M:“Vanessa! Vanessa! You are ready?” Maria is calling out as I arrive. “Ah ‘Elen you are in time. I will show you now, the best pastry ever. Totally amazing!”

“You need a glass of water. Hot water.” Maria half fills a tumbler with hot water. “And fill it up with olive oil.” she glugs oil to fill the glass to the rim. “See? Half and half. Into the bowl,” Maria tips the water-oil mix into the bowl, “Salt” and she taps the salt shaker over the bowl.

“Carefully measured?” I joke.

“Very carefully. A su gusto!


A su gusto, to your liking – a su gusto! And then you put some flour (self-raising)… Get two spoons, one is going there in the bowl and the other one, you use to keep putting flour…” She spoons tablespoons of flour into the bowl over the oil-water mix. “About six to start, but you will need some more.”

I’m not convinced. Vanessa looks unsure. The bowl looks like it’s full of porridge, Maria continues stirring.

“It’s a pastry that, never, never, never fails.” She adds another four tablespoons. “Then four more. But this is a pastry with no measurements. You just stir until it’s OK! This is how my mother made pastry, she didn’t have a mixer like today, or scales, she didn’t even have an oven.” Maria says, almost to herself. And, before our very eyes, the sticky goo, turns into a silky, golden ball of dough.

“That’s amazing!”

“You made it look so easy!” I say.

“It is, totally easy, no?” No, I think, imagining the sticky goo I’d make if I had a go.

The pastry master class is finished.

The ‘magic’ never-fail pastry is being used to make a typical Spanish snack called emapanadilla, which is on the lunch-time menu At Maria’s today

“Put the filling in the centre, make sure you have a bit of everything, then you just double up and… Viola! You have your empanadilla.” Maria says as she makes circles of pastry on the floured work top. “You remember when we were in Valencia, ‘Elen, we went to Manola’s in Vallada?” I laugh remembering the terrible storm that ended in a blizzard and 48 hours on an airport floor, “Well, this is Manola’s mother’s recipe. Very old. Very delicious. And cheap. My mother made these and just put in whatever she had in the cupboard. She always had tomatoes and eggs, sometimes spinach, sometimes not. Sometimes fresh cheese.”

Maria carries on patting out circles of pastry, brushing each circle with beaten egg then adding a spoonful of mixture from a frying pan.

“What’s in the pan?”

The tomato went into the frying pan first with the garlic. Then the peppers and fry for 10 mins. The tuna is drained and added, then the eggs. Removed the frying pan from the heat and add the pinenuts and parsley and Viola! As Maria says.

“You can change the filling, olives, feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes, pinenuts, this is vegetarian, leave out the feta cheese and it is totally vegan.” She finishes brushing the empandillas with beaten egg. “They go into a medium oven (170oC fan) for 25-30 minutes. OK! That’s it. We have coffee.”

PS: The empanadillas were delicious (of course). The (magic) pastry didn’t fail, it was light and crisp. The filling, gorgeous and that comes from Mrs fussy (as I’ve been christened by Maria) who doesn’t normally like tuna or hard boiled eggs, unless they’re in a Maria emapanadilla that is!

Totally delicious!

(The Pimientos del Piquillo and yellow fin tuna can be bought online from ultracomida https://www.ultracomida.co.uk)

Hola 'elen Hola! It's been so long! How are you? How is your family?

Hi H! How's things


I love coming here, it's like walking into a family reunion! The people are great, it smells great, tastes great and the gardens are gorgeous in this Indian summer weather.

At Maria's has settled into the new rules for eating out, it's a well (olive) oiled machine. Even in late September there's a queue forming and the tables in the courtyard are full -it's only 10.30am!

Viola! What do you think?

(Maria produces an amazing chocolate roulade creation from the kitchen)

"That's amazing!"

"You think?"

"I do!"

We catered for a party and we made this cake...I decorated it. Me, yes, I did this! It was a great party really, really grand. And the house was amazing. We made canapes, little empanidilla's, Yorkshire puddings, horseradish and roast beef, Thai fish cakes and... the cake, and everyone said “You buy those leaves?” And I say NO! I made it. So, Emma made the cake, the square cake, Julie and me, we make the icing – it's so easy to make. And the effect, it is unbelievable! No?

"I will call it Autumn Leaves Roulade, what do you think, amazing, no?"

"Amazing! Yes!"

The cake is easy to make:

And when your cake is ready, start decorating...

We are open for Friday and Saturday night take away tapas. Please phone us with your order.

M: Hola! Ellen! It’s been so long. How are you. Ah look at your hair! It’s grown. Don't look at mine, see the scarf! Come in, come in!

H: It’s been too long! It’s so lovely to be back in the courtyard, back at Maria’s!

Then, where there would have been hugs, we stand awkwardly - two meters apart.

Emma appears from the kitchen, and we’re all talking at once. It’s different but it’s wonderful. The restaurant is freshly painted with arrows in and arrows out. The tables have been moved back and the statutory Perspex screen is nailed in place. Like all businesses At Maria’s has had to adapt.

At Maria’s is now a takeaway, it’s tables are outside in the castle’s courtyard nestled amongst the plants stalls. Apart from the constant telephone call orders, it’s very peaceful.

M: It is so good to be cooking again. To be back with the customers. I miss the customers! I spent too long at home. I start talking to the wall. Then the wall started answering back. Then it stopped and I knew I needed to get back to cooking!

H: It’s been very strange. Quite scary at times…

M: Yes, yes. But we are not living if we live in fear, that’s not living.

The phone rings again, Emma calls from the restaurant about a large Tapas take-away order.

H: Wow, it never stops here!

M: We have to keep busy! We have to be adaptable, you can’t have Tapas here on a Friday night. We make it for you. You have a tapas party in the luxury of your own home. Take Maria home with you! Hahahaha!

H: Imagine!

Maria heads back to the kitchen where she’s in the middle of making Spanish tortilla with potatoes and Emma is wielding a very sharp knife. They cook, chop and mix whilst I snap away on my camera and we put the world of home-schooling to rights and compare missing our families.

It doesn’t take long for the lunch-time ‘picnic’ dishes to be ready for visitors to take away and enjoy in the beautiful gardens. There are several ‘picnic’ options I really fancy the Greek Platter: Stuffed vine leaves, humous, (Spanish) Greek salad, olives, fried mushrooms and freshly made bread, mmmmmmmm.

Then Emma starts on the evening Tapas take-away dishes, she’s making glazed chicken wing with mushrooms, they smell divine, I wish this was a smelly-blog so you could share the aromas.

Pop back next time and I’ll have the recipe for you, or if you can’t wait, you can order your Friday/Saturday night Tapas take-away by phoning the restaurant on: 01437 751346. The menu varies every week and there’s a wide range of dishes and sides as well as sweets and drinks, just a telephone call away!

Choose from

Pork skewer in pepper and spice sauce

Cod in a Spanish cider sauce

Chicken breast and peppers in a rich tomato sauce

Patatas with peppers, garlic and onions

Spanish tortilla

Pork and beef meatballs.

Dishes start at £6.50.

Back in the kitchen, cooking, is where I am happy!

Words/photographs/illustrations© 2019 Helen  Lewis