This year, indeed this very week, an institution in Seville celebrates its 85th anniversary: the Hotel Colon. When this revered establishment opened on 29 March 1929, as the Hotel Majestic, it was the grandest and most modern hotel in the city, and the only one to boast such luxurious mod-cons as ensuite toilets, lifts and central heating, suitable for accommodating the bigwigs who came to stay in Seville from all over the world for the Universal Exposicion in 1929, celebrating Spain’s former colonies, and its own industrial prowess.
As the Expo 29 was based in Maria Luisa Park, royalty stayed at the magnificent neo-mudejar Alfonso XIII palace next door, built for the eponymous king. The then-called Majestic was further to the north of the city, near the old Estacion de Cordoba train station, the beautiful iron-framed building which is now Plaza de Armas shopping centre. Of all the hotels built for this Expo – which included the Cristina by San Telmo bridge, now a building with shops, apartments and offices – the Colon and Alfonso XIII are the only two which are still used as hotels.
The famous flocked to stay here, including Ernest Hemingway, who loved the Feria and watched many bullfights with Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth, and the hotel has remained a firm favourite with bullfighters coming to strut their stuff in the Real Maestranza, the city’s bullring. Now called the Melia Colon, the hotel retains some of its original glamour, including the neo-classical facade and the famous glass dome in the atrium, plus a new contemporary edge with sensuous red velvet chairs and a rooftop spa.
I had lunch at the hotel’s Burladero restaurant earlier this week, which is in the lower ground floor and also has a pavement terrace area. The restaurant and tapas bar is themed around bullfighting, with a traje de luz (matador’s suit) behind glass, and photos of corridas all over. The restaurant was, some years ago, briefly under the auspices of star chef Dani Garcia, but this venture was not a success; the restaurant has, I was told, “done a 180-degree turn”.
Luckily I had remembered to advise them of my non-carnivore tendencies, and a fellow diner reckoned my resulting fish and vegetable options were the best of the entire meal. One of these was tartare of almadraba tuna, which is always fabulous. Tender and tasty, the fish is always as soft as it is delicious, this time topped with roe, on a base of avocado.
I also had a poached egg, which came almost cooked so that I had to break it open and swirl the still-liquid white into its hot base of truffled potato and vegetables so it could finish cooking. Listed on their menu as a new tapa, it was divine – a comfort-food combination of tasty egg (free-range, I hope) with meaty mushrooms and soft potato. Our pudding was a new twist on the traditional Semana Santa sweet, torrijas (bread soaked in honey) – with a crispy caramel topping, like creme brulee, and nougat ice-cream. To me, soggy white bread could never be appealing, but the crunchy sweet layer with helado de turron was pretty good.
The prices are not cheap – with the tuna at 6.50 euros and the egg at 5.50 euros, this is out of pocket range for most Sevillanos, although tourists with ampler budgets may well take advantage. Wine costs a more reasonable, though by no means cheap, three to five euros per glass, off the top end of price scales in the city. There’s no doubt that the quality of this food is first class, and the service was excellent too. The menu is largely traditional, with local favourites such as pork carrillada and solomillo, adobo (marinated fish) and tortillita de camaron (little shrimp pancakes), plus their own signature dish, cola de toro (bull’s tail), along with some more experimental or modern dishes like the ones I was fortunate enough to try. The chef, Javier Rico, used to work at the Porta Coeli restaurant in the NH Hesperia hotel in Nervion.
If you’re visiting the city, especially during the upcoming annual madness that is Semana Santa followed closely by the Feria, and you don’t mind paying over the odds for some really excellent tapas, then I’d recommend Burladero.