Acclaimed chef and Saturday Kitchen regular José Pizarro talks through the places in his Spanish hometown that inspire his award-winning UK restaurant menus
Cáceres in western Spain is where I studied and first worked as a chef, so I have huge love for it. Close to the border with Portugal and blessed with the most wonderfully preserved Old Town, it’s physically and emotionally miles away from the more obvious Spanish tourist areas and is a real hidden gem.
Yemas from the Convent of San Pablo
One of my very favourite treats are these delicious and extremely indulgent cakes. In Spanish, yemas means egg yolks and also refers to Yemas de Santa Teresa, a very rich and creamy, traditional Spanish pastry. It’s made of egg yolks, granulated sugar and water with a powdered sugar coating. The ones from this convent are the very best I’ve tasted and are just one item on a menu of delicious desserts made by the nuns themselves. A chance to sample the treats makes it worth a visit alone, but the building, which dates back to the 15th century, is a fascinating bonus. The interior has great Gothic charm, including five altars and what is said to be the oldest statue of the Virgin of The Mountain, patron saint of Cáceres – it’s even older than the one in the Sanctuary of the Mountain high up in the Sierra de la Mosca above the city.
If you only have one meal in Cáceres, make sure it’s at Atrio, run by my friends José and Toño. It’s a two-Michelin-star restaurant based in their boutique hotel, which was designed by Spain’s most renowned architects, Mansilla + Tuñón. For me, though, the food is what makes it special: it’s like the soul of Cáceres itself. The ingredients mainly come from small, local suppliers and are combined in a performance of artistry and technical excellence. It’s an experience you’ll remember for ever.
El Valle del Jerte
This wonderful valley, just to the north of Cáceres comes alive in the spring when more than two million cherry trees blossom and bathe the sides of the valley in white. However, the most wonderful produce to come from here is Pimentón de la Vera. Paprika is the most wonderful spice, and in De la Vera, three varieties – bitter sweet, sweet and hot – are the best in the world. If you are nearby in late April or early May, visit the Cherry Blossom Festival, otherwise Pimentón de la Vera is available to buy all year round.
Tapas in Cáceres
I have two favourites from the dozens of tapas establishments in the city. A nice contrast exists between the cosy and very informal bar Mesón Viña Grande and the more upmarket restaurant Oquendo. Mesón Viña Grande is where the locals hang out to eat superb food in a relaxed atmosphere, alongside people they know. The menu is strictly Spanish, the wine list is superb and the staff are relaxed and friendly. Restaurant Oquendo is also relaxed, but both the restaurant itself and the menu are more sedate. The food here is more European and not only tapas. Here you will find more visitors than just the local crowd. If I wanted to celebrate something, I’d come here as it’s great for a fun time with friends.
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