A Teacup in Spain

LAAF's real English writing columnist Caroline Fakhri aka Teacup, escaping Brexit is presently on tour in Spain.

Relojería Esparza

Relojería Desde 1925  * JJ Dominé 5 * Valencia

www.relojeriaesparza.com

All that glitters is gold or silver or precious stones and even beautiful watches.

The shop window of Relojeria-Joyeria Esparza is testament to this, as, like a magpie, I was drawn towards it whilst in search of a jeweller’s to take my watches to for replacement batteries.

It is one of those establishments where I feel slightly in awe of what I see, almost to the point of presuming I have no right to enter. Everything looked fabulously expensive and beautifully crafted, from the designs of Salvatore Plata, to Casio G Shock watches as well as the Citizen and Seiko watches. Relojeria-Joyeria being a Seiko, Casio and Citizen official distributor. Watch out (excuse the pun) if you are a collector, Esparza will hook you in due to the amazing display as well as their online presence, initiated by the fourth generation of the team, Javier, four years ago, in a bid to make sure that Esparza, although offering traditional face to face customer service, has a foot very much in the 21st century, with a website, Facebook page and an Instagram account, with an impressive 50.000 followers.

But Relojeria Joyeria is no newcomer to the jewellery and watch business. Started by Javier’s great grandfather around the turn of the century in El Cabanyal, a very old part of Valencia, and once upon a time a separate town. In truth nobody in the family has an exact date of the opening, due to the great grandfather dying when still young.

But it can be said with confidence, Relojeria Joyeria dates back at least as far as 1925, with the opening of the shop at 318 Avenida del Puerto, which despite Javier’s great grandfather anticipating problems with the landlord at the outset, went on to trade all the way up to 2018-the closure of which being due to a massive rent increase. Sadly, 318 still stands empty today whilst a stone’s throw away the shop in Calle Doctor Juan Jose Domine, Relojeria Joyeria, is thriving, with an interior refurbishment going on as I write. The shop in JJ Doming was opened a couple of years after the opening of the Avenida del Puerto shop.

Whilst relating the beginnings of the business Javier explained that it was his great grandfather’s love of watches and repairing them that had sent him down this pathway. But, as Javier went on to explain, it wasn’t just his great grandfather in the shop; he employed twelve watch repairers who also designed and repaired jewellery. They worked for other jewellery shops and businesses in the city that did not have the necessary expertise for watch and jewellery repairs, or the time, and/or preferred to pay other businesses to do the work for them. He set the craftsmen up with benches and they got to work, so unlike what I had originally imagined, which was a lone jeweller.

Javier’s father, Ramon, along with one of Javier’s uncles, Enrique, started in the Calle Juan Jose Domine shop and both of them are still there today. I was lucky enough to meet both of them on my first visit to the shop. I was struck by their genuine warmth and humility, and this is what drew me back to the shop to ask if I could write about the story of Relojeria Joyeria. Three more of Javier’s uncles remained in the Avenida del Puerto shop. On quizzing Javier on what took him, the fourth generation of this family, into the jewellery business and not elsewhere, he explained that he had gone to university and studied civil engineering, and also spent time in England in order to learn English before deciding to follow his father and uncles into the business. ‘I didn’t want the shop to close when my father retires in a few years time. It seemed a shame not to keep it going, so the best way to stop the shop closing was to go into the business myself. But like all good businesses they need updating from time to time, so besides the interior refurbishment I decided that Relojeria Joyeria needed to be brought firmly up to date with an online presence. This has worked really well and opened up opportunities to sell not only outside of Valencia but also out side of Spain. So in a nutshell we are a traditional business using modern technology; we are in the top ten list of shops that supply the Casio G Shock Watch.’

Javier also has an older brother who currently lives in Finland; he has been helping out with the graphic design for the new-look interior, and generally overseeing the revamp of the shop. He has considered moving back to Valencia to help when their father retires. Besides all the impressive achievements above, the icing on the cake for me was when Javier pointed to the elegant clock tower which stands guard by the Marina and explained that any clock repairs are done by them, and if that wasn't impressive enough, just behind the shop in Placa del Tribunal de les Aigues stands the impressive church of Santa Maria del Mar, and guess what? All clock repairs of this beautiful church are also carried out by Relojeria Joyeria.

‘Next stop Big Ben’ I joked! ‘Repairs are being done at the moment, if you hurry maybe you can help repair there too!’

Esparza, the original shop


The Serranos Towers

Torres de Serranos (Spanish), Torres dels Serrans (Valencian)

The Serranos Towers or Serrans Towers is one of twelve gates that formed part of the ancient city wall of Valencia, Muralla de Cristiana, the Christian Wall. When the city walls were knocked down in 1865 on the orders of the provincial governor Cirillio Amoros only the Torres de Serranos along with the 15th century Quart Towers and some other archeological remains such as the Jewish Gate, Peurto de las Judios survived.

The Gate was built by the architect Pere Balaguer at the end of the 14 century between 1392 and 1398, an excellent example of Valencian Gothic architecture; it was designed to be a defensive structure at one of the busiest city gates. Construction began on 6th April 1392 on the site of an older gateway. From 1585 until 1887 the towers were used as a prison for nobles when one of the main prisons burnt down in 1586. It is an important landmark and one of the best preserved monuments of Valencia. The walls consist of solid stone as the main purpose was fortification. It’s purpose was to defend the city in the event of siege or attack but it was also used for welcoming ceremonies for ambassadors and kings.

During the Spanish Civil War works of art from the Prado Museum were stored in the Towers. Modifications were made to ensure the art was safe in case the towers were damaged or destroyed in a bombing raid. At present, the Towers are open to the public, where from the top, visitors can enjoy a view across Valencia.

The Towers are still used for official ceremonies, the most famous of which is the Crida, the opening ceremony of the Fallas, a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph.

It’s name is probably due to its location in the northeast of the old city centre possibly because the majority of settlers near there were from Teruel, whose inhabitants were often called Serrans (mountain people by the Valencians) or alternatively, the gate may also have been named after an important family, the Serrans who lived in a street with the same name.

 

 

Jessica and Lorenzo at Tallat

Tallat, Coffee Specialists

Calle Barraca 25                                                Email: hola@tallatcoffee.com

46011 Valencia                                                  Tel: +34960836446

 

Humble Beginnings

Tallat cafe in Calle Barraca Cabanyal district of Valencia is a personal project that reflects who the owners, Lorenzo and Jessica are.

To quote Lorenzo "Jessica and I are the result of all our different experiences". Lorenzo went on to say that he came to Valencia a few years ago and fell in love with the city; he liked the fact that the city has a good quality of life but the downside is that there are not many job opportunities; so Lorenzo and Jessica, his partner whom he met in Valencia, realised they had to do it themselves and create what they wanted to see. “We had an idea of what we wanted to do and it was much more than a commodity or a business, more a way of life, with no compromise on quality or service. So, Tallat equals great coffee and the ritual of coffee drinking in the true spirit of the region and all Mediterranean cultures.”

Tallat started as takeaway coffee only, or to be more precise as a pop up in a market in the Cabanyal area, the same area that the coffee shop is now in. At the beginning of their venture, Lorenzo said that they were frequently told that they wouldn’t survive as a takeaway only and needed to have tables and chairs on their terrace, for which a licence is required which can be a lengthy process; but Lorenzo and Jessica were adamant that Tallat would not only survive but flourish because the focus was always on the product and luckily, despite the setbacks the pandemic has brought, they have proved the nay-sayers wrong: even with the prolonged closure in 2020, and with cafes being restricted to takeaway service only for the first two months of 2021-the latter, ironically working in their favour as they still hadn’t got the licence at that point.

Lorenzo and Jessica were canny with their budgeting as well and refurbished the shop themselves, doing it exactly as they wanted it, using the time in 2020 when they were shut. "It had to be something very personal to us", Lorenzo explained.They also budgeted carefully for their first year of opening, making sure they had something in reserve for any unforeseen problems, although a pandemic was certainly not included in those eventualities, which rendered so many businesses helpless.

So how did Tallat come into being? This was an interesting point for me to find out when Lorenzo and I sat down for a chat, after a busy Monday morning for him serving great coffee.

Lorenzo, originally from Italy, worked as a sound engineer in TV. Looking to leave his comfort zone and for a place where anything is possible, he chose London. But instead of going straight into similar work he chose hospitality instead, which gave him the freedom to think about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. “I wanted to be open-minded about myself, first of all, and to try different things and learn skills that allow you to be flexible. The industry gave me the opportunity to meet a variety of people, people that you can listen to and learn from. I have tried to live every single experience to the full, even if something didn’t work out that particular time, and as a result of that, what I have now represents a life-style with all of my past experiences added to it”.

So why Valencia?

In 2015 Lorenzo made a trip to Barcelona but wasn’t particularly enthralled with the city so decided to try Valencia and really liked it. I asked why, because my first impressions were of a dusty, shabby, down at heel place, and that is what Lorenzo liked, "the unpretentious spirit of the place”. He stayed less than a year before returning to London accompanied by Jessica, and decided to focus on coffee, by learning everything there is to know about it, from choosing the coffee, to roasting, to serving. He entered the UK Brewers Cup regional heats and made it all the way through to the 2018 national finals in Glasgow, finishing, very proudly, in fourth place. He had to choose the coffee, roast it, and prepare three cups for three judges.

Armed with his wins, knowledge and expertise Lorenzo and Jessica returned to Valencia in June 2019. Then in November 2019 they opened Tallat to enable them to have more control over their business than they had with the original pop up shop which they had June-Nov 2019; short-lived autonomy as they had to close completely in March 2020.

At the beginning of that period Lorenzo took the opportunity to set up the roasting, before reopening in May 2020. In October they applied to change the licence from takeaway to outdoor seating, which entailed a few changes, such as putting in a toilet. The licence was granted just in time for the re-opening of cafes at the beginning of March2021. With the outside tables and chairs the clientele increased, with most new customers coming via recommendation rather than people passing by.

Tallat’s Future

So what is the future of Tallat, which is in an area of Valencia, which although run down has a certain charm? Some of the things that Lorenzo has in mind for the cafe are: "focussing time on roasting and possibly selling online but we want to allow the cafe to evolve naturally with our customers, the people that make the business, at the forefront”.

Finally I asked of Lorenzo, “and what about Cabanyal featured recently in a Guardian article of the top ten hip places to live?” He replies thoughtfully, “I hope it continues to improve but not to change fundamentally". 


Interior Showroom by Jacqueline Koepfer Torres

Calle Doctor Juan José Dómine14,Valencia 46011

Just before Christmas I found a corner of Valencia which for me will always be a little piece of England.

Walking home one wet December day, very un-Spanish weather, a shop window caught my eye, mainly because it looked so welcoming in the glooming with its pretty fairy lights, but on closer inspection I noticed the very English drawing room style of the furniture and fabrics, something from a bygone age but still with a relevant and up-to-date feel. I was intrigued as everything I had seen so far in Spain was, not surprisingly, very Spanish: heavy dark furniture and fabrics, although this is slowly changin with people looking for lighter interiors more reminiscent of Northern European interiors, where the light is always welcome.

The owner of the shop, Jacqueline, came to the door and welcomed my sister and I in and invited us to look around. As we were leaving, she said, “Pop back any time for a coffee and chat”. 

I went back in January with the intention of finding out more about the shop and the person behind the designs, but Jacqueline was stuck in Zurich unable to return due to the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic. 

It wasn’t until a month later that I did finally track her down and was able to learn more about the origins of this wonderful shop, the person behind it and how it came into being.

As it turned out, the Valencian shop was far from the beginning of Jacqueline’s foray into interiors, as she told me over coffee one warm spring Friday.

Jacqueline, of mixed Spanish and German heritage, grew up in Switzerland and started working in the interior design world in 1998. In 2000 she and three colleagues had the opportunity to buy the business that they worked in, when the owner decided that he wanted to do something completely different. In 2003 two of the colleagues left and in 2004 the third person went on maternity leave taking a bit of a back seat until 2009 when Jacqueline decided to take the business over completely.

Jacqueline, whose mother is from Valencia, spent summer holidays there when she was young, so she already knew the town well and revealed to me that subconsciously she had always wanted to live there. In 2009 she decided to buy an apartment and from then on visited twice a year ensuring that she took time away from her business. Ten years later, during a visit to Valencia, Jacqueline spotted an empty shop and asked her uncle to make enquiries for her. She took on the empty shop in December 2019 and got it up and running only to close in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Luckily, the showroom is by no means the only income for Jacqueline and she has many private clients that she designs interiors for and really the showroom is more a showcase for her fabrics, furniture and ideas.  

With the re-opening of everything, Jacqueline is able to spend her time between Zurich and Valencia again but plans to spend more time in Valencia developing her own furniture designs using fabrics from the UK whilst employing Spanish expertise to make them. They will go under the name of Fiona Darcy, a huge nod to her love of everything English from furnishings to literature.

Jacqueline looks to expand her empire beyond the borders of Spain and Switzerland into Portugal and other European countries. She said that suddenly everything she needs is coming to her without any real effort on her part, revealing that she is definitely on the right path. 

“DREAM BIG” is what she said to me at the end of our conversatio n- which seemed a good place to conclude.

30 April 2021


@mikengocafe, Valencia, Spain

M❤Kengo Cafe

Carrera J.J. Dómine 9     46011 Valencia                                  Tel 673613180

Whilst scurrying to get out of the cold December wind and find a hot cafe-con-leche I came across the unusually named Mikengocafe situated on the corner of Calle J.J Dómine No 9 and Calle de Josep Aguire at what I call the seaside end of the city of Valencia. Placing myself at a table just outside the serving window of the cafe where I had a great view of the food that was being prepared I felt immediately welcomed by the friendly staff who to my surprise were chatting in English.

Richard, who hails from London, accompanied by his wife Kami, who is Valencian, own and run the cafe alongside staff who come from various countries in Europe, adding to the truly cosmopolitan feel of the place.

My first stop at Mikengo cafe was very positive, from the friendly staff to the smooth coffee. All the coffee is sourced from a local company called Bluebell and coffee is not their only strong point. Since that first encounter I have had tasty lunches as well as homemade cakes accompanied by a nice pot of tea with milk on the side, great for the days whenI have a hankering for England.

I feel Mikengo cafe is something a little bit out of the ordinary so I was interested to find out more about the ideas and inspiration behind how Mikengo came into being and one afternoon at the end of a busy lunchtime session Richard very kindly agreed to tell me more, starting with the unusual name that sounds slightly Japanese but is in fact a combination of their children’s names Kendrix and Tiago - prefixed by Mi the Spanish for My - as, in a way, all of this, Richard indicated to the cafe, is forthem. 

Richard comes from a catering background and ran several pubs in London before coming to Valencia to set up shop and home.

Mikengo opened in May 2019 following a complete renovation with the idea of keeping it light and bright which is the perfect backdrop for the regularly changing artwork on the large back wall of the cafe. Other features that break up the white are the open shelves in the kitchen area, which is on full display, and a unit which glasses hang from. After a reasonably short first season Mikengo was forced to close its doors in March 2020, like so many places all over Europe, because of the pandemic. Like many of us the world over Richard imagined it might be for a few weeks only, time to have a good clean and rearrange the cafe but Mikengo wasn’t allowed to open again until May 2020 a year since their original opening.

But Mikengo is more than a pleasant place to while away a morning with an almuerzo (traditional Spanish brunch), or amerienda (afternoon tea), it’s also a great place to lunch where Richard and Kami’s menu represents the best of the cuisine encountered on their foreign travels: hearty salads using grains to add body, curries, Spanish stews with a healthy twist, vegan dishes with an ever changing variety. Everything is homemade, including lemonade and ice tea; I will be down there in the warmer months on a regular basis for these last two items.

Mikengo customers range from office workers, Monday to Friday, to the general public throughout the week, carrying over into the weekend. A system for pre-ordering food to take away, especially for the lunchtime rush, is available now via Instagram and WhatsApp, which takes pressure off the staff as everything can be got ready in advance.

I now think of Mikengo cafe as my local, a place where I can go alone when feeling in need of a familiar, friendly face, as well as with friends and family, knowing I will have a good time, good coffee and tasty food.

19 Januarry 2021