Cadiz 6/10

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - DRINK - Joanna Blyth­man’s

ILOVE the idea of a spe­cial dish that’s only cooked one day of the week. It cre­ates a sense of oc­ca­sion, the prom­ise of in­gre­di­ents at their peak of fresh­ness and a spe­cial­ist fo­cus at the stove. In Spain you get deeply or­di­nary paella in loads of places, with frozen shell­fish, worka­day rice, stock cubes, and those sk­in­flint looka­likes for saf­fron. A metic­u­lous paella, on the other hand, is a won­der­ful thing.

Sun­day at Cadiz in Ed­in­burgh is paella day. Quite a big deal you’d think, read­ing the menu: “We cook the best paella in town,” no less. “Our pael­las take 30-40 min­utes to pre­pare, [so] why not or­der some of our Platos Pe­quenos (small plates) with a chilled bot­tle of wine and en­joy a lazy Sun­day”. We suc­cumb to this se­duc­tive of­fer. With its con­tem­po­rary Moor­ish decor and well stocked bar, Cadiz has enough style that it might plau­si­bly feel like a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. But when our paella de mariscos ar­rives, it doesn’t feel like such a great idea.

Now to be fair, we might have got car­ried away with the small plates. The pan rus­tico con man­te­qui­lla de pa­prika, which I or­dered mainly to as­sess rather than eat, is com­pelling: a bread­bas­ket stacked high with slices of thick sour­dough bread with a darkly flavour­some crust that ex­er­cises the jaw, and a gen­er­ous slab of cul­tured but­ter that’s or­ange with smoked pa­prika. We also had to check out the Cum­brae oys­ters, which are al­ways a joy, but I’m keen to know how their “Reseda” treat­ment works: shal­lots, sherry vine­gar, and le­mon. It’s an in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment. This brac­ing, broad­shoul­dered vine­gar ac­cen­tu­ates the min­er­al­ity of the oys­ters. I’m glad I tried it, but in fu­ture I’ll stick with le­mon (plan A) then red wine vine­gar (plan B). The oys­ters, as al­ways, what with all that crushed ice and the le­mon halves in muslin, set a cel­e­bra­tory note, and sur­pris­ingly, so do the white­bait. They can so eas­ily look like a pile of greasy fries, but these large spec­i­mens with their stiff, ath­let­i­cally arched sil­ver backs dusted or­ange with pa­prika, have more pres­ence than your av­er­age small fry.

A steam­ing pan of shell-on Venus clams “sautéed in white wine and gar­lic, fin­ished with co­rian­der” is the first dish that stalls my over­all ap­pre­cia­tive as­sess­ment. The milky-grey liquor doesn’t con­tinue the cel­e­bra­tory mood; it tastes wa­tery rather than winey, it’s too salty even for me, and we play Hunt The Co­rian­der.

But it’s when the paella is plonked down be­fore us that I find my­self re­vis­it­ing the sales pitch. If it takes 30-40 min­utes to pre­pare, the kitchen must have been in a tear­ing hurry. It looks as if it’s been kick­ing its heels un­der a heat lamp for quite some time, so long in fact, that it has ac­quired the well-browned crust of a gratin. The eight mus­sels in their shells that top it taste solid and are crisp at their ex­trem­i­ties. While the grains of rice are ju­di­ciously firm, and the saf­fron aroma is present, the rice el­e­ment is al­most dry, as if it might have been rea­son­able paella 15 min­utes ear­lier. But it’s the seafood that really makes this a failed paella at­tempt.

The lan­goustines are rea­son­able, although I’ve had bet­ter, and the shell-on king prawns are about as in­trin­si­cally tasty as these crus­taceans ever get. Salt sup­plants the shell­fish flavour. There’s white fish in amongst the rice, pos­si­bly hake, but it’s over-cooked. The worst el­e­ment in this dish is its rings of squid that taste of ab­so­lutely noth­ing, quite some achieve­ment if the chef starts with fresh squid.

The re­al­ity of the muchan­tic­i­pated paella, which comes with air­plane-style wet wipes (for this money I want a finger bowl), ush­ers in a “party’s over” mood. We eye-up the dessert op­tions, which have aban­doned Spain ir­re­vo­ca­bly: brownie, vanilla cream, praline cheese­cake, and vanilla sponge pud­ding (how Bri­tish!). None of these sit eas­ily af­ter the savoury op­tions. Even the cheese op­tion of­fers a “se­lec­tion of Con­ti­nen­tal cheese”. Why not re­gional Span­ish? I get the im­pres­sion that Cadiz as­pires to be a rich re­la­tion of Cafe An­daluz, its cloned sis­ter out­fit down below. But it’s just too or­di­nary.

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