This new restaurant by famous Spanish chef Quique Dacosta opened in our neighbourhood recently, but I’ve been tracking their development since we heard about it around a year ago. We had been speculating as to where its site would be, what would feature in the menu, etc.
All this excitement is because the focus of the restaurant was on rice. And rice is very dear to Valencian people. And the focus of the restaurant was specifically on rice cooked the Valencian way!
So I was very excited but also way more reluctant than I’d actually admit, as I’ve eaten enough bad paellas in London restaurants that I’d rather not repeat the experience again, but I tried to hide my disappointment-in-advance as best as I could, and tried to keep an open mind.
And… how was it?
The vermouths were fabulous and tasted really fresh (including the very aromatic lemon and orange peels). I enjoyed the Spanish cocktail names, although I really didn’t have any—I was happy with the vermouth and then a glass of wine:
The starters were quite nice; we ordered a salad, a ‘coca’ and cheese stones:
The salad was quite tasty and flavourful, albeit very small.
We ordered ‘coca’ and got this traditional bread instead. An actual coca looks more like a flat bread, and yet they brought this wide bread stick sprinkled with salt and drizzled with oil. Which tasted nice and genuine, like bread tastes in Spain, but wasn’t what I expected.
The waitress asked us for our opinion, and we said we liked it and tasted quite authentic. Then she said that they are actually baked in Valencia. I was taken aback by this; surely you could work with a local baker to make bread in the Spanish style, using Candeal flour?
I wasn’t that convinced by the cheese stones; they felt a bit like eating cheese rim at times; very waxy:
For the paella, we had chosen a “traditional” one because it’s the one we normally cook and it would be the fairest comparison, but we had a very thorough look at the menu and I was happy to see no freaking chorizo on the list—I think I might have stood up and left if I had seen such an anathema.
(Although someone has to tell them that it’s “ñ”, not “ń”… this typo was screaming at me from the menu!)
When the paella finally came, I didn’t even need to try it to notice lots of ‘oddities’ about it:
- too little rice, or too big of a paella. You can see the water has created “holes” in the rice as it boiled on the pan and the water moved upwards. If there had been more rice (or less surface) this would not have been so acute. This is too big for two people. They need to get smaller paellas.
- hardly no toppings. You can literally count the amount of garrofó beans on the paella. This is so sad; it looked like Mr Scrooge cooked it. I showed this picture to a relative, and they told me that it reminded them of the paellas they cooked after the Spanish Civil war, when food was rationed (you can look at some pictures of other paellas in my paella recipe, to see paellas cooked by generous cooks).
And when I got to try it, the other disappointments:
- too much oil. To the point of being borderline gross.
- and… hardly any flavour? this left me absolutely mystified. I had this big hope for the paella as it was cooked on a wood fire, but it was quite insipid. It’s not such a surprise if you think about it, because it’s cooked with hardly no toppings. But still!
On the other hand, I was pleased that the rice was quite decently cooked, neither raw or overcooked (although the excess oil made it hard to appreciate); and witnessing the multiple fires on the kitchen was very comforting (Valencians love fire, so this aspect was most pleasing to me).
All in all, this was still the best paella I have eaten in a London restaurant, and this was what I told the waitress when she asked. But what I didn’t tell her is that outside of a restaurant, the best paellas I’ve eaten in London are still the ones I’ve cooked! If Quique wants some humble advice, I’m happy to offer my services for a special fee ??
I wonder if this way of cooking rice might be a “house signature”, because we went to Vuelve Carolina, another of Quique’s restaurants in Valencia, and we had a similar experience: nice starters and dessert, but really oily rice. That time it was tremendously gross, as if they had drenched one of the ‘chapas’ (rice cooked in a metal tin) in some sort of oily garlic dressing, and it was so utterly messed up we just barely ate any rice.
Two of the desserts looked interesting and we didn’t know which one to choose, so we ordered both:
… and both came up following the same style with the thin sheet on top and a ‘deconstructed’ base underneath:
This is what it looked like if you peeled off the top layer:
I’ll admit that although the flavour was good, it felt a bit disappointing slash boring to see the same formula applied to both desserts. Or maybe I am just becoming more cynical as I age. In retrospect, I think I would have preferred a really good old-fashioned custard with an intact, non deconstructed biscuit on top.
We had also ordered coffees, as the waitress said they had a specialised machine to make gourmet coffees and they were really good, and we got all excited and chose one of each variety to taste, but frankly, both tasted equally similar and meh, because this “specialised machine” was actually a Nespresso machine, and I wanted to scream and run across the street, and get my dose of real coffee from Kaffeine just opposite us. Or just cry expensive, artisanally expressed tears, because each of these coffees would set us £4 back (service charge not included).
I drank this watered down coffee while I looked at Kaffeine and daydreamed of their flat whites, their coffee flights, and how I could brew decent coffees for a week for the price of these two coffees.
I should also mention the decoration, which was like a vivid dream featuring Valencian old-fashioned decorative motifs, arranged in an unconventional way. As in, the clay tiles at reception look like the type you’d find in rustic houses; the black tiles in the walls of the restaurant reminded me of the tiles you would find in the kitchen’s outdoor gallery, where the sink for washing the clothes would be. The rattan armchairs brought back memories of happy meriendas when visiting grandma’s, and the cork lining up the top of the walls is like the pieces of cork we use to simulate ‘mountains’ in our Nativity Scenes (also known as “Beléns”) for Christmas—and I actually heard a few other Spaniards mention that while at the restaurant… because the place was full of Spaniards, including the staff.
Speaking of, there was a big contradiction about the way staff interacted with us: first they were desperately keen to hear about our opinion on everything, and kept interrupting us to ask, even when you had your mouth full and could only politely nod so they’d go away.
But then once we had finished eating and our table was cleared, we spent 30 minutes trying to establish eye contact with a waiter, a waitress, the sommelier, the Holy Spirit, God, someone, ANYONE, to bring us the bill. We even started to entertain plans about going directly to the till and self-serving ourselves to pay, as if we were in a supermarket.
We reasoned that they were running low on staff, but I can’t believe that’s a good excuse when they had just cleared my table; they could just as well have asked us if we wanted the bill when we said we didn’t want anything else, and we would not have found it rude.
It was also “a bit” tiring to hear the staff repeat incessantly that the restaurant was following a Mediterranean theme, that the dishes were inspired by the Mediterranean, that the wines were like travelling across the Mediterranean shores, etc, etc…
So what do I actually think?
The short answer is: I don’t know!
The longer answer: there are some good aspects about this place, but there are big showstoppers too. The biggest drawback for me is that if they can’t deliver on the main attraction (the rice), then there’s really no reason to come back, as there are other Spanish restaurants in London where the food and ambience is great and better value for money (e.g. Barrica, Sabor, T4P45).
I also don’t know who are they trying to cater to; it looked like they want to be a modern classic Spanish restaurant and at the same time they’re also aspiring to be trendy and bold, but some of the dishes were so cliché they feel out of place in London in 2019. Or in other words, we’re a bit bored of deconstructed desserts, and other restaurants make nicer edible stones.
If I were them, I’d…
- get rid of the whole “Mediterranean” fanfare. Make it proudly Valencian. Or Alicantine. Or Spanish. But stop pretending to be what you’re not.
- See also: El que mucho aprieta, poco abarca, AKA “jack of all trades, master of none”.
- Buy smaller paella pans.
- Add more toppings on the paellas, for more flavour and better looking results.
- Use less oil when cooking.
- Hire more staff (and ask them to be attentive, but also to let the customers eat in peace).
- Get an espresso coffee machine! ?
- And possibly also add the missing accent to the name and update all their signs: each time I see “arros” and not “arròs” I feel a bit of pain ??
We might give it another try, sometime, maybe, but I have a sense that we will be back to other Spanish restaurants first ? (or to restaurants in Spain, for all that matters!)