Bringing a taste of Barcelona’s La Boqueria market and local cooking to London – that was the aim of Streets of Spain, a combined food market and cultural event held at London’s Southbank over the first May bank holiday weekend. Sponsored by Spanish wine producers Campo Viejo, the event saw a (fairly small) selection of traders from La Boqueria set up their stalls at one end of the far larger Real Food Market that extended from Royal Festival Hall to the London Eye.
As part of the event, renowned Spanish chef Angel Pascual presented a special tasting menu in a three night popup restaurant.
Until 2011 when it closed its doors, Pascual was at the helm of the michelin-starred Lluçanès Restaurant which he and partner Rosa Morera originally opened in Osana, Catalonia in 1991 but relocated to Barcelona in 2006. Once there, they also opened a second restaurant, Els Fogons serving affordable traditional tapas.
Now they run a catering business that also provides consultancy, cooking classes and demonstrations.
In a space that looks like it was converted from parking or warehouse space (and is now regularly used for similar popup events organised by the Southbank Centre), we discovered a small bar and a tiny temporary kitchen on a raised platform over-looking an expansive dining area.
Each evening was organised into two sittings – we were part of the first. Despite the tiny kitchen and 40 diners per sitting, dishes came out at perfect intervals in a clearly choreographed performance between chefs and waiters. As the waiters delivered dishes to each table, they were followed around by colleagues who introduced and poured matching wines for each course.
Before the menu proper, came an amuse. In a martini glass was a small slice of horse mackerel that had been lightly salted and dried. Served over an intense smooth guacamole, topped with sweet sharp tomato sauce, it was a cross between cocktail and canape. The mackerel was as soft as sashimi. The Campo Viejo Cava Rose served with it was a touch sweeter than the white Cava Brut we tried later, but still crisp.
The first course listed on the menu was “seasonal wild mushrooms stuffed with traditional Spanish black pudding, served with quail egg in a cream of mushroom sauce” and served with the Cava Brut.
The morel mushroom was superbly flavoured, as was the rich cream of mushroom soup but neither of us could detect any hint of black pudding within the stuffing. The dryer cava cut through the richness well and gave Pete a faint impression of lemon sherbet.
The next course was translated on the menu as “a variety of layered season vegetables accompanied with a potato parmentier sauce and drizzled with a flavoursome vegetable reduction”. The matched wine was Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2011. I always bristle a little when menus describe a dish as tasty, flavoursome or delicious – it always seems a little too presumptious to me. Still…
Although it looked pretty on the plate, the layering, with crisp pastry-like potato on top, made it difficult to eat without it splatting out across the plate. That aside, it was delicious, and noteworthy for how intensely Pascual made each vegetable sing of itself. Courgette was intensely courgette, aubergine intensely aubergine, and the same went for carrot and mushrooms. I thought the rosemary a touch strong but it balanced with the white sauce and oil which both, contrary to the expectations given by the menu, tasted of very little.
With the prawn head standing to attention, I watched the next course of “smoked risotto cooked with prawns fresh from the Barceloneta market – served a little spicy for added kick” being served to the tables around us.
Staff were a little slow to serve the Campo Viejo Reserva 2007 but perhaps that was because they took more time to explain the choice to match a red wine to the fish dish. Brand ambassador and head sommelier Alfredo Del Rio, when he spoke to us later, was keen to make much of how bold and rare a choice it was to pair fish with red, but really it’s not quite as unusual as he implied. Still, with such strong flavours, it made good sense.
The flavour of the risotto was far more successful than the texture, which we found intensely chalky, almost gritty and let the dish down for us. On the other hand, the rice carried a strong taste of the sea, which worked well against the very sweet and soft prawn. I yearned for more actual seafood; Pete’s dish had a full prawn, albeit a small one but mine must have broken during the cooking and what remained was the size of a newborn’s thumb.
The meat course was “a selection of duck, pork and beef with grilled seasonal vegetables” served with Gran Reserva 2005 and was a very mixed course for me.
I loved the simplicity of the presentation, and on first glance the pork looked particularly good. Sadly, when I moved to eat it, I discovered that nearly the entire piece was bone and cartilage and there was just a thin sliver of meat and a soft and unpleasantly chewy skin. Luckily, the beef, incredibly tender and well flavoured, and the duck, like a slice of fall-apart sausage made from confit of duck, were super.
Better still were the vegetables (and fruit); it’s my abiding impression that this is where Pascual truly shines. A single slice of apple was at the same time yieldingly soft yet with the thinnest layer of crispness around its exterior. A slice of artichoke had great intensity of flavour but none of the unpleasant fibres that can sometimes lessen the pleasure. A small cube of potato was beautifully cooked and delicious.
Described on the menu as “a rich chocolate ingot served with peppermint and an explosive surprise” this disappointed in part because of the damp squib when it came to the surprise element. The popping candy in both our chocolates was so meagre as to give only the merest hint of a snap; certainly a far cry from anything explosive as promised.
Served with the same Cava Rose as the amuse bouche, the best element on the plate was the peppermint foam which was thicker and a touch less ephemeral than the usual fine dining foams are wont to be. The orange jelly was ok too, perhaps blood orange or pink grapegruit. I didn’t feel any of the three elements worked together very well and found the dessert disappointing.
During the meal, I visited the open kitchen to watch the chefs at work. Angel Pascual was joined by a respected chef from La Boqueria – I was told that she runs a casual restaurant within the market area, serving dishes based on produce sold at the family stall. I’m afraid, I didn’t make a note of her name.
We were also able to chat further to Alfredo Del Rio, who generously invited us to sample some additional Campo Viejo wines which had not been included in the menu. The first was Dominio, which he explained was the premium wine made by the brand, made from grapes grown on just 5 parcels out of the 800 parcels of land that make up the vineyard. Aged in only new French oak barrels for 11 months, it’s young but rich for its age. Pete described it as smooth yet gloriously, lip-puckeringly tannic with tart fresh black fruit. The second was Graciano, not sold in its own right but one of the blends that makes up about 5% of the Gran Reserva served with the meat course. It’s an indigenous varietal, not one that we’d heard of before, and had strong black and blue berry flavours, a dark colour and strong tannin.
With coffee after the meal, the menu was priced at £65 a head, including the matching wines.
Although we didn’t love every aspect of each dish, we enjoyed the meal thoroughly, not least because of Pascual’s mastery of making vegetables sing and his tendency to let the flavours of the ingredients talk for themselves.
Kavey Eats were guests of Campo Viejo.