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El Bulli for you: Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food at Somerset House

El Bulli exhibition at Somerset House

El Bulli exhibition at Somerset House. Image: Matthew Lloyd/Somerset House

“Academics have been relatively slow to study the subject of cooking. It is often taken for granted.”

So says Gwyn Miles, director of Somerset House, which is trying to give cooking a proper re-examination via a major retrospective of what was, until recently, the world’s best restaurant – Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli, in Roses, Catalonia.

Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food is a thorough – some might say, geekily thorough – examination of the philosophy, science and culinary genius behind El Bulli, which closed its doors on 30 July 2011.

In the exhibition’s detailed history of the El Bulli restaurant, it’s fascinating to learn it was set up by a homeopathic doctor from Dusseldorf, who originally ran it as a mini-golf course and beach bar in the early 60s. From such humble beginnings, it evolved into a noted haute cuisine venue, before – under the guidance of Adrià from the mid-80s onwards – transforming into an avant-garde food mecca. In the process, it won the title of best restaurant in the world five times.

El Bulli clearly had – and still has – a strong sense of its own importance. What else are we to make of a restaurant that, in 1999, retroactively catalogued all its original recipes from 1987 onwards – starting at recipe number 1, and ending on number 1,846 in 2011?

Among the mixed bag of displays is a short video of the final service at the restaurant, which has since graduated to a sort of ghostly kitchen afterlife as the ‘El Bulli Foundation’ – “set to be one of the stellar knowledge spaces in a new paradigm of cooking”, according to the programme. The Foundation will be part cooking academy, part food thinktank, with an exhibition centre due to open in 2014. Sounds like a nice way for Ferran Adrià to continue cooking without having pesky customers underfoot. Its slogan is: “no reservations, no routines, no timetables”. (But will they do patatas bravas?)

Somerset House deserves a pat on the back for creating “galleries to display the unusual, the unexpected, and the sometimes neglected”. Plenty of people would say great food can be great art (my only caveats would be: unlike music, literature or fine arts, food is so transitory, and unrepeatable. You have to be a particular type of person to remember in detail a fantastic meal you had in 1991. Plus, unlike those other ‘art forms’, food alone is 100% essential to the functioning of your body).

Either way , there’s no doubting in the form Ferran Adrià, you have a bona fide maestro. Though if his work is art, presumably the best way to appreciate it would be to eat it. It depends on the individual how much they will get from an exhibition about a restaurant that – in all likelihood – they have never visited, and now never will.

Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food runs at Somerset House until 29 September. Admission is £10.

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Paella in a can via Grey’s Fine Foods

Paella in a can from Grey's Fine Foods

Grey’s Fine Foods is a new importer of Spanish food to the UK, hoping to take on well-established players like Brindisa.

It’s run by Yorkshire-based, Spanish-born Javier De La Hormaza, and it already stocks 200 products from 18 regions in Spain. The catalogue lists everything from milk-fed lamb and jamon iberico to anchovies, turron, caviar and olive oil. Grey’s (the name comes from ‘graze’) also prides itself on its selection of Spanish wines and brandies.

“Spain’s export markets have always been focused on South America and, recently, Germany, with the UK left to one side. But no more! We want to build those bridges and offer a range of fine foods and wines that have been almost impossible to source in Britain in the past,” Javier says.

Olive oil and jamon iberico

Olive oil and jamon iberico

Grey’s kindly sent me a box of products to try, including this delicious, melt-in your mouth jamon iberico and award-winning Fuenroble olive oil.

But I was most intrigued by their paella-in-a-can offering from Querida Carmen, for people in a hurry.

“A gourmet paella ready in 20 minutes with no chopping or messing the kitchen,” Grey’s promises.

Paella in a tin

Paella in a tin

Inside the can, which promises all-natural ingredients, low in salt, it’s a little soupy. I followed the instructions and brought the concoction to the boil, before adding the rice.

Paella in a saucepan

You leave the stew on a soft boil for 20 minutes, then take it off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.

I’ll be honest, I gave it a little longer, as the broth wasn’t fully absorbed. I then spooned it out into my paella pan.

Querida Carmen PaellaThe result was a little liquidy – more like a risotto than a paella (and not doing it in a pan means you don’t get the black crispy bits). It was undeniably tasty, with good chunks of sausage and squid, and we made short work of it.

However, it didn’t quite get the taste of paella right for me. Also, at £12.50, it’s not cheap. On the other hand, it was incredibly simple to make.

The paella was a fun experiment – and the jamon was murderously good. I’ll bear Grey’s in mind next time I need to source some Spanish goods – though I wonder if they’ll go the Brindisa route, and open a shop. And a restaurant…

Find out more on Grey’s Fine Foods website.

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Campo Viejo brings Streets of Spain to Southbank Centre

Streets of Spain festival

Streets of Spain festival

Here’s a fun-sounding event for the weekend: all-conquering Spanish wine brand Campo Viejo is bringing the Streets of Spain festival to the Southbank Centre this bank holiday.

The four-day foodie festival will bring over stallholders from Barcelona’s La Boqueria market. There’ll also be cooking masterclasses from Spanish chefs, a pop-up tapas restaurant and performance art.

The festival runs 10.30am-10.30pm Friday through to Monday. Streets of Spain is the latest in a series of food markets Southbank Centre has been running – chances are it will become a regular fixture…

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Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’ still has soup for you

Seventeen years after being immortalized on Seinfeld as the ‘Soup Nazi’, Al Yeganeh is still serving soup from his West 55 Street location.

Original Soup Man stand

The Original Soup Man stand on West 55th Street: home of the ‘Soup Nazi’.

Well, not Al, exactly, but a company that has taken on his recipes and branding, and made him its figurehead. The Original Soup Man company now has 10 locations in New York state, plus three more in Connecticut, Virginia and Texas, and recently branched out into selling its soup in supermarkets.

The chain has stuck closely to the template of Al’s tasty soups (from lobster bisque to jambalaya) – and even his strict rules on queuing, though apparently these are only enforced at the original location. The West 55 Street stand opened in 1984, closed down in 2004, and reopened again in 2010 under the Original Soup Man moniker.

Soup Nazi's rules

The rules are still in force – sort of – and printed in lots of languages.

Yeganeh himself is apparently a bit of mercurial character – the Soup Man website lays out his rules for the press: no personal questions, no tabloids, and no mention of the ‘n word’ (I thought about getting in touch, but you know what? I didn’t bother).

He was apparently genuinely angry with Jerry Seinfeld and barred the comedian when he paid a visit to the soup kitchen after the episode aired. But that hasn’t stopped Yeganeh living off his celebrity or selling T-shirts bearing the famous “No soup for you!” slogan; not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Original Soup Man

Al Yeganeh – still the face of the Original Soup Man company.

As for the soup? Well, it was actually very good, and came with not just some tasty sourdough bread but also a free Lindor chocolate and a plum – quite a generous package for $6.

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Tapas Fantasticas hits London 14 & 15 July

Tapas Fantasticas hits Tower Bridge

Tapas Fantasticas is back in London on 14 and 15 July.

Tapas Fantasticas is back this year, bringing the best of Spanish food and wine to the south bank.

The award-winning festival (in its fifth year) will be based in Potters Field Park (that’s the grassy bit by City Hall – aka. the London b*llock) near Tower Bridge on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 July.

There’ll be dozens of food and wine stalls and cooking demonstrations from top Spanish chef Jose Pizarro. The festival is free and you get tokens for wine samples when you enter (full glasses are reasonably priced).

From the blurb:

The popular festival celebrates the produce of the Rioja region in the north-east of Spain, renowned for its great tasting food and wine. Come and make your way around over 40 vibrant wine and tapas stalls.

The weather was unbelievably hot last year, soaring to Spanish-like levels (see pictures from last year’s Tapas Fantasticas). Let’s hope for more of the same this year – though I’m not putting money on it. More info at the Tapas Fantasticas website.

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M&S to launch ‘España’ Spanish ready meals

M&S paella

M&S is launching a Spanish food range. Image: M&S

Spanish food lovers rejoice! Sort of.

A new range of Spanish-inspired ready meals is coming to the UK high street — but it’s not just any range, it’s an M&S range.

That’s right: Marks & Spencer is launching its España selection of Spanish main courses in April. There are 11 dishes in the range, from seafood paella (£7.99, 750g) to chicken with patatas bravas and garlic alioli (£6.99, 700g), braised pork with cannellini beans and migas (£7.49, 700g), and beef estofado (£7.49, 760g).

There are also side dishes in the form of layered vegetable tumblet (£3.99) and piquillo pepper and tomato bread (£1.99).

“We’ve raided the Spanish larder to create this vibrant range, full of the simple yet bold flavours that the country is famous for,” says the M&S release. “From olives and hams to vinegars and sherries, all the ingredients are authentic, so the taste is too.”

M&S Espana ready meals

Tempted? The Espana range is out in April. Image: M&S

I know that Sainsbury’s has offered a paella ready meal for a while, but M&S clearly thinks it’s on to a winner by expanding the range. Supermarkets have reported seeing Spanish food sales overtake Italian in 2011, so perhaps now is the time to cash in.

I haven’t tried M&S’s dishes yet, of course, but I look forward to popping their plastic films with a fork and flinging them into a microwave some time soon. Or maybe I’ll just have another go at making the real thing:

Jon's paella

Yes, I made a paella for the first time last week. It was gooood. Image: ksalty

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Ceviche Peruvian restaurant opens in Soho

Ceviche restaurant Soho

Ceviche restaurant has opened in Soho. Image: Vida London

London’s first authentic Peruvian restaurant, Ceviche, throws open its doors this week after more than a year of preparation.

Restaurateur Martin Morales, a successful DJ and former Apple exec, has poured a huge amount of time and money into his dream of bringing a slice of Lima to London — even selling his house along the way.

“After two years of hard work, pop ups, supper clubs, trails, aches and pains and a lifetime of dreaming this, we are now open and serving fantastic authentic Peruvian cuisine and drinks in London,” Martin told me this week.

“Ceviche is a family of people bringing you the soul of Peru. We are so excited to be open in Soho and can’t wait to serve you.”

For the uninitiated, ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in citrus juices. Ceviche the restaurant offers a sharing menu (PDF) of seafood, from seabass ceviche to chacalon (ceviche of button mushrooms in lime tiger’s milk and aji limo chilli), sakura maru (thinly sliced, marinated salmon), and pulpo al olivo (braised octopus).

Ceviche pisco bar

Ceviche's pisco bar serves up cocktails. Image: Vida London/ksalty

There are also grilled skewers, including beef, chicken, salmon and octopus, and an array of classic Peruvian numbers: from wok-cooked chicken to mixed seafood rice. Dishes range from £5-£10.

Ceviche

Ceviche is the house speciality. Image: Paul Winch-Furness

Vida London got a preview of the restaurant yesterday, ideally located on Frith Street slap bang in the middle of Soho. One of the big selling points is sure to be the long Pisco bar, serving up classic Pisco Sours alongside a range of cocktails.

Ceviche restaurant in Soho

The dining room at Ceviche. Image: Paul Winch-Furness

Every last Monday of the month the bar will host the Guinea Pig Club, a session for pisco fans that will offer samples of new drinks.

Ceviche restaurant in London

Ceviche hopes to capture the spirit of legendary Bar Juanito in Lima. Image: Paul Winch-Furness

Martin is hoping Ceviche channels some of the spirit of legendary Lima bar Juanito, which was located in the Barranco district of the city until it closed down last year.

“Lima has been voted the ‘culinary capital of the Americas’,” Martin told me in an interview last year. “It has more chef schools than any other city in the world. People are doing stopovers in Lima just for the restaurants.

“Peruvian cuisine is very rich in variety. The influence is strong from Italy, from Spain, from Africa, and also from China and Japan, so we have a ton to choose from.”

Sakura maru at Ceviche

Sakura maru is on the menu at Ceviche. Image: Paul Winch-Furness

Personally I’m looking forward to getting a table next month; booking is open now via the Ceviche website.

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