Best of Barcelona 3: Niño Viejo and Hoja Santa
The Grove and Baduzzi’s head chef Ben Bayly eats Mexican for his third dining report from Spain.
Head Chefs: Marco Arriaga and Paco Mendez
The restaurant in one line: These are actually two restaurants in one, offering incredible Mexican food from both ends of the culinary spectrum.
Beer on hand: Estrella Damm
What makes this restaurant unique?
The moment you walk into this space, you are presented with two options: turn one way and experience authentic Mexican street food, turn the other and you are offered fine-dining, Mexican style. Though quite a simple concept – to offer two restaurants in one space – it is a unique idea that I have not previously encountered. Once inside Niño Viejo, I was also struck by the design of the kitchen which is integrated with the seating area. We were seated right next to the kitchen, which meant while I was eating, next to me the chef was cooking – it was very cool!
What were the inspirational highlights?
Despite the fact that it seems the whole world has been taken over by Mexican food, it is more often than not poorly executed. Niño Viejo and Hoja Santa are most definitely two exceptions to this rule. Everything they did, they did well. From the pressing of the tortillas to order, to the guacamole made in front of customers with a mortar and pestle, everything was done authentically. It may be a strong claim, but having visited Mexico twice previously, I’m inclined to say the food I encountered here was better than in Mexico.
Lessons for New Zealand restaurants
Like other countries around the globe, New Zealand has had its own Mexican explosion in the dining scene. But unfortunately, few New Zealanders have the opportunity to consume truly authentic Mexican food at any of these restaurants. Kiwi restaurateurs could learn so much from one of the simplest but authentic dishes on Niño Viejo’s menu. The dough made in right in front of you then shaped by a taco-rolling machine, specially imported from Mexico. The taco is then toasted and directly served.
When I visited this restaurant, at just two months old, it was still in its infancy. Despite its youthfulness, the menu and food offerings from Hoja Santa were exceptional. In particular, one of the most memorable dishes of my whole trip was the mango lasagne (see ecipe, below). My acclaim for this restaurant is such that, if I was a betting man, I would be putting a tidy sum on this restaurant being named as one of the top 50 in the world in the not too distant future.
A great late summer dessert that is not too sweet. The pairing of ice cold mango with fromage frais and the spice of green peppercorns is wonderful on the palate.
2 large slightly under ripe mangoes
Pinch icing sugar
4 large ripe mangoes
400g caster sugar
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
400g fromage frais (see Note)
- To make the tuiles, peel the mangoes and, using a mandolin, slice finely. You will need 12 slices for 4 people. Lay the mango slices on greased baking paper and dust with icing sugar.
- Pop in the dehydrator and dry until crisp or turn the oven to its lowest setting and dry overnight.
- To make the sorbet, peel and deseed mangoes. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Churn in an icecream machine.
- Hang the fromage frais in a tea towel to remove the excess water. Smooth the fromage frais with a spatula in a bowl then place in a piping bag.
- To assemble lasagne, place a mango tuille down on the centre of the plate, pipe dots of fromage frais to completely cover the tuille. Place another tuille on top then spoon on the mango sorbet. Place another tuille on top of the sorbet to complete the lasagne.
- Garnish with more fromage and sorbet. Jazz it up with fresh and freeze-dried berries, and a crack of green peppercorn.
Fromage frais can be hard to find but Masion Veron in Newmarket, Auckland, stocks it. If you can’t get any I have made this recipe with natural Clevedon buffalo yoghurt.
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Ben Bayly, head chef of The Grove and Baduzzi, travelled to Barcelona with Estrella Damm - a major backer of Ferran Adria's BulliPedia. Check out Ben’s peek into the future of food as he visits Ferran Adria’s inspirational el BulliLab and read his dining report on Bodega 1900, Adria's latest restaurant, and Pakta.