We are greeted with a cup of thick hot chocolate, a Spanish speciality that always bemuses me a little as it is not something I associate with their light delicacy.
I am with my other half at a cooking class in Leytonstone, run by Pica Pica, ready to learn how to make seven tapas dishes. We are introduced to two other couples and spend the next three hours working in twos.
I have done classes such as this before alone and, although you all settle into each other’s company eventually, I felt the class was far more relaxed with each of us having the safety net of another – although this isn’t a prerequisite for the class and Helen has conducted many sessions made up of strangers.
We begin by baking our own bread – pan del pais, an easy country loaf. This is something I had always imagined to be quite the feat and so sought to avoid but, quite to my surprise, it was enormously easy.
We got the dough out from time to time throughout the first couple of hours to knead before returning it to the radiator to rise, finally putting in the oven in the final hour.
To proceed with two other recipes which required bread Helen pulled some out fresh from the oven for us, so that we could eat as we went along in true Spanish style.
We then moved on to the Tortilla Española, Spanish omelette, each pair preparing some of the ingredients, like potato and onion, and then putting it all together to slowly cook through.
While we waited for the tortilla to cook enough to be flipped – with the help of a plate – we made something unassumingly simple yet delicious, pan con tomatoe.
After cutting tomatoes in half we grated them, a technique which easily removes the skin as it does not grate, then adding salt and pepper and placing on the fresh bread after having rubbed it in garlic and olive oil.
That was all it was, bread with tomato and lots of added flavour. So simple, so fresh and, honestly, so delicious. When the tortilla was cooked through we also placed that on top of the tomato.
We then turned our attention to guisantes con jamon, pea and serrano ham stew with garlic, artichoke, and bay leaf, parsley and rosemary bouquets.
Then, accommodating for my pescatarian partner, espinacas a la Catalana - a Catalan dish of spinach, pine nuts and raisins with cinnamon and muscatel.
Next was another simple yet delicious recipe of pimientos de padron - padron peppers which are generally quite sweet, but will often have one or two sneakily spicy ones in a handful. They are hard to find in the UK but delicious when slow-cooked and smothered in salt.
Finally, the dish I was most excited for – gambas al ajillo, prawns in garlic. My partner scoffed at my excitement for this, but I have never cooked raw prawns before having grown up in a vegetarian household so often shy away from things I am uncertain of.
We cooked the garlic very slowly on a very low heat under strict instruction that should the garlic brown at all we would need to start over. As they softened we then added the chilli before turning up the heat to cook the prawns. To serve we sprinkled with parsley and lemon juice.
So my partner was right, it is simple. That is not to say that it wasn’t a wonderful dish.
This is where I felt the beauty lay within the Pica Pica tapas class. If you are not a very confident cook then you will not struggle, but you will learn a lot. If you are slightly more skilled then you may not feel like you have made huge leaps forward, but you will leave with several new recipes under your belt that I am sure you will confidently continue cooking at home.