When I got married the first time (there’s been a few!) it was 1987. Sally and I (who now owns the well known Esse ladies retail & spa in Melbourn Cambridgshire) celebrated our honeymoon in Thailand. It was a real experience for both of us, we were only 25 years old. We went to a very expensive Thai restaurant on a river and I munched into what looked like a mangetout. Problem was it was a green chilli, it was seriously hot. I spent the rest of that evening with my tongue in a glass of ice cold water. Little wonder the marriage didn’t work out! Although hot, it was the best beef salad I have ever eaten.

The experience of Tapas enables you to try many different flavours and share different dishes with friends and family. As most readers will know, Tapas were originally intended as little bites of food on a plate to cover a glass of wine. But it evolved and has become the food that Spain is celebrated for.

In Spain Tapas are normally excellent and tiny little bars, restaurants and chiringuitos all over the country do it brilliantly. So for a British chef to follow the style, he would have to make it his own, and that’s what I did. So when I created our new Tapas menu I structured it differently. A little bit Asian, a little bit Spanish, a little bit Peruvian, some Thai and even a little bit Italian, in fact anything works if it is well executed and definitely not fused together. Remember fusion is confusion!

In my previous restaurant in La Cala de Mijas Spain (The Little Geranium) we cooked international Tapas at lunch time and won many awards, one of which was Best Tapas in Malaga region. Malaga is a huge area filled with fantastic restaurants offering great Tapas, I was delighted and astounded. We were frequently visited by regulars, friends and many celebrities. Lorraine Kelly loved it so much she booked her 60th birthday party with us. So we had something different and it worked well. I sat and thought a lot about it before jumping in to offering it at Olivia’s because it has to be perfect, and it has to be and look creative, it’s not as simple as it may seem, it’s not just small portions of food, it’s morsels of sensational flavour. Eventually I decided that the best way is to pick some of the highlights like my Thai beef salad, ceviche of prawns with strawberries and the famous crispy duck salad of course. I pulled it all together and launched it last week.

Launch day was blowing a storm, it wasn’t the best weather, but people sat inside and loved sharing some of my all-time greats. That is what Tapas brings, apart from a great culinary experience it brings joy and laughter, a whole holistic dining and sharing experience. My new head chef John and I dress up the plates to make them look like art, we all eat with our eyes but then there are the flavours which are literally amazing. I prepared the Thai beef salad for Elliot Wright founder and owner of Olivia’s in La Cala and asked…”how is it?’ ‘Amazing mate….absolutely amazing’ he replied….. that’s good enough for me!

At home I often cook small plates of food, crispy fried Chinese chicken, prawn pil pil and the Thai beef salad often feature; then I serve it up in the centre of the table, with patatas bravas and a spicy paprika sauce made authentically with olive oil, but my favourite is the Thai beef salad by far. The secret of this beautiful dish is the dressing and the tender medium rare beef with the crunch of the toasted peanuts. For me it is the number one salad of all times. It is a simple salad to prepare and you can find the recipe here. It dates all the way back to a lady called Siri Sirisang, the chef in Thailand who taught me Thai food, except of course I have changed and evolved it but only very slightly. She worked for me for many years in Cambridgeshire after leaving Thailand. I have no idea where she went after I left my Cambridgeshire Hotel in 2007 as we lost touch, but if you’re reading this Siri, please get in touch!

As published in the Cambridge Independent March 2023                                          www.oliviaslacala.com                                              chefsaunders2020@gmail.com