Tuesday 26 January 2016

Sacha, Madrid.

A restaurant where chefs eat is a bit of a cliché but in the case of Sacha it's highly appropriate. When the likes of Grant Achatz, Ferrán Adria and Juan Mari Arzak come to town, it's here that they choose to dine. In my interview last week with Nacho Manzano, when I mentioned I was coming here, his eyes lit up. I hear David Muñoz of DiverXO is a fan. Everybody knows Sacha. We wanted to visit on our previous trip to Madrid but they were closed for holidays. It's not an easy place to find even with the correct address. It is in fact down an unsigned alleyway. We only find it with the help of a friendly old lady. "No, no!" she cries as we go down the wrong road, "the second turning!" Finally arriving, it looks like a traditional bistro and it is in a way. But there is nothing 'normal' about the cuisine here, the food is extraordinary. It's famously the restaurant of Chef Sacha Hormaechea but we were welcomed by my twitter pal and chef there Manuel Urbano Torres. (He's soon to open his own restaurant, La Malaje).
We begin with Medregal. Manuel says this is like mojama (salt cured tuna). But this is superior to any mojama we've had. It's more like a delicate and fresh tuna sashimi. Inspired by tapas bars in Cádiz and presented on an upturned tin can.
Oyster Escabeche. Beautiful pickled oysters in a fresh, zingy acidic sauce which doesn't overpower the freshness of the wonderful product.
I've got a very good feeling about this meal already as this is all excellent. We drink a fine (and apparently rare) Emilio Rojo Ribeiro from a very good wine list. We continue with fresh Lime Zamburiñas. A species of small scallop. You squeeze the lime as you take a bite. 
Then onto Mussels followed by Red Shrimp from Denia at Mortero. This is absolutely stunning. We are instructed to crush the head a little with the mortar, squeeze all the precious juice out and mix with the sauce. It is unbelievably good as it enhances the natural flavour of the prawn brains into the most wonderful flavoursome and intense broth.
"Falsa Lasanga" Fake sea urchin lasagne is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. It has a silky smooth texture and that pure hit of deep sea flavour.
  Kokotxas. Are also as good as anywhere we've had them. They were not in the traditional green sauce as you might find in the Basque country. We eat Pargo (sea bream) at Papillot, a North African inspired fish dish. Also 'Thincle' in white sauce. (a bland veg dish, like a palate cleanser)
Tuetano is the restaurant's signature Bone Marrow and comes with a side of some of the best steak I've eaten. Luckily Mrs B is struggling so I get top eat some of hers too. It's yet another serious show stopper. I dip the bread in the liquid meaty gravy with relish.

 There are a series of five dishes here (Oyster, Denia Prawns, false lasagne, kokotxas and the bone marrow) that are as fine as anything we've ever eaten. We are totally blown away by Sacha. I knew it would be good but not until I ate here did I get it. It also change the way I think about food in a small way. The flavours are actually better than many Michelin star restaurants, unadorned with fashion or over elaboration. The clarity and purity of flavours and simplicity along with the old school charm of the place makes it our favourite restaurant in Spain. It's that good. Like those famous chefs, our future visits to Madrid from now on will always start with Sacha.
The photos are not up to the usual standard as at night Sacha is too dark to take good photos.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

An Interview with Nacho Manzano.

Nacho Manzano, Executive Chef of Spanish restaurant Ibérica is a busy man. On a flying visit to Manchester I managed to catch up with him and ask him a few questions with Head Chef César García who helped to interpret. I've briefly met a few Spanish chefs over the years (Eneko Atxa at Azurmendi, Álvaro Garrido of Mina and Ángel León at Aponiente). One thing these Michelin star chefs seem to have in common is their energy, their enthusiasm and passion for food. That maybe true to form but they all seem to possess a refreshing lack of ego that you ordinarily might expect. Despite having a hectic schedule and following their staff party the previous evening, Nacho and César were more than happy to talk at length on Spanish produce, tapas and the seasonal menu at Ibérica.
BACON: What have you got lined up for the new Spring menu?
NACHO: Scallop and the razor clams which are very good quality. An Asturian dish, a white tuna stew, almost like a meatball but made with fish in a sauce. We are looking to source similar fish here, the albacore, or swordfish and also from Spain some white tuna from the Cantabrian sea.
BACON: You use products from here in the UK as well. Are there any that particularly surprised you in terms of quality? I'm thinking of the twice cooked lamb dish which has always been a favourite of ours.
NACHO: It's a traditional stew from the north of Spain. Grandmother's would cook it in old times. Here we took the dish and cooked it in the traditional way, slowly. It could be related to the stews in the UK as well. The idea is that it reminds you of home.
BACON: It took me back to eating lamb at my Granny's house as a child when I first tasted it.
CESAR: We use peppers from León in this dish and mix it with the lamb from here in the UK, it's amazing.
BACON: Yes I think the lamb here is very good. And I also remember reading that you use British milk here at Ibérica that is a bit creamier so it improves the croquetas.
NACHO: In Spain fresh milk is not so common, 90% of the market is long life. So when we came here we noticed the milk is really sweet and has a fuller flavour.
BACON: Tapas in Manchester used to be poor quality versions of Spanish food not so long ago but now with yourselves and other restaurants coming to the city in recent times it really has become comparable with Spain. Are there differences in how people eat here? Both between Spain and the UK and between London and Manchester?
NACHO: We do something different here than we would in Spain. We take a dish and we make it possible as a tapa. In Spain you probably wouldn't find the lamb for example as a tapas dish we would have it as a main. We make everything possible as a tapas here. Between Manchester and London there are obvious differences as there are between Barcelona and Madrid. London is obviously lots bigger so has lots more people. Now we are starting to look at what people order in greater detail.
BACON: It's often said that people in the north don't eat much fish for example.
CESAR: ...Out of all of our restaurants, the lamb is the biggest seller here in Manchester.
BACON: Are there some dishes that may have a lower gross profit on the new menu but you want them on because they are something that you particularly like?
NACHO: Obviously in all the restaurants in all the menus there are always dishes with less gross profit and even if the prices of the product goes up we keep the price as we like to stay competitive. Such as the scallop we won't make a big margin on that.
BACON: Because it's an expensive product...
CESAR: Some dishes won't make a big profit but maybe it's something different from your competitors.
BACON: Do you have current favourite ingredient on the new menu maybe?
NACHO: Mackerel here is good, lemon sole, bread, milk....
CESAR: ... In his restaurant he uses sardines a lot, including the skin, the bones...
NACHO: ...Sea Urchin, the cockerel we're now using...
(I was told earlier about how Nacho was going to great lengths to source quality birds here in the UK to make his 'Arroz con pitu de caleya', a rice dish with free-range cockerel).
BACON: Have you got a favourite restaurant in Spain apart from your own? 
NACHO: ....Etxebarri, Mina I like a lot.
BACON: How about in Madrid? (we're going there in a few days).
NACHO: Dstage.
BACON: If you were a condemned man what would be your last meal on earth? 
NACHO: I would not be hungry but... fish, I love hake, line caught, really elegant with a very good flavour.
BACON: I noticed the Basque's favour hake quite a lot...
NACHO: I get all the essence of the head, the bones, garlic oil .. it's fantastic. Sea Urchin as well..
All images & words ©Bacononthebeech.com
Look out for some exciting events at Ibérica Manchester this year. 
You'll find out about it here first.


Sunday 17 January 2016

10 Favourite Photos.

I've collected 10 of my favourite and perhaps more unusual food related photos here. Most were taken over the last year or so.
I like this simple, bold composition of this Galician Tentáculos de Pulpo (on a Spanish tile) from Out of the Blue in Chorlton.
This image of Mrs Bacon holding a bowl of Apples from Granny's Garden is exactly what I want my work to be, strong chiaroscuro with almost a painterly feel in the lighting. I've mentioned the inspiration of the work of still life artists such as Juan Sánchez Cotán before. 
Sometimes when you're processing a photo something happens and the image jumps out making it somehow more than just a standard photo. I love the lighting on this cropped image of Chef Dan Cox.
The waitress at Pass at Burger & Lobster in Manchester was standing in just the right pose as I snapped away.
Here's another photo where I was in the right place at the right time and captured this almost surreal image of Making Ice Cream at Dinner by Heston.
Several years ago (using an inferior camera) I walked out onto our hotel balcony and saw a Spanish Wedding Party going on so grabbed my camera and caught this shot. I like the way in which all the perfectly dressed ladies are standing in a pleasing curved row for to have their official photograph taken.
Hovering at The Pass at Aponiente in Spain shooting the chefs in action I could see out of the corner of my eye head chef Juan Luis Fernández walk by and I wanted to get him in the shot too. Luckily Juan Ruiz Henestrosa, the sommelier was passing through at the same moment so I got them to frame the chefs in the centre of the image. It illustrates the quiet energy of a kitchen working at full speed.
I wanted to capture Chef Gary Usher's personality in this one so had the idea to create a film contact sheet with four portraits. Converting to monochrome is effective with portraits.
Again with my old camera (so not as sharp as I'd like now) I love this one of the whole kitchen team at DiverXo and chef chef David Munoz. Everyone is in just the 'right' pose in a line making it aesthetically pleasing.
The hands Collecting Honey at Fraiche again is simple and bold, the lines and angles make it a successful image for me.
See my whole portfolio here.

Monday 4 January 2016

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds.

Post Michelin Star and The Man Behind The Curtain is busy. We're there on a Friday lunchtime as usual. Previously the restaurant has been around half full. Today (mid December), every single table is reserved. If you'd like to dine here on a Saturday night this year, you'll most likely be out of luck I'm afraid.
As I've covered this (my favourite UK restaurant) a few times before, I'll let the photos do the talking. Newer dishes, the Denia Prawn, (after an inspirational meal at StreetXo in Madrid, see our review here) the sea urchin and veal sweetbreads are amongst our favourite dishes chef Michael has ever created. We come here as often as we can for the stunning food of course but the charming and friendly service from Charlotte and the team play such a huge part of the enjoyment of the afternoon.
Lunch cost us £42 each + wine.