Restaurants: Spanish practices

Ben Rogers espies another newcomer to the scene on the Green

I have only ever met one real Freudian. By that, I don't mean someone who just subscribed to Freud's teachings, but someone who was old enough to have become a psychoanalyst in Vienna before the War, had met the first generation of Freudians, and had fled the Nazis to set up a practice in Hampstead. I can't remember much of what this venerable man said, with one exception. We were talking about restaurants near where he lived (it was a bad habit even then) and someone mentioned a new place that Peter Langan had helped establish. His reply, in fluent but heavily accented English, seemed almost too good to be true: "They sent me a postcard with a nearly nude woman on it. I have learned not to trust restaurants that attempt to sell food with sex."

I don't know whether this principle was based on a wide experience of eating-out, or whether it is a little-known postulate of Freudian theory, but I am sure it is right: food and sex really only belong together behind closed doors - along with a Barry White album. It occurs to me now, however, that the "sex and restaurants" principle is merely an instance of a more general rule: restaurants are best left as restaurants and not combined with anything else - cabarets, nightclubs, theatres. A couple of years ago, I went to the revamped Cafe de Paris off London's Leicester Square: the marriage of Seventies cooking and Eighties disco was not a happy one.

Another venue that used to run music and food together was Turnmill's, on trendy Clerkenwell Green - a bar-restaurant upstairs, with a disco very volubly below, a combination that, in this instance, felt as if it had come together by chance. Now, however, all that has changed. The restaurant was taken over last summer by a young (and, as my companion pointed out, very good-looking) Spaniard, Nacho Martinez, and by the time you read this, it should have been entirely sealed off from the club below. Martinez and his backers also have plans to open an arroceria next door, specialising in paella and other rice dishes.

For a 26-year-old, Martinez has had a lot of experience cooking at some of Spain's very best restaurants. Indeed, he has moved from kitchen to kitchen at about six-monthly intervals for the past seven years, suggesting that he either gets the sack or he is very ambitious; having met him, I am pretty sure it is the latter. The menu at Gaudi offers no tapas because Martinez thinks the British "know all about that already, and it is better to show them another side of Spanish food". That side he describes as "traditional" and from all over Spain: baked red peppers stuffed with a salt-cod mousse comes from the north; pork fillet marinated in paprika and cumin is from the south, courtesy of his aunt; corn-fed chicken "en Pepitoria" derives from Martinez's native Madrid. The menu, indeed, tends to confirm rather than dispel the rather hazy idea that most of us have as to what Spanish cuisine is like - Peter Mandelson would say that Martinez needs to work on his brand image.

The restaurant, spread over the ground-floor and mezzanine of a handsomely curved Victorian building on the corner of Clerkenwell Green, and with a large open kitchen, certainly looks distinctive enough. As its name suggests, its decor, all curved walls and grottoes, clashing tiles and swirling ironmongery, pays homage to Gaudi. The effect is a little busy but romantic.

On the night we were there, the menu turned out to be rather limited, owing to a private party taking place upstairs, otherwise we might have chosen some of the simpler, more elemental dishes - rabbit salad with seasonal vegetables and a light aioli - or some of the more sophisticated: warm salad of scallop and sweetbread, salmorejo and sherry vinegar. As it was, we were limited to dishes in between: smart, but easy to prepare and serve. For starters, this included a very fine pate de foie gras - or "Foie de Pato Macerado" - homemade with Duque de Alba brandy, rich and smooth, though served with supermarket rolls. We also tried the aforementioned red peppers. I love salt cod as much as the next man - probably more - but I have to say that the moussy form in which it came was a little anodyne and didn't synergise with the red pepper: salt cod goes well with eggs and milk and garlic, as the Portuguese and Italians know well.

Both our main courses - baked turbot served on a fricassee of tomatoes and spring onions, and the fillet of pork, which came with warm yellow- potato salad - sent very much the same message: the fish and meat were tenderly cooked, but their accompaniments somehow lacked life. A bowl of sherry ice-cream was, on the other hand, an unalloyed triumph. The sherry had been allowed to cook away to reveal its heady, fortified essence, so that it tasted like a particularly smooth and creamy brandy ice-cream. This was a dish that could teach most Italian gelaterie a thing or two about frozen zabaglione. My companion had just returned from four months in Seville, but, like me, wasn't quite sure what to make of this meal: it had been confident and sensitive, but still lacked a certain edge. Martinez, a young man in a hurry, would, I suspect, do well to slow down and eat around a bit more. Still, Gaudi is well above the Anglo-Spanish norm and offers a good, well-priced all-Spanish wine list. And there is no disputing the capabilities of Spanish wine makers. Our three-course meal for two, including a bottle of Marques de Riscal '89 at pounds 18, came to pounds 88

Gaudi, 63 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (0171-608 3220). Closed weekends. All major credit cards.

Other Iberian eateries

London is not over-endowed with good Spanish restaurants. This must, in part, be due to Spanish cooking itself, which (as Janet Mendel points out in Traditional Spanish Cooking, Garnet) is, at its best, elemental and intensely local - qualities that are hard to recreate away from home. Here, however, are two notable exceptions:

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, EC1 (0171-833 8336). Another recent arrival to Clerkenwell, this airy and trendy restaurant, with a long zinc bar and open kitchen, opened last spring. Owned by three young English chefs, the modern, innovative, frequently changing menu draws from Morocco and the Middle East as well as Iberia. Spain-inspired dishes include mojama (air-cured tuna fillet) with blood- orange salad and fennel, artichokes braised with parsley, garlic and amontillado sherry, chick pea stew with jamn, chorizo and saffron, and a traditional almond cake, tarta de Santiago. Closed Sat and Sun; pounds 70 for two including wine.

Cambio de Tercio, 163 Old Brompton Rd (0171-589 4635). This was opened two years ago, by two Spaniards who met working at another fine Spanish restaurant, Chelsea's Albero & Grana. By day, this simple interior with banderillas and torero's hats hanging from its glowing orange walls, can seem empty and rather forlorn, but it picks up at night, with a mainly local crowd from Fulham and Kensington. The cooking and wine are taken equally seriously here, and it's a good idea, as long as you don't have to worry about money, to start a meal with a plate of Spain's finest smoked ham - Jamon de Jabugo `JJJJJ' - (pounds 14), and a glass of deliciously dry Manzanilla sherry. Dishes vary from the simple, pan tomaca (a Spanish version of bruschetta, with tomatoes and smoked ham) to the sophisticated: poached eggs with a wine mousseline and sauteed foie gras. The newish chef, Inigo Ruiz de Alegra, specialises in cooking from the Basque region; seafood dishes include griddled squid with garlic and parsley, and red mullet stuffed with clams. pounds 60 for two.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

    £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn