Sanluqueños may have occasional cares and worries, but you wouldn’t know it. The mood in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, north of Cádiz, seems to be one of euphoria, of alegría. It probably has something to do with the sun and translucent light, and a lot to do with the local manzanilla sherry. The town, also known for a prized king prawn, the langostino de Sanlúcar, has been named Gastronomy Capital of Spain 2022.
This will come as no surprise to those who have long flocked to Sanlúcar for long, lazy weekend lunches. The town’s loveliness is also uplifting. At its heart is Plaza de Cabildo, with palms and a fountain encircled by restaurants with tables and umbrellas. Up a steep hill the Barrio Alto has churches (14th-century Nuestra Señora de la O is stark and mighty), old bars, small palaces with gardens, bodegas behind the white walls of former convents, and a sturdy castle – Castillo de Santiago. A short walk the other way are sandy beaches with moored dinghies, and the fish restaurants of Bajo de Guia, their tables along the beach of the Guadalquivir estuary offering views of fishing boats trailed by seagulls, and the bulbous ferry lumbering to the dunes and sandy wilds of the Unesco-listed Doñana reserve.
The Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan and the woefully overlooked Basque Juan Sebastián Elcano set off from Sanlucar in 1519 on the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Only the latter survived to accomplish it, arriving back here with just 18 of the initial 270-man crew, 500 years ago this September.
Manzanilla, the salty, fino-like sherry, is aged exclusively in Sanlucar’s cellars. Visitors can learn its history at the Manzanilla Interpretation Centre; sample it at bodegas, including Delgado Zuleta, the oldest (1744), and Barbadillo, the biggest; or breathe in its aroma at this relaxed, stylish restaurant ensconced within the Hidalgo La Gitana bodega.
Specialising in classics such as meat and fish a la brasa (snapper is €19) and arroces, dry, creamy and soupy rice dishes (average €14) raised to sublime levels, it’s a place for lingering in. A glass of La Gitana manzanilla from the barrel costs €2.10; other wines are available.
Fri-Sun 1-4pm, 8pm-12midnight. Mon, Wed & Thu lunch only, entrebotasrestaurante.es
Waiters trot stacks of lacy tortillitas de camarones, crispy as brandy snaps, through crowded outdoor tables. The tortillitas are hard to resist, despite all the little eyes. Those who know their almejas (clams) from their coquinas (cockles) can select from the raw materials in the glass-fronted counter and eat inside, standing at a barrel.
The bar, founded in 1939, has lugubrious charm, its history told in the photographs of starlets, matadors, guitarists and sherry barons adorning the walls. A lengthy menu featuring the best classic fish and seafood tapas around (from €2.50) is served on the terrace. As the jamones dangling above the bar suggest, there are meat options too. Save space for ice-cream from Helados Toni, a few doors down.
Open daily 12-4.30pm, 8pm-12midnight, casabalbino.es
Opening as a despacho de vinos selling manzanilla to fishermen in the early 1950s, Bigote has added dining rooms and become a showcase for their catch. Dogfish, cuttlefish, anchovies, bream, flounder and Sanlúcar’s famous wedge sole (acedia) come fried (from €15); snapper, seabass, red mullet and a dozen other varieties are served grilled or baked in salt (around €45 a kg). House specials include tuna in sweet Pedro Ximenéz sherry (€18), cazuela de huevos a la marinera – a stew of eggs and langostinos (€15) – and sea bass roe in olive oil (€40 a kg). The famed langostinos de Sanlúcar are the stars, however. In the old bar, artefacts from the depths hang from beams along with fishing paraphernalia, sherry is served from the barrel.
Open Mon-Sat 1-4pm, 8.30-11.30pm, restaurantecasabigote.com
Doña Calma Gastrobar
Three brothers, Gildo, Miguel, and José Hidalgo Prat, opened this place five years ago to mix the local produce with fusion cuisine to create a new generation of tapas. The prawn and tuna tacos (€5.90) are triumphs, so it seems their mission is accomplished. This is a good spot for tasting interesting twists – a salmorejo (cold soup) made of beetroot, cannelloni of pork cheeks, or octopus empanadilla, but also for sampling the unadulterated natural flavours of local tuna in the form of tartare (€14.50), tataki (€14.50) and jamón (€12.50). The setting at the base of a residential block is not showy, and balcony seating is limited, but it does face the Playa de la Calzada. Veranillo de Santa Ana around the corner (C Manuel Hermosilla, 2) is the family’s second restaurant, offering a range of arroces in a converted chalet.
Open Fri & Sat 12.30-4pm, 8.30pm-12midnight, Wed, Thu & Sun lunch only,doñacalma.com
This friendly bar just behind the market specialises in, yes, toast. Manager José (Agui) Aguilar and his team concoct imaginative toppings that shouldn’t work but do – such as lemony tosta cítrica with guacamole, chicharrones (scratchings) and lime (€4), or smoked herring paté with onion and caramelised sugar (€3.50). More traditional Cadiz tapas are also available, from mojama (air-dried tuna) to local cheese, pork loin, black pudding and chorizo de orza (preserved in ceramic pots with spices and lard). A good wine selection, a range of Estrella Galicia beers, a slightly eccentric Moorish-looking facade and stools for perching on outside add to the appeal.
Open Tue-Sat 12.30-3.30pm, 8.30pm-12midnight. Sun lunch only, instagram.com/bartartessos
The atmospheric setting – in the 15th-century Posada del Palacio in Barrio Alto – alluring patio, and modern designer decor, bear similarities with Entrebotas (see above), and indeed, this is the original, more formal and high-end of two Sanluqueño gems run by chef José Luis Tallafigo. Fresh, light food, cooked to perfection, exquisitely presented and innovative is the thing.
Tallafigo works with verduras de navazo, vegetables cultivated in the brackish marshes of the Guadalquivir estuary, and the flavours are unique and unexpected. Starters may be urchin paté served in its shell (€14) or mange-tout peas with eel and amontillado sherry (€14.20), followed by butter beans, mantis shrimp and carpaccio of langoustines. Carnivores shouldn’t miss the suckling pig with cream of cauliflower and hazelnut butter (€24). Espejo also serves the most innovative G&T: gin jelly, lemon ice-cream and tonic foam (€6.60).
Open Fri & Sat 1-4.30pm, 8pm-12midnight, Sun-Thu lunch only, elespejo-sanlucar.es
Where to stay
Hotel Posada de Palacio (doubles from €60 room only) is the quirky, atmospheric option. The building is fascinating, with its inner courtyards, old tiled floors, balconies and a library and many of the rooms are large, high-ceilinged and furnished with antiques. It’s not sumptuous; the sensation of staying here is sometimes like being the guest of an eccentric, slightly uninterested host, but it is unique (and handy for El Espejo).
Hotel Barrameda (doubles from €49.50 room-only) is calming, air-conditioned and comfortable with trees in tubs, and good service. It may lack local character, but it’s just off Plaza de Cabildo and there are views across the square from most of the rooms.