Saturday, 5 June 2010

Clouded Vision Under the Andalucian Sun

I'm stood at the bar of one of the finest tapas bars in Andalucia, Casa Balbino in Plaza del Cabildo, Sanlucar de Barrameda. The lunchtime rush has started, and things are starting to move. People come in, place their orders, and thereby spark a chain of further actions. The barman starts pouring drinks, and barks an order for a small plate of ham ('medio racion de iberico') and a couple of crispy fritters made from tiny shrimp ('tapa de tortillita de camarones'). The guy carving ham nods and gets to work, the kitchen splash a couple more dollops of shrimp-flecked batter into a shallow pan of hot oil.

Behind the bar, I recognise several of the waiters from previous visits over the past decade. Unlike the UK, being a waiter is a vocation here, a career, and good waiting staff regularly get headhunted by rival bars. But not here - the faces are all pretty familiar, and they dance a well-rehearsed ballet of bending, serving drinks, rushing to and from the kitchen. Everything is done with the practiced ease of something that has become part of muscle memory rather than voluntary thought.

This also extends to serving the drinks. Everything moves at a tremendous pace. Tiny beers are drawn, little copitas of manzanilla are poured from a barrel-shaped font on the bar-back. The drinks are whipped onto the counter, and for a moment stand there perfectly translucent. Then, as if having a moment of realisation that they are not long for this world, the glasses slowly start to acquire a shroud of condensation. It only takes about 15 seconds for a perfectly clear glass of cold beer or sherry to fog up, but watching it happen, with a sudden itch in the throat and an increasingly restless tongue, it seems to take much longer.


  1. I like this post a lot. Nicely observational and it gives a good sense of time and place.

  2. Tandleman, Mark - thanks, I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

    On Sunday, while I was annoyingly at work, Dominic from Marble rang me and said how much he liked this very same bar. I'm not sure what I was more pleased with - the fact that he'd also read and enjoyed the post, or the fact that he'd picked up the phone to talk about how great Sanlucar de Barrameda is. Still, it made Sunday at work bearable (for about 5 minutes)


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.