Meet The Man Cooking Up Catalan Classics At The New Barrafina
Interior of Barrafina Coal Drops Yard. Photograph by Mr Greg Funnell, courtesy of Barrafina
A cuttlefish stew recipe from Mr Angel Zapata Martin, the Barcelona-born chef helming the new restaurant, Coal Drops Yard Barrafina.
For the first time in years, in a brisk city with neither beach nor Gaudí, Mr Angel Zapata Martin, the Barcelona-born, executive chef of peerless Spanish outfit, Barrafina, feels at home. Before helming the London restaurant family that serves queue-in-a-storm-worthy, small Spanish plates, Mr Zapata led a luxe hotel kitchen in the Gulf and cooked feasts for high-flying Ibizan ravers. Still, wherever he landed, Catalonia loomed large in his thoughts and heart. No wonder he’s thrilled to serve the rich, authentic flavours of his heritage at the new Coal Drops Yard Barrafina, set to open in Kings Cross on 26 October.
Mr Zapata always knew cooking was his métier, and, after a “sensible” dalliance with architecture, from 2007 to 2008, he thrived under the rigid, French classical system at Barcelona’s esteemed Hofmann cooking school – after removing piercings and shaving off his Mohican. “It was like Willy Wonka’s factory for me,” he says, grinning at the memory. On graduation, Mr Zapata was struck down by a life-threatening heart infection. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and eventually took up a position at the three-Michelin-starred Can Fabes under Mr Santi Santamaria. He adored working at this temple to Catalan cuisine before the grandfather of Spanish gastronomy dispatched him to Dubai to head up his seafood-focused Ossiano.
When Mr Zapata returned to Barcelona in 2013, to work at flash Japanese-Spanish spot Sugoi, he realised that he “felt like a stranger in my home city.” So, he joined old friends in Ibiza, where he was happy cooking Balearic and Catalan dishes, but was ultimately unfulfilled. As demand for his talent grew, he launched a solo cheffing enterprise. Gigs flooded in, but he missed the camaraderie of service, as he says, “Human relationships are the best thing about being in the kitchen.”
Tipped off that Barrafina’s owners, Messrs Sam and Eddie Hart, were looking for an executive chef to take over from the extraordinary Ms Nieves Barragan, and attracted by the concept – “I really like that everyone is visible and can see everything is made from scratch” – Mr Zapata applied immediately. Since his arrival in May 2017, he has divided his time between the three established Barrafina restaurants: Dean Street, Drury Lane, and Adelaide Street, and the group’s head office. Happily, this summer saw the latter site retain its Michelin star. Now, with a host of new dishes tested as specials and via a menu refresh at Drury Lane, Mr Zapata is primed to mark Catalan cuisine on London’s dining map at Barrafina Coal Drops Yard. “I tried not to focus on what people expect,” he says of writing its menu. “I thought about what diners enjoy, but, of course, there will be dishes from my childhood, and other traditional things, for example, a cuttlefish stew, called sepia a la bruta – dirty cuttlefish, because you use almost every part, with a little ‘picada’, a common paste, chocolate and leeks charred on a josper [grill].”
Left: Mr Angel Zapata Martin. Right: Pyrenean Lamb. Photographs by Mr Greg Funnell, courtesy of Barrafina
As it happens, this dish illustrates Mr Martin’s tenets of Catalan cooking, starting with blackened vegetables and seafood. “It's true that our seafood is amazing,” he says with pride. “I'd define our cuisine through three main things. The first is sofrito, a tomato sauce that can be just garlic, tomato, olive oil, or contain peppers, chillies or saffron. Then we make various picadas. There’s a simple one of toasted breadcrumbs, nuts and garlic, which adds a punch to stews and arroz (rice) dishes and helps thicken stock. Then there is the stock itself. In Barcelona, we make fish, seafood or mixed stocks. Usually, if you have sofrito, a picada and a stock, just add rice or potatoes and seafood and you have a fantastic dish. And with these elements, you can create many, many things.”
Chef Martin’s new menu will also include a section devoted to Catalan adulation of combined meat and fish recipes, including esparadenyes (sea cucumber) with chicken oysters and picada and a cazuela (hotpot) of pig’s trotter and prawns. As he explains: “I’ve always liked mar y montaña (sea and mountain), or surf and turf. Diners who really know Spanish food won’t be surprised, but some will be like, ‘Fish and meat: what?’ I like a challenge so I decided to implement this twist.”
Alongside individual delights, the vitality of Catalan cuisine itself assures its enduring appeal. “It’s very strong,” says Mr Zapata of his region’s heritage and influence. “Chefs visit from around the world because they want to understand this culture as well as go to trendy restaurants and traditional places like Cal Pep that share our produce, cooking style and cosy approach to dining.” Indeed, the host’s warmth is as essential as remarkable ingredients. “We make you feel like family. People say, ‘When you have a Catalan friend, you have a friend forever.’” Seems visitors to Barrafina Kings Cross will feel right at home, too.
SEPIA A LA BRUTA
Photograph by Mr Greg Funnell, courtesy of Barrafina
For the picada60g breadcrumbs, fried (stale bread is better)3 garlic cloves, fried6g dark chocolate (70 per cent)35g pine nuts, toasted
For the prawn bisque (makes 4L)100ml olive oil2kg fresh prawns, diced1 leek, diced2 shallots, diced1 carrot, diced1 head of fennel1 head of garlic, halved 1 tbsp paprika200ml brandy1 sprig fresh thyme1 sprig fresh rosemary1 tbsp of peppercorns25g tomato paste
For the piparras alioli15 piparra peppers2 garlic bulbs, halved1 whole egg1 egg yolk250ml Arbequina olive oil250ml Pomace oilSalt, pepper
For the stew3.5kg cuttlefish, skin-on6 shallots, diced3 garlic cloves, chopped1 bay leaf 1 chilli, chopped8 ripe tomatoes, grated15 stems saffron, toasted300ml dry sherry1L prawn bisque (recipe below)
For the garnish18 leeks (only the white part, keep green ends for stocks)250ml piparras alioli (recipe below)
Blend the picada ingredients in a mixer and preserve.
For the prawn bisque, heat the olive oil over maximum heat in a medium-large pot and add the prawns. Once the prawns are roasted, mash with a rolling pin in order to extract their juices. Next, add all the vegetables to the pot, and keep cooking over a medium-high heat. It’s important to cook the vegetables until all their moisture has evaporated, and you will know this has happened once everything starts taking on colour again. Add the paprika (being careful not to burn it), splash with brandy, evaporate the alcohol fully, add the herbs, tomato paste and peppercorns and cover with 5L water to reduce down to 4L. Cook for 25 mins, then leave it to sit in the pot with a lid on for an hour until cooled (very important to concentrate flavour). Strain and it’s ready to use.
To make the piparras alioli, chop the piparras. Pat dry and leave to drain on kitchen paper to stop the alioli being watery. Wrap the halved garlic bulbs in foil, season and roast at 165°C for 45 mins. Place the roasted garlic pulp in a mixer with one whole egg and one yolk, blend and slowly add the oils until the emulsion is consistent. Stir the piparras through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
For the garnish, scorch the leeks under the grill. When the skin starts to blacken, remove and wrap in aluminium foil until cool. Peel and cut into 8cm sections.
To make the stew, clean the cuttlefish carefully, removing only the guts and skeleton. Leaving the skin on, cut into big pieces. Separate out the tentacles and wings. Chop the wings and shred the tentacles. Fry the tentacles and wings until golden. Then add the shallots and cook slowly with the lid on until tender. Add the garlic, bay leaf and chopped chilli. Cook slowly over a medium heat.
When the shallots are lightly caramelised, add the tomatoes and the rest of the cuttlefish pieces. Cook very gently for at least 30-40 minutes. When the tomato has dried and is sticky in the pan, add the toasted saffron and sherry. Evaporate the alcohol. Add the prawn bisque and cook slowly so that you get a soft and delicious cuttlefish.
Season and reheat two leeks per diner in the oven with a bit of olive oil. Drizzle with Arbequina olive oil to serve. Reheat 3 large spoons of cuttlefish stew per person with a little prawn bisque and 1 coffee spoon of picada. When the stew thickens, serve with the leeks and piparras alioli. Grate a bit of dark chocolate on top, too.