..followed by a pequeño ultimo…, until it was 8pm and Jesus and I had fully caught up on important world news and the luggage handlers at the airport had decided they were no longer on strike, so he could reclaim his abandoned possessions and we could go home.

Not for long though, because despite the allure of curling up in front of a video for the rest of the evening, Veronica and I had a reservation. And as it was a closed door, invitation only, music event and we had been invited by a friend who was playing double base in the band, and they had made it clear that space was limited, and it was only a few blocks away, and we didn’t want to let the side down, we mini-siesta’d, failed to dress up, and were soon out the door again. Overall, we were glad we did. I understand closed-door restaurants and events used to form the staple of Cuban social life, where setting up legitimate businesses was fraught with problems. Here, it gives people a way to experiment without involving large capital outlays. They range from having the impromptu “onda” of a once a week conversion of someone’s living room, to an atmosphere of more permanence and planning. La Casa de Acevedo was certainly the former; Cuban roots but with a fully stocked bar; No cover charge; Great musicians, even if some of the repertoire wasn’t entirely my cup of tea; A little table for two with our names on. Good, simple, tasty, reasonably priced tapas; 100% Argentine guests (other than yours truly), all friendly and enthusiastic; Mixed drinks with generous pours at just 25 pesos a pop. To sum up, a few hours of solid entertainment, food and drink for slightly less than 100 pesos each (or 8 of your Great British Pounds milord) including tip.

Buenos Aires has two food festivals running simultaneously this week, the idea being to offer affordable introductions to some of the City’s top restaurants. I was charged with organising a lunch venue for myself and a couple of expat friends on Wednesday. Enthused by my prior 100 peso successes, I scoured the participants in the Spanish Ministry of Tourism sponsored festival and alighted on Hernán Gipponi’s eponymous restaurant (Soler 5862). A 99 peso, 3-course lunch being offered at what is reputedly one of BA’s gastronomic pace setters. A result I thought. I might add that while I have never eaten HG’s fabled brunch or idled my way through their 9 course tasting menu, I have attended their famous Friday happy hour, been impressed by the skill and inventiveness of their cocktail barman and eaten some of their excellent tapas, including their fabulous deep fried osso bucco mini-epanadas. That is to say, I was favourably disposed.

So what can I say without banging on like some Michelin inspector with Tourette’s syndrome. HG is a nice venue to go for a leisurely lunch, quiet, relaxed, with a view into the pretty garden. But the key word is leisurely. It’s fine if you have no plans for the rest of the afternoon. Service is unhurried. Linger over your coffee, when you finally get to that stage, for an hour or two if you feel inclined. No one will notice. It is not however, the place to go to eat Fabada Asturiana, which is sadly what I went to eat.

Despite the fact I have never been to Asturias, I probably know more about Fabada than anyone could be reasonably expected to know, unless they were born in Asturias and shared the region’s obsession with the dish. I have almost certainly spent more money perfecting my tutelage of this all-important staple than could reasonably be expected of a self-respecting Brit. I have faced the disconcerted gaze of English postman as they have handed me soggy packages of home made morcilla sausages made from blood, lovingly drained from a family pig, postmarked Gigón, the dish’s capital city.

To explain, I used to have an au pair called Sara. And as I didn’t have any kids she didn’t have much to do other than keep me happy and well fed. And she came from Gigón as did her pig murdering uncle and aunt and her chorizo expert mother. I cooked Sara a Cassoulet de Toulouse once and she got nearly homesick, explaining it was the tomato-ed up, Frenchiefied, version of her hometown’s more pork based delight.

I like anything with beans that have sucked up fat, so this was the basis of a common treaty. Aunty would send her morcillas, a cousin his chorizos, the rest of the family would scour the town for the best of the other ingredients and the poor postman would deliver the fragrant bundle over the course of a week. Then we would have fabada cooking night. Remember, this was before internet and therefore before skype. My occasionally homesick au pair would ring her mum who would relate to me (with Sara translating) in great detail the fabada cooking process: Step by step as if imparting great secrets! Of course, cooking a fabada takes a long time. You can’t hurry the stages.  So Sara would spend a happy few hours on the phone to her mum, with no worry about international call charges, and there was no point in me even writing down the recipe as it had been impressed on me that I would never find a suitable morcilla in London (it’s not available in morcilla-loving BA either), so I was entirely reliant on her family’s goodwill for the perfect product. If I wanted a good fabada, which I frequently did, I had to pay the price in outrageous telephone bills!

I think the above establishes my credentials as a judge of a Fabada Asturiana. So how did today’s measure up? Well, horror of horrors, it was deconstructed. As in, completely not the one-pot dish that it has traditionally been. As in, I think all its separate ingredients were cooked separately. And then served separately. I previously wrote about deconstructed cassoulet (https://the5thfloorba.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/ugly-food/). Deconstructed Fabada is worse. Cassoulet uses a lot of tomatoes in the sauce. Fabada none. Water, sweet paprika and saffron. If your beans haven’t had time to act as little sponges for the flavours of the ham, bacon, chorizo and morcilla, how do you get any flavour into them? The HG solution appeared to be a light vegetable stock, with a bit of the relevant flavourings infused. Cooked the night before, as any self-respecting abuela would do? No chance. Yes it did appear that the morcilla had come from Spain in the diplomatic bag, but it was a one inch slice. The ham was dry and hard and couldn’t be refreshed in the insipid jus.

What annoys me most is the labelling. Why call it a Fabada Asturiana when no one in Asturais would recognize it. You could call it Fabada light, or Fabada diet, or low fat Fabada or Fabada with no bloody flavour. And what is this snobbery that says, we are going to serve what was originally peasant food, a way of padding out the meats with a ton of beans but it will look smarter if it comes on various plates? In Spain it is no longer peasant food. The ingredients are expensive. It’s no longer the remnants of the family pig and the good restaurants cook it 24 hours in advance to give it time to mature. To be honest, there is no way to make it a pretty dish. If that’s what you care about, don’t cook it.

The other big fail on the menu side was the second choice of main course. My friends didn’t like the sound of fabada. Too beany. Fair enough, there was a choice. Sort of, as it was fabes con almejas. Same beans, with a clam and white wine sauce. Also from Asturias. Did I mention it was bean based? My friends certainly did, several times, beans or beans. Not everyone is a fan of beans. They weren’t.

So, disappointing and now despite rave reviews for their daily tasting menus, I’m concerned about going back. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m a peasant at heart. Maybe my cigarette and whiskey raddled palate demands strangely un-modern flavours. Does it eschew the light and sophisticated? Am I a dinosaur of reduction and condensation? However, I could still tell that our second bottle of wine was off, which by the way they graciously changed.

I’m tempted to say, well for 100 pesos what do you expect? But then I look back on my week the answer is, actually quite a lot. And I know where to get it.

So if I succumb to boredom this week I’ll take advantage of the BAFICI film festival. 400 films from all over the world, venues all over the city, 10-20 pesos a pop.

That should keep my budget on track!