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In Spain cava bars are in tucked away wood-panelled bodegas, stood on the side of carreteras and in the cobbled centres of towns and villages.
Now, says Mark Lampit, the first custom-built Spanish-style bar selling the sparkling wine has been built in the UK.
He is the general manager at Bellota in North Street, Brighton, where they serve cava made by Codorníu – the Catalan vintners based in Catalonia’s Penèdes region.
Bellota’s owners have collaborated with the brand, whose ancestors have been making the drink since 1551, to recreate a little taste of the Iberian Peninsula in Sussex.
There are bottles of the stuff stacked high behind the wood bar.
“In Spain the saying goes that a toast isn’t a toast without cava,” explains Lampit.
“We want to bring this culture to the UK and also introduce customers to quality cava. It is the only wine in the world, other than champagne, that’s made by the champagne method and it needs to be experienced, enjoyed and savoured.”
Lampit encourages the Spanish staff – I meet Xavi, who cooks and is a waiter is from Sevilla, and Jose, a mixologist and supervisor from Granada – to use their native tongue.
The English staff who know the difference between vino and fino talk to their fellow Europeans in the language of Cervantes and Mariano Rajoy. Lampit is even learning the basics of the language.
“We want to make it as authentic as we can. And because a lot of the staff are Spanish and a lot of the English staff speak Spanish, that’s the language they often use to communicate – though not to customers.”
He jokes he needs to learn a bit of Spanish otherwise he’ll never know what his staff are saying to each other.
In truth, he says, it is part of the whole ambience and experience, which is to sit at the bar, take a glass of cava with a pincho (usually a plate of olives) or with a plate of tapas from the menu.
Bellota is big on tradition: the walls are pink and yellow and inspired by the colours of a matador’s cape, and Codorníu’s history is chalked out on a blackboard at the front of the venue.
In 1659, its heiress Anna married Miguel Raventós from another winemaking family and the pair’s descendants still lead the company. Since 1897 it has supplied the Spanish Royal Family.
Bellota’s Spanish ham supplier, Simón Martin, is from a farming dynasty. He is the fourth generation of his family to rear black-hoofed pigs solely on acorns (or in Spanish, bellotas, thus the venue’s name) in Guijuelo near Salamanca.
A ham leg covered in a red cloth sits on a table beneath the chalkboard and is ready to be sliced.
“The ham we carve in the restaurant is the best you can buy in the UK,” declares Lampit grandly before revealing the owners chose Brighton “because of a demand for innovation, independence and quality in the area”.
“There was a restaurant here before which was tired. It was a Spanish restaurant, La Tasca.
“Even though we are independent and we are backed by the same backers, we’re not part of the same group, so to speak. So the project is to bring something new, vibrant and different.
“In London there are lots of wine bars and champagne bars, which do wine and champagne by the glass. Brighton has a contemporary crowd so we thought it would work well here.”
Cocktails on the list put together by Jose, who once worked with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame, are £6.50. The menu del dia, which runs daily till 5pm, is £9.95 for three tapas and pan tomaca (the Catalan speciality of bread rubbed with garlic and tomato).
Lambit recommends the pork cheeks and paella, which is priced from £9.95 per person and served on Sundays.
“I spoke to the Spanish staff about that and the tradition in Spain is to have it on a Sunday, so that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Bellota, North Street, Brighton, is open daily from 8.30am to 11pm. Visit
www.bellotabrighton.co.uk or call 01273 737342
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