Warmed and well-fed in Puente Genil
Puente Genil (bridge over the river Genil) is a small town of about thirty thousand souls in Cordoba province, about forty minutes from Malaga on the AVE (high speed train).
As you watch the rows of olive trees flick past at 300kmh, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s all they produce around here (nationally there’s supposed to be six olive trees to every man, woman and child in Spain!) but in fact their most famous product is membrillo, or quince jelly, usually eaten as an accompaniment with manchego cheese).
They are also famous for their wines including ‘Joven’ (a young white wine that goes very well with fish, see below), ‘Fino’ (dry sherry) and Pedro Ximenez, pronounced /shimenei/ aka PX /pe shei/ (an intensely sweet sherry wine made with raisins), all of which come under the Montilla Morales DOC.
It is always with a slight sense of trepidation that I go to these small places for work as there could be absolutely nothing to do except slowly bake in 40 degree heat. In fact I had one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever had in Spain and I made a brace of friends in the four days I was here.
You’ll find many of the places I mention below on this Google map.
Unfortunately things did not get off to an auspicious start as the Hotel El Carmen, which my employer usually uses, was booked out with an olive oil convention. Instead I was billeted at Los Acacias, a basic two star on the edge of town, surrounded by petrol stations, supermarkets and retail outlets of various kinds. They have no pool (unlike the Carmen), no wi-fi in the rooms (although it’s free in the lounge) and no breakfast room.
However, there is a cafeteria attached to the hotel where you can get coffee and toast in the morning, which with a bit of olive oil and tomato pulp is all you really need. I never thought I’d blog the forecourt of a petrol station but that’s where the outside terrace of the cafe is. You can sit and enjoy an early morning cigarette with your Cafe con Leche while watching the lorries fill up with diesel! Only in Spain…
Things got much better from here on however. The walk into town is pretty grim but once you reach the centre, there is a long central street with plenty of bars and tapas joints. I was made very welcome at bar Las Dos Avenidas where I had a nightcap on my first night.
The best tapas bar on the main strip (near Placa Espana) according to the teachers is Etiqueta Negra, although I didn’t get to around to going. This was because I found the following place and went there every night…
Casa Pedro (Advanced A-), 5 Calle Poeta Carcia Lorca, Tel. 957 604 276 609 446, www.restaurantecasapedro.com
This restaurant isn’t particularly easy to find. Walk along the main street in the direction of the old town until you get to Placa Espana half way along (where C/Susana Benitez ends and Av. De Manuel Reina starts).
I asked a few of the old guys for general directions and they were very helpful, especially the last old boy who must have been around 80. He got slowly to his feet, took me by the shoulder and shuffled to the corner to point out the street I needed to take. He even came to check on me later in the restaurant and gave me his number in case I should need anything. You can’t get any friendlier than that. Thanks Isidrio!
Spain were winning 4-1 against South Korea when I came in so everyone was in good humour. Although there were a few people in the tapas bar, I was the first customer in the restaurant at 9.30, although a few more came in at after 10, the normal time for the evening meal here.
On my first evening I wanted to try all the local delicacies and didn’t match things up too well. To start I had the classic Salmorejo, (like a gazpacho but thickened with bread and garnished with diced ham and sliced hard-boiled egg, which was very good (B+).
I was actually pretty full by now but had to try another local speciality, Flamenquin, which was ham rolled around cheese and made into a long sausage, dipped in batter and deep-fried, which did nothing for me (C).
The saving grace was a bottle of ‘Joven’, a slightly effervescent white wine which was magical (A) but needed to go with seafood rather than meat. I went with this choice after been given a free glass of super dry Fino to compare (famous local producers are La Purisima and Bodegas Delgado). It was good (B) but give me a decent white any day.
The area is especially famous for its quince jelly so to finish I had Membrillo con Queso for a sweet cheesey (A).
To complete the review; a copa of local Pedro Ximenez which was stunning (A).
This time I was here to try the meat and the red wine.
I started with Foiet de Pato al PX, duck pate drizzled with Pedro Ximenez and pine nuts and raisins scattered over it, which was very good (B+).
I followed up Rabo de Toro, aka ox tail which was full flavoured and totally delicious (A), and the chips were pretty good too (B).
A Ribera red Riserva Cosecha went very well with it. Vega Riaza 2010 (A).
For dessert, Biscuit de Membrillo turned out not to be a biscuit at all but quince ice cream, which I absolutely loved (A+). And of course the obligatory Copa de PX.
A final brandy Sealed the deal. This was one of the best meals I had this year in Spain, and came to only €39.
Back again, and wanting another bottle of the excellent Joven, I made my food choices accordingly.
To start, the Esparragos Trigueros a la Plancha, (grilled wild asparagus) is always a winner with me (A).
The Lenguado Menier, made here with a creamy sauce rather than just butter, was the best I’d ever had (A+) and finally helped me appreciate this dish. Sergio showed some serious fish cleaning skills in preparing it for my plate.
He also taught me ‘zurdo’ which means left-handed (I cant’ use a normal fish knife) and ‘limpio’ which means clean, with reference to my plate at the end of the meal!
The previous night I’d turned down his suggestion of Milhojas con Crema y Nata, two air filled balls of puff pastry sandwiching a filling of vanilla pastry sauce (crema) with whipped cream and sugar (nata) on the side. It was huge, and decadent and totally awesome (A).
The Copa de PX was standard procedure, as was the Conac, this time a Magno Gran Reserva (B+), a new one on me.
I’d said my goodbyes the night before so we were all surprised to see each other when the school I was working at treated me to lunch here!
To finish though, the unforgettable Pajama, a selection of at least five types of Flan which has to be the ultimate flan experience (A+). Previously I’d thought there was only one kind, plain old boring flan!
A spot I would have liked to try was La Casa del Aciete y el Vino, at 10 Ctra La Rambla, on the main drag into town. Besides selling local products they are a wine bar, playing lots of chilled sounds every time I passed.
There’s little to do for the young folk around here so don’t be surprised if you see and hear a party going off in one of the car parks around the retail park. A teacher told me that the phenomenon of El Botellon (where young people meet in parks and other communal areas to drink and party on the cheap) isn’t strictly legal but the authorities allow it to happen if it’s held in a designated area.
Well, that’s quite a large post for such a small town! As you can probably guess, I heart Puente Genil and its warm inhabitants. Lucky you if you’re going.