Thursday, 28 January 2016

Calçotada at Brindisa Tramontana

January in London is not my favourite. The days are short - despite the solstice being well behind us - it's cold and rainy and there aren't even any twinkling Christmas lights or mulled wine vendors to warm the heart and lift the spirits. Embracing the calçotada, a late-winter celebration of a sort of leek/spring oniony vegetable from Catalonia, makes a lot of sense to me.

Trudging through the rain, trying to keep my umbrella right side up, I did wonder how on earth Brindisa were planning to bring the flavour of a Spanish outdoor feast to a pretty grim Tuesday evening. Heaters, was the answer. Lots of heaters. And beautiful displays of vegetables. So even though we were outside (on a covered terrace) it was warm and bright. As long as you stayed away from the ends where some rain was blowing under the canopy.

I was a skosh early, due to an unsuccessful bra-buying expedition to Oxford Street, and more than ready for a drink. The cava started to flow, which always makes me more cheerful. Not long after the cava started flowing, the food came in a steady torrent. Delicious meaty olives stuffed with orange. Tempura-battered calçots with romesco sauce. Wonderfully light, creamy croquetas at just the right temperature for eating.
While we nibbled, chef Leonardo Rivera came around to explain how the calçots are grown, with soil banked up around them, and then demonstrated the correct way to drink from the porró. There was a little anxiety that the porró is a thing made up by Catalans to humiliate British tourists but we were assured that it's an actual traditional way of drinking.

I was wearing a new top so I declined - even the people who really had a good technique ended up with streams of wine dribbled down their fronts.

The calçots are charred over a fire and then wrapped in newspaper to steam through to complete the cooking. Then everyone gets their own personal bundle. Eating them requires a bit of skill, to strip the charred outer layers off in one swift movement while leaving the inner layers clean and succulent. Then you dabble it in romesco sauce and eat it in a single bite. It's a messy business, but has a fabulous sensuality to it. We did wonder if anyone had thought of doing calçotades as a singles event - it'd beat the heck out of ten pin bowling as a first date.
Stripping the outer layers
Dabbling in romesco
Approved technique for eating
The outer layers of the calçots leave a thick, sticky soot on your hands, so you really need to embrace the grime for that part of the meal. Fortunately we were well-supplied with wet wipes - it took four wipes to be clean enough to get to the loos to wash my hands properly. The bundle of calçots looks huge, but after stripping off the charred bit and only eating the white part, it's actually not an enormous portion and you are left with a big pile of debris. Which is a Good Thing because there was a lot of food still to come.
Then came grilled bread and a plate of meat, to be shared between two. I think even if I hadn't hoovered most of a plate of croquetas I would have struggled to eat my share. It was very, very generous. An artichoke - wonderful dipped leaf by leaf in the fabulously olive-oily allioli that came out with the bread. A tangle of grilled red pepper slices. Half a potato, sprinkled with paprika. Botifarra, chorizo, lamb and presa iberico (a cut from the top of the shoulder). I didn't try the potato but everything else was superb, with the chorizo and botifarra in joint first place in my affections.

And then, of course, pudding. Crema catalana, naturally, given a hint of smokiness with an iron salamander instead of a blowtorch.

Brindisa will be running calçotades through February and March on weekends, pre-booked only (because they have to know how many calçots to import). It's £35 a head, which includes the calçots with romesco, the meat platter, the sides of bread, potato, artichoke and red pepper, the crema catalana and a glass of prosecco. I don't think you'll be able to stop at one glass though.
I attended the calçotada as Brindisa's guest. I was also given a bag of calçots and some of the ingredients for romesco sauce to take home, so I am very much hoping the rain holds off for long enough for me to get outdoors to grill them.


The Cat's Mother said...

That looks like a great way to spend a dark January evening. And delicious food.

toni rivera said...

this astonishing . absolutely great experience with a incredible XEF. CONGRATULATIONS..

Angie Schneider said...

That's a fun way to drink wine. That crema catalana looks so very tempting.

grace said...

that dude is having fun with his food! :)


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