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Set in Cáceres – one of Spain’s most beautiful medieval towns in the western region of Extremadura – is a real foodies destination. Atrio Restaurante and Hotel www.restauranteatrio.com allows visitors to enjoy haute-cuisine while staying in the adjoining contemporary accommodation.

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Chef Toño Perez’s unique cooking style, which brings together the earthy flavours of the local produce of Extremadura along with a supremely polished interpretation of haute cuisine is what makes Atrio Restaurante such a gem of a culinary experience. He has fantastic contacts with the farmers producing the famed Pata Negra ham, locally produced organic vegetables, herbs and Torta de Casar cheese.

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What some guests for lunch and dinner may find unusual is that Chef Toño has opted for three set menus, which range in price from €89 to €109 and include six to eight courses. He realised that most people prefer to try a number of small dishes, and the tasting menus offer a progressive crescendo of flavours. While the majority of people are happy with the choice of set menus there is also total flexibility for the diner, and virtually anything is possible. Many starters can be shared by the entire table.

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Pork products feature prominently in many of the dishes and are often partnered with the somewhat unusual bedfellow, seafood. Combining the flavours of the sea and the mountains is something Chef Toño adores. Entrees such as razor clams with thinly sliced Iberian ham, drizzled with a mild curry sauce, or Iberian pancetta served with lobster and spiced with paprika and garlic are some of his most interesting dishes. Another combination, which is set to become a classic in Chef Toño’s kitchen, comes in the form of a gently strewed pig’s trotter served with warm oysters infused with the aroma of lime and ginger. Wines are exceptional and the cellar is well stocked with prestigious vintages from mainly Spain and France. Business partner and wine expert José Polo makes sure every meal is accompanied by a memorable bottle.

Atrio Restaurante’s stunning cuisine is served up in the large dining room which has room for 40 guests seated on chairs by Danish designers Nanna Ditzel and Hans Wegner. Befitting of a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, the elegantly laid tables are well spaced for privacy. The garlanded restaurant and its adjoining hotel with four rooms and five suites is part of the prestigious Relais and Châteaux group www.relaischateaux.com

The interiors throughout the building are minimalist and are based on a black and white palette. Splashes of colour come from the museum-quality contemporary art. Paintings by 20th-century heavyweights such as Andy Warhol, Antonio Saura, Antoni Tápies, Geraldo Rueda and Thomas Ruff adorn the walls of the public areas as well as the rooms. It was always Chef Toño and José’s plan for the restaurant to be the destination, but now people have somewhere beautiful to stay while they are enjoying the exquisite food.

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One of the consequences of having accommodation was that chef had to formulate a breakfast menu. He decided to keep it very Spanish with strong local Extremeño elements. Guests are treated each morning to home-baked bread topped with tomato puree and paper-thin slices of Iberian ham. It is accompanied by a local dish, migas – tiny pieces of day-old bread fried with pork fat and plump sultanas.

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While Cáceres may seem off the beaten track, Toño Perez’s highly imaginative cuisine and the magnetic allure of the interiors of the hotel provide plenty of inspiration for gourmands to make the trip to this often overlooked region of Spain.

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Think of Spain and, particularly if you have travelled around the country, you will most probably think of delicious, cured jamón Ibérico – Spain’s best ham. Thinly sliced it’s greatly prized as a gourmet food across the country. While its merits are continually lauded, it’s extremely easy to find – most bars and restaurants will have it on the menu as a tapa, vacuum packs of ready-to-eat slices are sold in supermarkets, and all Spanish markets will have a good selection ready to be sliced on the spot.

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Jamón Ibérico is produced solely from the black Iberian pig, and the breeding of the animals is restricted to Extremadura – a ruggedly beautiful area in Southwestern Spain. Although fed some cereals, these pigs also roam the countryside and feed freely on the acorns they find on the ground. The curing process of the rear legs lasts from 14 to 36 months making for a much more refined product with a unique taste.

Jamón Ibérico is such a treasured food that that it has its own Denomination of Origin. As with all Denominations of Origin products, there is strict control of the quality. For example, in order to carry the name Jamón de Extremadura, the regulations control every stage of the process including the following. The pigs must be black Iberian pigs, be fed only cereals and grains from the local region before being released into the open countryside to graze on the local acorns, be of a certain weight when slaughtered, and finally the hams must spend at least14 months curing.

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Jamón Ibérico is best eaten unembellished and at room temperature. Ideally it is cut into paper-thin slices which are then picked up with the fingers and popped into the mouth. The only decision remaining is what beverage to serve with the delicacy. Many say that a glass of chilled fino sherry is the best. Others prefer a glass of young red wine – a tinto crianza. Both wines help bring out the richness of the ham.

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Carrasco Guijuelo 2

One of the best jamón Ibéricos comes from the pigs on the farms of Carrasco, Guijuelo in Extremadura. The first-class product is then cured in Salamanca and is available in gourmet food shops all over Spain and via the internet. More information at http://www.carrascoguijuelo.eu

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Spain’s beautiful island Gran Canaria can be hit or miss when it comes to dining out. Many of the restaurants in the tourist areas know full well that those that are here today will not be around tomorrow and lower their standards accordingly.

Not so at the two restaurants inside the luxurious  Seaside Palm Beach Hotel palm-beach.com  where you can expect continually excellent food, service and ambience.

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Trattoria provides diners with a seductive interior which is perfect for enjoying relaxed Italian meals. At night the soft lighting, coral-hued tablecloths and dark wood chairs create a mood which can easily inspire romance.

Diners are encouraged to begin with a selection of traditional Italian antipasti from the buffet. The tempting assortment looks beautiful, and Chef Daniel De Angelo gets full points for presentation as well as flavour.

Try ravioli filled with osso buco, gently fried zucchini slivers dressed with extra virgin olive oil or perhaps a selection of Parma ham and salami. The offerings change every two days so there is good reason to return.

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Mains chosen from the á la carte menu are equally delicious. Don’t miss the juicy rabbit legs cooked with honey and pine nuts and served with grilled polenta. Fresh, locally-caught fish is cooked simply and served with perfectly cooked greens.

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Just metres away is Seaside Palm Beach Hotel’s fine dining restaurant, an absolute ‘must try’ while on the island. Orangerie is a gourmand’s paradise and the perfect place to impress a guest. Candlelight illuminates the stylish interior dotted with potted palms and elegant furniture. Tables are well spaced to afford privacy, while the service is highly attentive but discrete.

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The inspired menu is infused with the best of French haute cuisine. Settle back and enjoy perfectly prepared lobster, foie gras or duck à l’orange accompanied by some of the world’s finest vintages from the extensive cellar.

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Restaurant Marqués de Riscal (visit – http://www.restaurantemarquesderiscal.com) is housed in what is possibly the most stunning contemporary-styled hotel in Europe. Designed by the American-Canadian architect Frank Gehry the hotel and restaurant are within the Marqués de Riscal wine estate (visit – http://www.hotel-marquesderiscal.com) near the small village of Elciego in northern Spain. Image

The two Michelin-starred restaurant is positioned on the second floor of the building and offers spectacular views of the surrounding vineyards and the San Andrés church in the village.

Renowned Spanish chef Francis Paniego is the culinary adviser to the restaurant which has become a reference point for gourmands visiting the area. It’s not hard to see why it’s been garlanded with the enviable stars. Stunning modern décor combines with the unmistakable interiors of Frank Gehry as well as high-end tableware and truly amazing cuisine and wine.

Highlights from the menu include tomato carpaccio with Dublin bay prawns, and glazed lamb lightly flavoured with fresh ginger. Desserts are well worth saving room for. Try the variation of the original mojito which comes with banana and tangy mint. Those who prefer something savory can enjoy a few slices of cheese from the large selection of Spanish and European varieties.

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As part of the interior design, one wall is given over to wine. Guest can choose from magnificent Marqués de Riscal vintages which date back to 1860 or a number of prestigious international labels. The sommelier will be pleased to assist with your choice.

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For those who wish to stay a few days, the hotel offers luxurious modern rooms and suites, a vinotherapy spa by Claudalie and opportunities to tour the wine estate and historic cellars.

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On Tuesday, March 12th, Madrid was the scene of Mexico Spirits Culture, a fabulous ‘fiesta Mexicana’ to celebrate all that this wonderful country has to offer. And what Mexican party would be complete without tequila? More than 15 tequila distilleries were there to show off their products. Offering visitors a taste of the best was the premium brand Azteca (visit www.casatequileraazteca.com)

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Azteca tequila has been produced at the company’s distillery in the D.O. region of Jalisco in Mexico for over 60 years.  What makes Azteca tequila stand head and shoulders above the rest is the hands-on approach that is taken with its distillation. From cultivating the agave plants – the base ingredient for distilling tequila – to their collection and finally distilling the beverage, the process is monitored every step of the way. Azteca has its own agave plantations in Mexico and lavishes care on the plants to ensure that the sap used is full of subtle flavours which will then be passed on to the final beverage. What you get is a smooth taste with delicious fruity nuances.

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Offering boundless opportunities for exciting taste sensations, Azteca produces a range of tequilas with varying flavour nuances. At the top of the list is La Revancha Añejo, which stays in fine wood casks for 18 months giving it a golden hue and smooth drinking qualities best enjoyed on the rocks. For those who love cocktails, the range of Azteca tequilas, including Real Hacienda Única, Espinosa, Revancha and El Retiro are perfect for making everything from a classic margarita to other enticing tipples such as the Paloma Re-Mix – a heady mix of Azteca Esponosa tequila with lemon and grapefruit juice, salt and a dash of soda water.

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Providing the perfect opportunity to experience Azteca tequila in an authentic party atmosphere, the Mexican Spirits Culture event exploded with music, dance, food and drinks throughout the afternoon of March 12th on the ground floor function space of Madrid’s famed Reina Sofia Museum. All those who attended were keen to get into the Mexican party spirit. Traditional Mexican dances started off the festivities.

At the Azteca tequila stand the mixologists thrilled the crowd with their cocktail mixing abilities and theatrical flair. One of the most popular cocktails was the Patanga which combined white tequila with lime juice and a dash of Coca Cola. Another great drink combined white tequila with Grand Marnier, lime juice with a dash of agave syrup.

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Mexican food is one of the world’s favourite cuisines, and helping keep hunger at bay was Chef Armando Oropezo from Madrid’s restaurant Mestizo (visit www.madrid.mestizomx.com) Chef produced some great bites, most of which included tequila in their elaboration. Some real crowd pleasers were avocado gazpacho with Azteca Tequila, chicken with Azteca Tequila Espinosa and ceviche flavoured with Azteca Tequila Único.

For those who want to start their own Mexican party, make sure you have some bottles of Azteca Tequila on hand. Visitors to Madrid who want to experience a lively night out head to Mestizo restaurant in Calle Recoletos for excellent ‘south of the border’ food and plenty opportunities to enjoy some fine tequilas.

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Seamlessly blending together elements of both Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, Nikkei 225, ( visit www.nikkei225.es ) on Madrid’s sophisticated Paseo de la Castellana, has become the rendezvous de rigour for discerning foodies. Helmed by Chef Luís Arévalo, the restaurant now has a loyal following and one which is constantly growing as the news of his expertise and gastronomic creativity spreads.

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With its light and airy interior, this chic restaurant is perfect for informal meals, casual business lunches or, at night, when the lights are lowered, a romantic retreat for dinner. Expect to see famous faces as you are shown to your table.

Diners can choose to be seated at the stunning, back-lit, onyx, sushi bar – the perfect spot to watch the action as the chefs prepare hand-cut sashimi and colourful sushi, or at elegant table settings complete with starched white linens and an array of beautiful contemporary porcelain and glassware.

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The extensive menu includes many dishes which are ideal for sharing – an option which is encouraged, particularly at lunchtime. While the dishes at Nikkei 225 owe their origins to Japan, many show subtle influences from Peruvian cuisine. The use of ceviche, chilli and jalapeño peppers are the most notable. It’s a marriage of flavours that works wonderfully.

Chef Luis, who has born in Peru, exhibits real artistic flare when it comes to presenting his gastronomic creations on the plate. Don’t be surprised if you linger for a moment just admiring the visuals before you reach for your chopsticks. Highlights from the menu are king crab drizzled with chilli and garlic vinaigrette, octopus sashimi accompanied by black olive paste, and a wonderful selection of hand-rolled sushi. Desserts include a delightful variation on the Peruvian cocktail, Pisco Sour.

Sashimi hamachi en costra de polvo de migas -NIKKEI 225 (18)

While Nikkei 225 has an extensive wine list, it’s Champagne that is without doubt the best option to accompany the meal. It goes perfectly with every dish, and adds delightful nuances to the flavours on the plates. Nikkei 225 boasts a large selection of top labels and, for those who want to discover the finer points of various food and beverage combinations, there are special Champagne menus which allow you to enjoy three or four glasses of carefully chosen vintages throughout the meal.

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Spain’s premium sparkling wine, cava, seems to be the drink of choice for many these days. It makes the perfect partner for just about any food or celebration. Already the second biggest-selling sparkling wine category in the world, after Champagne, it combines abundance with a hard-won reputation for quality.

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Cava is based on the trio of indigenous grape varieties, Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo, which all have a refreshing lemony tang to them. The great news is that it sells for a fraction of the price of Champagne, and yet is still made by the very same process.

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Rosé cava has a persuasive raspberry bouquet derived largely from the Monastrell grape. These delicious rosés are a world away from the sickly sweet specimens which went by the same name in the 1980s.

That was the decade when the world of cava began to change. As a result of a prolonged campaign, the Holy Grail was won when Chardonnay became a permitted grape in the blends. In the last few years Pinot Noir has been authorized for use in the rosés, and since the 2007 harvest, it is permissible to use it in the white wines too.

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The use of Pinot Noir has been the pioneering concern of cava’s pre-eminent producer, the family-owned label Codorníu  (www.codorniu.com)  With vineyards in Cataluña, in Spain’s north east, the company produces around 60 million bottles each year. Much of this is exported.

Freshness is all with this delightful cava, as is evidenced by the vintages across the label. The bracing lemony tang of the cava is offset by a faint suggestion of toasted wheat meal bread. Its rosé cousin is predominantly Monastrell, backed up with Pinot Noir, and displays a highly appealing, rounded, ripe cherry style bouquet. Drunk with finely sliced Iberian ham its engaging fruity aromas are highly appealing.

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Codorníu is now available in many outlets worldwide. For those who fall under its charms on-line purchases are easy.