“Are you famous?” asked No. 4 solemnly, between small mouthfuls of quail.
“Yes, I am.” Shawn Hennessey answered, looking straight into No. 4’s serious eyes, her own smiling gently.
“I am the Queen of Tapas.”
“Wow!” No. 4 quietly gasped, then took a bite of bread, sat very still, and happily digested the dazzling fact that a real queen had just sat down next to him on Christmas Day.
Laughing, Shawn turned to my husband and me: “Well, people in Sevilla seem to know me, and I know about tapas, so if the Sunday Times wants to name me the Queen of Tapas, well I’m not about to argue!”
We clinked our glasses of cava in agreement, full of admiration of Shawn’s ability to impress our youngest into silent contemplation.
Who is the Queen of Tapas?
Shawn started life in Canada (by accident – she says so herself). But Sevilla (where she has lived for more than 20 years) has now claimed her as its own. And no wonder. Shawn’s Sevilla Tapas website illustrates the great depth of Shawn’s love and knowledge of both tapas and her adopted city. It’s enthusiastically encyclopedic.
Shawn’s Tapas Tours are the best in the city. I haven’t tried any others, but I think I’m right. The idea began with lovely lunches Shawn enjoyed with friends, photos of which she shared on a personal blog. Others liked them and asked for more…and more, which led to showing people around. Shawn’s passion had found a natural outlet.
But most importantly, Shawn is discerning, and won’t be fooled. Chances are you’ll be in Sevilla for a brief stay, so Shawn reckons “you don’t have time for mediocre“. If a tapas bar doesn’t merit a visit, Shawn tells you why.
Today business is booming, and the tours are very varied. Shawn is in demand, but she doesn’t have a double. Hence…
Born just over a year ago, the concept is affordable, fun and informative. Tours are also given in Málaga, and are in the pipeline in Cádiz too. Under Shawn’s guiding hand, her team absolutely know their stuff in Sevilla.
Our guide, Delia, was waiting for us by the fountain in the beautiful Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, just a few hours after we’d arrived in the City of Oranges. She greeted us with a warm smile, and led us through the narrow streets, deftly dealing with one of my boys who was threatening to disappear under a tram, and the other walking with blithe abandon in a cycle lane (Delia has a younger brother).
Tapa – a small portion of food, anything from a small bowlful of olives to meatballs with fried potatoes, or simply grilled vegetables.
Tapeo – tapas bars might have a speciality, so a tapas bar crawl (tapeo) brings you the best of everything. Start small by ordering just one or two tapas with your drink, then move onto another bar for a different take on tapas.
The tapeo is where Shawn and her team come in. With over 3000 tapas bars to choose from in Sevilla, the bars are thoughtfully selected (and will be different to each other). Personal preferences are carefully taken into consideration. Normally the Traditional Tour takes in 3 bars, but we opted for 2 bars with the children.
Spoilers – None, really. You might want to try a tour yourself, so here’s just a taste of what you might expect.
1. Casa Morales: one of the oldest tapas bars in Sevilla, and run by the descendants of the founding owner. Full of the glorious buzz of a well-established meeting place that has been serving sherry, wine and tapas since 1850. The bar’s authenticity pours out of the antique giant wine butts, chalked tapas options covering their big bellies.
Delia expertly negotiated the way through the noisy, animated Spanish crowd to our table. To be able to reserve a table at Casa Morales is very unusual – a nod to Shawn’s reputation and influence. We people watched as Delia fetched us drinks: we’d arrived in Sevilla.
2. Casa Roman: a quieter, slower, very comfortable bar in the prettily winding lanes of the old Jewish quarter (Barrio Santa Cruz). Huge legs of Jamón Ibérico de Belotta suspended from the ceiling were felt and checked for aging by the owner. We saw the focus in his eyes as his fingers turned and prodded the meat, then a decisive shake of his head as he moved away and spoke to his staff.
Pork cheeks were an inspired choice by Delia. Moist, tender, and flavoursome with perfectly cooked chips that were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. One of the kids noted the oddity of such pig-based food in an historically Jewish area.
My favourite tapa was grilled mushrooms cooked beautifully with a simple oil, garlic and parsley sauce. Once the mushrooms had been devoured, the only thing to do with the sauce was to grab more soft, white bread to dip, dip, dip into the surplus sweet sauce.
It’s not just about the tapas
Tapas are plates of food to share. People – friends, neighbours, strangers – come together to drink, talk, share stories and food. This conviviality feeds the soul. Delia grew up in Cádiz, an Andalucian city by the sea, also well known for its tapas. Her knowledge and passion for food taught us what we were hungry to discover – tapas, Sevilla, Andalucía and the Spanish art of living well.
Delia is a natural storyteller. As we trailed her through the Sevillan streets, she pointed at this, showed us that, and related legends behind the ubiquitous orange trees, why Pedro the Cruel was so named, and all about the tragically beautiful Susona. The kids listened keenly. In the days that followed, we passed through pretty plazas and along cobbled lanes, and someone would recall a fact we’d learned from Delia.
Which is why a tour booked for the first night of a Sevillan stay is advisable. It sets the scene. At the end of our evening Delia gave us an invaluable guide that informed the tapeo for the next few days. It ensured we wasted no precious time in bars that were less than very good. La Pepona was a revelation:
The Icing on the Cake
Shawn Hennessy really is somebody in Sevilla. At the brilliant (and yet to be blogged about) Museo del Baile Flamenco, seats filled fast for the evening show, with voices rising in anticipation, perhaps aided by elegant glasses of vino. Quietly empty at the front were VIP seats reserved for Azahar (aka Shawn – the name means orange blossom). Shortly before the show started, Shawn arrived with her guests. I recognised her from her twitter profile photo (the magic of social media – that’s how we “met”). I introduced myself at the bar, saying how much we’d loved our tour with Delia. Shawn kissed me on both cheeks, was utterly charming, and came to meet the rest of the family.
At the end of the sensational show, Shawn stopped by again to say our Christmas Day lunch booking was secure (I’d had problems securing a reservation at the restaurant Shawn had recommended), and she promised to drop by for a drink.
Which is how No. 4 came to be seated next to the Queen of Tapas on Christmas Day, and we had a feast fit for a King at the stylishly friendly La Azotea Santa Cruz, just a short walk from the magnificent Cathedral. With Shawn delighting both our fantastic waiter, Momo, and us with her expert eye in picking out some exquisite Oloroso, we felt like we were starting to get the hang of the Andalucian art of living well. But I think it might be worth another try…
A little detail
A Traditional Tour costs 60 euros per person (based on a tour for 2-8 people). The price includes a drink and 2 tapas at Bar 1, a drink and 1 tapa at Bar 2, and then another drink and 2 tapas at Bar 3. If you’re tempted, do email the We Love Tapas team to discuss your needs.