This time last year we were planning book launches, Christmas food festivals, wine tasting evenings, the restaurant was fully booked right through until January, life, to be honest was hectic. And now here we are creeping towards the end of this year and it’s all a bit, well…la basura…a bit rubbish!


It’s very quiet when I arrive at the restaurant, Maria and Vanessa are in socially distanced huddle, their voices muffled by their face masks.



“Morning!” I call and I think they shout Morning! Back. We try discussing the menu that Maria is creating for a client but we can’t hear each other. We move to the long table Marai in the middle Vanessa and I at either end and ditch the masks.


“That is better! Now we can speak! Ok, Wine tasting. We have an evening, 5th December. We have only tables of four. We bring wine to each table to try and we serve pintxos.”


“Pin what?”


Pintxos. It comes from the Basque region. Little bits of food, maybe cheese, jamon, fish on top of a small slice or bread. Then you hold in place with a cocktail stick. You can see the difference between tapa and pintxos – tapa is a small dish of food, paella or patatas bravas and pintxos are served on a small bread base with a cocktail stick spearing something like jamón, cheese, mushrooms or chorizo! Simple!”




“So, you will come?”


“Absolutely!”


And if you want to join us here's the details...


Copies of Tapas At Maria's will be available at the beginning of December.





Back in lockdown, we’re all feeling a bit grim, a bit hard-done-by.

M: “The gardens at Picton are totally amazing, the tree’s with all the colour. But no one is here. Totally quiet. I miss everybody.”


H: “Miss you too. It’s not long though, this time. Will give me chance to perfect my empanadillas.”

M: “You are making them?”

H: “I’m about to have ago…”

M: “Send me a picture. It will be easy, I tell you!”

I don’t believe her! I start with the ‘magic pastry’. Maria made it look so easy: chuck in hot water and olive oil, no precise measurement, just use a tumbler she said. Ok, in it goes with about six table spoons of flour she said. Then the stirring starts. Oh dear. I’ve seen more appetising concrete. I take to the phone…

H: “It looks awful Maria. It’s all sticky. Are you sure…”

M: “Hahaha! Keep stirring…have faith. You see. It’ll be totally amazing.”


Promising to send a photo of my finished wallpaper paste, I keep stirring, adding four more tablespoons of flour. When Maria cooks, she answers the phone, chats to customers, laughs with Emma and Vanessa, in fact her mind seems to be on everything but what she’s making! She’ll remember some story from her childhood…

My mother used to make these. My brothers and uncles would come home from working at lunch time and there would be a big salad and bread -freshly made every day, and then a stew…How my mother made this amazing food, a feast, everyday with no oven, no mixer, no washing machine and, sometimes no money!

… And, every time, without fail, whatever she’s made is ‘totally amazing’. How? Spanish magic if you ask me. I spoon in four more tablespoons of flour and stir. Unbelievably my wallpaper paste starts to pull itself together! It actually resembles dough! It’s easy to handle, easy to flatten into circles. It’s…easy!



I message Maria, including a photo.


H “It worked!”

M: “Good well done! Send me a photo of finished empanadillas.”

Now for the filling. I’m going vegetarian – I can’t do tuna (sorry Maria). Into the frying pan go: a tin of tomatoes, a chopped onion, crushed clove of garlic, two chopped hard boiled eggs and a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach. It bubbles away for a few minutes. Taking the pan off the heat I add chopped feta cheese and pinenuts, no idea of quantities, just enough to look right!



Following Maria’s instructions I ended up with a pretty good supper, even though I say it myself! (Although I forgot the roasted peppers and the parsley).

Didn’t need a mixer, couldn’t have done it without an oven and definitely needed a little bit of Spanish magic.

Thanks Maria!

Here is the new set menu for Tapas Takeaway for

Friday 13th and Saturday 14th of November.


As always please phone your order through to the restaurant (01437 751346).


All food is fully cooked, you will need to finish at home.


Please order by 4pm, Thursday 12th November on 01437751346.


Orders to be collected in person from the restaurant.

Gluten free menu options available.







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!

“What?”

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)





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Words/photographs/illustrations© 2019 Helen  Lewis