It happens less often, rather rarely with me when I go out on these dinner invitations that, I am so blown away by the personality of the Chef and am so in awe that I forget to take pictures. I tried my best to do so, though, but I have no regrets for the lack of pictorial detail to this post.
|Image Courtesy: Google|
It was an absolute honor to have been invited by the folks at Arola, J W Marriott, Juhu in Mumbai for a quiet sit down dinner with the mind behind all the hype, the man himself, Chef Sergi Arola. Until I arrived at the beautiful venue, albeit fashionably late, I did not know that he would be there with us in person, and I am so glad that he was. I was received by him with a small cheek-to-cheek kiss greeting, and the rest of the tour of the place remains kind of a blur. But it all came back to me the next morning when I thought about the amazing views of the sea, the dimly lit intimate setting and of course, last but not the least, The Gin Bar.
If it were up to Sergi, the Gin bar would be around a real Cannon adorned by petite ladies wearing the soldiers' uniform from the Queen of England's palace. This should be descriptive enough to give you a little insight into the quirky character of Sergi, who travels around the world almost the entire year and is obsessed with his Harley Davidson. If you think this man is the kinds who has his head high up in the air and has a need for speed, you are wrong, for he also is very spiritual and I was a little shocked and shamed when I learned that he stays Vegetarian and off Alcohol on Tuesdays, as advised by his Astrologer.
You may think I am going on and on about Sergi, but that is what Arola is all about. It has its own personality. Its not just about dining, it is a complete experience. Even the music played inside is custom made, Arola style. Coming back to the Gin Bar, Arola stocks and boasts of their bar which stocks 30 different kinds of Gin, and their cocktail list is very impressive. We started off with Sergi's special Sangria but I am a Gin lover after all, and our server suggested that I try their Gin and Tonic with Orange Flambé. Sounded fantastic, tasted fantastic, but the glass was so humongous that I had to use both my hands to grab hold of it. Not that I'm complaining!
The drinks kept coming as the evening went by, with Sergi talking to us about his food philosophy. This is the one sentence that has been on my mind since that day. Sergi described his cooking as bringing out the complexity of simplicity. And that is what it all comes down to. We over-complicate so many dishes by adding a plethora of spices, especially in our Indian cuisine, while cooking daily at home, that the authenticity and the integrity of the original ingredient gets compromised.
We go out to supermarkets, buy exotic (read : expensive) produce, and our psyche has come to a point that if something is imported, it better be good. But believe you me, the only ingredients that are outsourced into Sergi's kitchen are the Ibero Ham and Cheese. Every thing else is local. You would be amazed to see this but do try at home, but Sergi eats Naan by rubbing garlic on its surface, then smearing the local Tomato Purée, a sprinkle of Sea Salt and a drizzle of Olive Oil. So simple. Yet so Complex!
Other things that we tried were the Gazpacho with local produce, A salad with a thin bed of Porcini Mushrooms and Pine Nuts topped with White Fried Noodles and Ibero Ham, a fresh to goodness Tuna Salad, an Aubergine dip that could almost convert me into a Vegetarian, and Prawns that were cooked to absolute perfection. Our local restaurants have a thing or two to learn from the team here as the same produce is rubbery and undesirable in most other restaurants that I have been to.
Then came in the deep fried Asparagus with a yummy dip, but honestly I did not pay much attention to it as the second best preparation of the night arrived at our table, the Patatas Bravas, and that was a row of deep fried cylinders of Potato Heaven topped with the yummiest cream ever. I may have binged on these.
I also have been given the tag of officially turning into a lady from a girl since I tried my first couple of Negronis that evening. I enjoyed them thoroughly and have no complaints with the hangover that followed the next morning. Totally worth it. Thanks a ton Nikhil I would not have tried it if it was not for you!
I loved this evening so much more just because we got to learn so much about food in general and also clear any doubts in our head about Spanish cuisine. Sergi enlightened us about Paella, the most misunderstood Spanish preparation there is, worldwide. Apparently Paella is to Spanish what a simple Roti+Pyaaz+Mirch is to us Indians, and there are many mock-ups of the dish worldwide. On that note we happily welcomed the next course of our meal : The Lobster Rice. Arborio Rice was cooked al dente in lobster stock and finished with some cream. This could put many Risottos across our country to shame.
When I spoke about Patatas Bravas, I said it was the second best preparation of the evening, so it would only seem fit to end on the best note with the grand finale. The Crema Catalana. I know I am a dessert person but even if a person is not into desserts, this would probably convert them. Imagine a layer of the fluffiest, foamiest, shiniest, almost bouncy cream topped with a Cinnamon Sugar, slightly brûléed that cracks when you touch it and as you dig into the cream you hit a bed of Citrus Sorbet, but you just cannot give up... So you dig deeper and you reach the final layer of Mousse, and then you put the spoonful of bliss in your mouth... And everything seems right.