PRESS SECTION - Evening Standard Marcus Scriven


Though usually impervious to charm, MARCUS SCRIVEN was defenceless when confronted with the raffish hospitable owner of Casa No. 7

When travelling to Andalucia, it is, of course always possible that you will net get further than Seville, as I realised when reacquainting myself with the city for the first time in more than five years. Andalusian specialist At Home with Friends in Spain has unearthed Casa Nº 7 - a small guest house created by Gonzalo del Rio of the Gonzalez Byass sherry family. It was the 47th house he had looked at during his quest for perfection. At the time, it was a lath and plaster ruin. Now it has four double bedrooms each with a bathroom, decorated and furnished exactly Gonzalo wants them. Cashmere tartan blankets - Gonzalo labours under the handicap of being one-eighth Scottish, but bears it well - are folded up on the backs of the armchairs in the bedrooms for those who might feel the chill (a possibility, perhaps, after the body clock has been neutralised in the bars of Santa Cruz three minutes away). Identical, long necked glass flagons (one filled with shampoo, the other with bath gel) are placed between twin washbasins.

Scrambled eggs and bacon are served in the dining room where Kip engravings of country seats (The South Prospect of Knole: Rendcomb, the seat of Sir John Guise, Bart and so forth) line the walls and where 18 coffee pots stand in shining ranks on the sideboard (Gonzalo says he wants 24). In the drawing room, a collection of silver cigarette and snuff cases and matchbox holders march across a desk, while all around are black and white photographs of successive generations of the Gonzalez Byass family, loitering with royalty or returning from shooting.

Gonzalo is an incurable Anglophile with a taste for big cigars - twin passions which are perhaps only eclipsed by his ardour for Seville, his adopted city. Hence his endless fund of knowledge, historical and contemporary, which he is eager to display, despite distractions from home (Jerez). One night saw him talking until nearly four in the morning; a dozen lawyers were on the other end of the line.

Seville's back street tyre screech, he explained as he led the way to a hostelry, is caused by the black wax which spatters the roads, residue of the city's frequent torch lit processions. The observation diverted me from thought of that evening's bullfight, for which Gonzalo had procured a black-market ticket. A matador called Enrique Ponce had been gored, which given his name, always seemed on the cards.

Consequently, it was in a spirit of celebration that I reached the Alta Mira, one of Gonzalo's favoured local bars (owned by the son of the Duke of San Fernando apparently), to tackle the fino and jamón combination which is one of the world's finest achievements. Though Gonzalo would not disagree with that assessment, he nevertheless urged me on to the next stage, which united a Solera 1847 with a dish of squid, garlic and wine. It looked like the engine oil on rice. It tasted delicious.

Then we moved to a seafood bar. Please do not ask me its name - Casa No. 7 may be only five minutes from the Cathedral, and about one and half from the 16th century. Pilatus House (owned by the Duke of Medina, another friend of Gonzalo's) but at a certain stage of the night in Santa Cruz, odd things happen to time and space. A pair of brothers I know once bestowed their custom on 16 consecutive bars. They lived, but they were in the wine trade. If you lack that kind of training you may struggle.

Even Gonzalo, I was relieved to discover, values a little time to put the previous evening in perspective, and was understandably pained to be awoken at 8.45am the next day, a Saturday (think of 5.45am in London and you have the right idea), to be asked whether it was considered proper to haggle in Seville's antique shops. The caller was an American; Gonzalo's Angophilia remains undiminished. In fact, he is hoping to buy a black London cab to send to the airport to pick up arriving guests any offers.