I can barely cut bread straight without making enormous door stop slices or shearing off ugly looking butchered pieces. Tonight I'm publicly attempting to calve jamon in front of a group of strangers. Recently refurbished, La Tasca is launching a new menu and to help spread the word a group of Leeds-based bloggers have been assembled at the Greek Street branch.
We're first fooled into believing it's actually still summer by generously replenished glasses of both traditional and La Tasca's own special Cava Sangria. Originating from the Spanish word for blood and once known as “Red Cup Punch”, Sangria is traditionally made from a brandy base. La Tasca's “traditional” mix shuns this ingredient, instead using a mixture of vodka, Bacardi and orange cointreau pre-made. Of course the normal red wine, lemonade and fruits are then added.
Our barman for the night, Tom, quickly rustles up a Sangria, reminding us pre-made supermarket mixes are readily available and that sugar is a vital ingredient to take-away the bitterness of red Bordeaux wines. He uses the standard 25ml measures but encourages us to up the value once at home.
The Cava version is advertised as using La Tasca's own secret spirit mix but watching Tom's expert cocktail skills, I now know to combine the Cava and lemonade with peach schnapps and blackcurrant liquor. To finish up cranberries are added – unable to soak up alcohol, they attractively float on top, ensuring you get one of your five a day.
Two of the group try their hand at making both Sangria versions before an authentic Spaniard educates us about traditional jamon. Sergio explains Western Spain is best for jamon, siting Extremadura and Salemanca as typical areas where jamon can be found in its natural form, running around free-range munching on a type of acorn. For those of us having trouble deciphering Sergio's accent, Tom clarifies this is not Akon but the kind that grows on trees.
Dubiously but impressively dubbed the “Prada of Pigs”, this jamon leg is hung for 18 months and cured in the normal way, costing a staggering £650 for the leg. Its foot is black, indicating top range meat and “Cerdos Felices” (happy pigs). Bizarrely, we're told the fat is healthy and warned that once we taste it, we'll never eat parma ham again.
Wrapping it around plain tasting crunchy picos bread sticks, we're all in agreement it has a slightly cheesy flavour and it prompts my stomach to growl. Thankfully, we're soon ushered downstairs and treated to a feast of tapas dishes, ranging from the conventional expected chorizo, meatballs and Patatas Bravas to more unusual dishes like pork belly with rosemary infused beans and paprika and garlic chicken wings. Unsure what anything is, I even enjoy sampling fishy dishes, taking on a Montadito de Gambas (toasted ciabatta with smoked pancetta and prawns) and a Pescado Blanco Frito (deep fried white fish in batter with paprika, roasted garlic and lemon mayonnaise).
We're all encouraged to give Come Dine With Me style ratings. Our average is 7.5 so La Tasca must be doing something right. I may not be dumping the parma ham quite yet but I may well return to La Tasca.