BCN Taste & Tradition – Houston, Texas

BCN Taste & Tradition in Houston, Texas is one of the latest fine dining additions to the Houston dining scene and pays homage to the very best of Spanish cooking. The restaurant is named for the airport code of Barcelona, the birthplace of chef Luis Roger, who began cooking as a child under the guidance of his grandmother. Finding love of cooking at such a young age led him to study at the Spanish culinary school, Escola d’Hostaleria Hofmann and a 20-year career as a chef that has included stints at the esteemed El Bulli.

Today, Roger’s menu at BCN Taste & Tradition brings together all of his culinary experiences and takes the diner on an explosive journey that blends tradition with the latest culinary techniques. Many of the ingredients are imported from Spain to uphold the essence of a true Spanish experience.

Located in a 1920s house in the beautiful artsy residential area of Montrose, BCN Taste & Tradition is discretely tucked away on a street corner. The décor is elegant but understated with a softly spoken colour scheme of sand-and-white. There are original works by greats Miro and Picasso on the walls to uphold he Spanish theme.

BCN Taste & Tradition’s exploration of Spanish delights begins with appetisers including the likes of a beautifully smooth and rich home made foie gras terrine ($22) accompanied by a lightly dressed side salad. Also delightful was a poached quail egg ($16), our dish of the evening which was perfectly cooked with a runny yolk. A dream to eat, it was immersed in a wonderful smooth potato foam and a topping of seasonal truffle.

BCN Taste & Tradition- Foie gras terrine

Foie gras terrine

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Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution is the brainchild of Spanish Chef Omar Allibhoy who noteable includes Ferran Adria’s El Bulli on his CV. With a desire to spread the word on tapas in the UK, Tapas Revolution was borne – both a cookbook and a restaurant chain which sees two branches to its name, one in Westfield’s Shepherd’s Bush, and the other in Bluewater. You can find Tapas Revolution in the centre of the mall surrounded by shops rather than the Southern Terrace ‘restaurant strip’ at Westfield’s. And rather than being a sit-in restaurant, the outlet has been designed as an uncovered eatery where diners perch on bar stools around a rectangular bar area.

Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution

The highlight of our meal was the hams. Jamón ibérico de bellota Guijuelo (£8.95), an Acorn-fed Iberian ham voted the 2013 IFFA best ham in the world, was excellent. Full of flavour, it was also a generous portion for the price. Also tasty was the 18 month cured jamón serrano del consorcio (£5.25), which was again very reasonably priced for both the quality and quantity.

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

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Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Note: Ametsa was awarded a Michelin Star in September 2013.

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

As the name suggests, Ametsa by Arzak Instruction draws its culinary inspiration from the famous three-Michelin starred Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Arzak made its name by introducing Nouvelle Basque cooking to the world. By taking the traditions of this fine food region and overlaying it with an inspired modern touch, the imagination of Arzak caught the world’s attention. In 1989 it attained its three-Michelin star status, an accolade that it continues to hold to this day.

And so it is that the philosophy behind Ametsa is also one of ‘New Basque Cuisine’, a matching of the traditions of the Basque region with modern techniques. It opened in March 2013 at the Halkin Hotel, taking over the space that was once occupied by David Thompson’s Nahm. A quintet of chefs from Arzak consulted on Ametsa including Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez, and most notably the famous father and daughter pair of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak who was recognised by the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards as the World’s Best Female Chef of 2012.

No expense was spared on the interior and it looks expensive. The most eye-catching aspect of Ametsa’s décor is the ceiling that was created from 7,000 dangling glass receptacles filled with spices. It’s impressive, but the overall feel of the restaurant is quite cold with whitewashed walls and furnishings that give it a rather stark effect. In some respects, it was difficult to warm to the atmosphere of the restaurant.

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Boqueria

There’s no shortage of tapas restaurants in London and Boqueria is another. It’s a charming looking restaurant perched on the Brixton borders with a relaxed feel to it and a modern décor. Roughly L-shaped, the section towards the back has glass-paneled ceilings overhead that allow in lots of lovely natural light. The menu boasts a reasonable range of choices with both a traditional and contemporary approach.

As is standard at a tapas restaurant we tried a large variety of dishes starting with some marcona almonds (£2.30) to nibble on that were crunchy, nicely seasoned and gloriously delicious. These nuts were a delicious way to being our meal. From the specials, innovative suckling pig croquetas boasted of some lovely sweetness from the suckling pig filling (£6.30) and were really yummy.

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

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Donostia

There are some incredible Spanish tapas restaurants in London at the moment. The ones that immediately spring to mind are José, Pizarro and Barrafina all of which are fabulous in their own way. The latest tapas restaurant to burst onto the London scene is Donostia, named after the Basque word for the Spanish foodie mecca that we all know and love as San Sebastian. Head chef is Tomasz Baranski who use to run Barrafina and Fino, both of which are owned by the hugely successful restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart.

Situated on trendy Seymour Place, just down the road from Vinoteca, Donostia has a canteen look to it, albeit a very stylish one. Dark wood floors provide a contrast to the restaurant’s long, sleek and white interior. Donostia rings with a comfortable and contemporary casualness.

The menu is designed for sharing of course, and there is a range of pintxos (smaller plates) plus larger ones that cover a range of meat, fish and veg. First up were the tempura prawns (£4.20) with Bayonne ham and mango. The prawns were well cooked and firm, but was let down by the fact that it was very, very salty. The batter was neither flaky nor airy in the way that proper tempura batter ought to be, but was quite crispy nevertheless. The ham and the mango was a nice contrast for the prawns.

Prawn tempura

Prawn tempura

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72 Hours in Madrid – Part Three: La Gabinoteca

Following on from Part Two

La Gabinoteca serves food in a tapas style but is far removed from your traditional tapas restaurants. I know I covered tapas places in Part one of my ’72 Hours in Madrid’ blog post, but La Gabinoteca deserves a mention all on its own. It was just that good. Anthony Bourdain featured it in his Madrid episode of No Reservations, but independent research on various food forums reveal that some suggest that it is worthy of the best tapas title in Madrid. I can’t possibly judge that, not having eaten at every tapas place in Madrid, but one does walk away with a feeling of being wowed by an experience that is so inventive, so complex and yet so simple at the same time.

The restaurant is the younger and less formal sibling of Las Tortillas de Gabino, a restaurant which has received a lot of critical acclaim. It is the brainchild of brothers Nino and Santi Redruello whose family of restaurateurs are responsible for La Ancha, a well known restaurant in Madrid.

The décor at La Gabinoteca was interesting to say the least. The restaurant is split into two levels with the more casual-bar dining area being downstairs. There is an eclectic mix of furniture including high chairs; low chairs as well as a ski lift (yes a ski lift). It was fun, quirky and arresting, and gave you lots of interesting décor points to talk about.

The menu is split into four sections: appetisers, meat, fish and desserts and the restaurant recommends you choose at least one from each section.

A dish of patatas bravas with octopus and a spicy salsa (€5.15) was tasty and comforting. The hint of spiciness in the sauce added a kick to the dish.

Patatas bravas & octopus

Patatas bravas & octopus

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72 Hours in Madrid – Part Two: Traditional Dinners

Following on from Part One

CASA SALVADOR

The idea for trying Casa Salvador came from Anthony Bourdain’s TV series called No Reservations. In case you have never heard of this show, Bourdain basically travels to different cities around the world to eat at some of the best food haunts that each of those places have to offer. I digress, but the food Boudain tried in the Hong Kong episode was out of this world, enough to make you salivate. Boy do I want Bourdain’s job!

Anyway, in the Madrid episode Bourdain goes to Casa Salvador. In its heyday, Casa Salvador was the place where bullfighters use to go, and famous celebrities, the likes of which included Ava Gardiner, also went if they wanted a bullfighter. You get the picture. The chef is Pepe who took over the restaurant from his uncle when he was in his teens. Pepe must be at least 60, so that gives you the sense of history surrounding Casa Salvador. There are lots of pictures of bullfighters from a bygone era on the walls, the ones you might find in a museum, and with all the waiters dressed in white jackets, there was an old school feel to the restaurant which I found rather charming.

The signature dish here is ‘rabo’, braised oxtail (€16), which Bourdain lapped up with fervour when he visited Casa Salvador. This dish is quite common place in traditional restaurants in Madrid and I couldn’t think of a better place to try it then at Casa Salvador. The oxtail was tender and beautifully cooked, and the braising sauce was rich and flavoursome. This dish was cooked how ‘mama’ would have probably made it back in her day. The only thing that let it down was that it was a bit too salty.

Oxtail

Oxtail

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72 Hours in Madrid – Part One: Tapas

ESTADO PURO

What does one do with 72 hours in Madrid? There is of course a wealth of art to feast your eyes on (think Prado) and the fixtures at the Bernabeu would probably tempt many sports fans. But with the likes of Ferran Adria as one of the forefathers of modern Spanish cooking, I was most excited by the prospect of exploring some of the food options that the Spanish capital had to offer. That and the likelihood of warm and sunny weather had the makings of a very good time indeed.

In the first of a three part series, I will talk about Spain’s national institution, tapas, with the first tapas bar on my hit list being Estado Puro. The chef patron is Paco Roncero, the head chef of the two Michelin-starred La Terraza del Casino restaurant in Madrid. Roncero is not only considered to be one of the best chefs in Spain, he was also one of Ferran Adria’s star disciples and this modern touch showed in his take on the famous Spanish tortilla.

Named on the menu as a ‘21st Century Spanish omelette’ (€4.50), the waiter described the omelette as “like eating soup”, and the comparison rang true with the omelette appearing in a glass and consisting of beautifully caramelised onions covered with two foams, one of which was egg and the other of potato. Each individual component was delicious, but this 21st Century version had no texture. And for this reason the traditional versions, when done right, are in my opinion far more satisfying.

21st Century Spanish Omelette

21st Century Spanish Omelette

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