So the annual list of the world’s best eating establishments has been published
There are the usual suspects – Noma, a Heston joint and some Italian places. But the top ten is intriguing. Not only are there no French restaurants sad face) but there are three, yes three, Spanish gaffs. What does this mean I hear you cry?
Well firstly that the Spanish are not just good at package beach resorts, they’re not bad at cooking either. It also means that there is a new force elbowing its way into the world restaurant scene, and it’s wearing espadrilles and the traje de luces.
Now Spanish food has been good for a long time, its long and distinguished history peppered with influences from conquering travellers and immigrants of every description. Spanish restaurants outside of Spain, however, have not had such a glamorous past. Chains in the UK have historically offered a lukewarm (both in temperature and authenticity!) version of true Iberian cuisine. Soggy patatas bravas, flavourless chorizo and diluted sangria were your only options up until a few years ago- but things have changed. A whole list of new restaurants have popped up which showcase the incredible diversity and quality of Spanish cuisine, and there are no signs of this slowing.
We spoke to Sergio Ferrari – Owner and Chef at newly opened Alquimia in Putney Wharf – to find out more about Spanish food in the UK.
What is the current trend for Spanish food? What dishes, flavours, styles are popular?
The current trend for Spanish food and cooking, from my point of view, is maintaining the tradition and culture of famous dishes whilst combining them with innovative cooking techniques and new tastes, particularly those imported from other countries. The gastronomic world is full of many flavours and we should not stop using them just because they are not typically Spanish. My philosophy is to always respect the dishes and ingredients from the area in which you are working as they will be fresher and more relevant to the customer.
Can you briefly describe the different regions of Spanish food?
The most popular dishes in Spanish gastronomy are of course our tapas. We cook many of these at Alquimia, including the famous Spanish omelette, chorizo in cider, octopus from Galicia, padron peppers, squid Andalusian style, the list goes on. The important thing to note is that these dishes vary by region and there are innumerable versions.
Perhaps it’s easier to divide Spain into three main food regions. The north and Basque country, which is famous for stews and slow cooked food, the south with its delicious fried dishes and the central areas which roast a lot of meats and vegetables. We must not forget the beautiful seafood found all along the Spanish coast.
What dishes do British people tend to order in Spanish restaurants?
British people still like to have a starter, main course and dessert. Normally our customers come to taste a selection of tapas to share, for example, a plate of jamon iberico with toasted bread and tomato, piquillo peppers stuffed with cod brandade (salt cod dip) or creamy roasted chicken or jamon croquettes. Some of the main dishes we offer include; grilled Iberian pluma (flank), a delicious rice with lobster prepared by our expert paella chef Jose, oxtail caramelized with cocoa sauce and truffle potato or cod comfit with black rice and romesco (Catalonian nut and red pepper sauce).
To finish we have traditional caramelized torrija (Spanish bread pudding) with vanilla or a modern chocolate hazelnut cream with ginger ice cream and fresh passion fruit.
In your opinion what is the difference between the way Spanish people dine out and the British restaurant scene?
The two countries have more in common than you might think. Both the Spanish and British love eating out with family and friends. Spanish people tend to eat at home in the daytime and visit restaurants in the evening and at weekends, whereas British people eat out all week long.
Perhaps the one thing that British people don’t do is the Spanish tradition of ‘tapeo’, where friends and family meet for drinks and eat tapas or pinchos before going for dinner later on. British people tend to go straight for dinner early on and if they drink beforehand they tend not to eat.
Which are the best Spanish restaurants in London, except yours of course?
In my mind the restaurant that defines Spanish cuisine in London at the moment is the recently opened Ametsa in the City. The chefs there are some of the world’s best, including Elena Arzak and Juan Mari Arzak, and they continue to be the leaders of modern Spanish cuisine. Iberica under the command of chef Nacho Manzano, again in the city of London, also leads the way in superior Spanish cooking.
For tapas I would recommend Fino, Brindisa and Barrafina- they use quality ingredients to make great dishes.
What is the future for Spanish food?
Spanish cooking has become very fashionable, but I think that through the great work of some amazing chefs the world has stood up and now acknowledges the strength of Spanish gastronomy. Spanish food is healthy and uses lots of fresh and interesting ingredients which has helped it gain popularity across the world, particularly in Asia. My hope is that it will continue to gain popularity across the globe.
I would also like to take this opportunity to send extend my congratulations to our colleagues and friends of El Celler De Can Roca, for wining Best Restaurant in the World 2013.