May 14, 2016 / 1 Comment
Hitting our must-visit list due to a) the magic touch of Albert Adria, b) it’s Michelin star, we booked in to Hoja Santa for a late night gastronomic Mexican feast. (I mean really late by our standards – 10:30pm! These Spanish are crazy!)
Knowing this is elevated Mexican cuisine, we are prepared that we are probably in for some unusual dishes and flavours, albeit (hopefully) with that Adria magic touch – a thought that is both exciting and a little scary. Located in the golden triangle of Albert’s Barcelona restaurant empire, it’s similarly fitted out to the other establishments (Pakta, Tickets, Bodega 1900) – quirky, casual and stylish all at once. It has a sister outlet next door, Nino Viejo, a taco bar that sadly was closed by the time we were dining – well worth checking out though I hear.
We start our night in the usual fashion with some cocktails, and a little disappointingly these weren’t the biggest of successes, leaning towards the sour and smoky side of things (not my taste really, but this seems to be popular in the world of mixology right now). It’s on to wine then, and our rose is fine, not amazing by any standards, but perfectly adequate. New Zealand has spoiled me when it comes to delicious rose! The wine list on the whole is at the dearer end for Spain, but this is a michelin starred restaurant and the sommelier knows his stuff should you need advice on what to select.
Our amuse bouche consists of small bowl of pickled vegetables and a very pretty twig display holding barely-there ‘leaves’ and plantain chips, all ready to be dipped into an exquisite salsa verde. Apparently they sell this by the bottle – but sadly I forgot to purchase some when we left! Such a shame!
Next up we begin our journey of the small bites side of the menu. These all need to be ordered as individual serves, so don’t be concerned when they recommend you order one per person of the whole left side of the menu! They certainly aren’t designed for sharing, and you really don’t want to watch on while your tablemates enjoy these morsels.
What we ordered:
AVOCADO GAZPACHO – 5.8
CORNBREAD WITH CHIA AND COFFEE CAVIAR – 3.8
BARBEQUE JICARA – 4.1
Getting into the full swing of things now, our first three tastes of Hoja Santa proper were a fitting launch to our mad-Mex meal. Presentation is evidently taken very seriously here, and I loved the playful plating we observed with these dishes. The Avocado Gazpacho is surprisingly served in the outer shell of the avocado itself (so simple, yet so original…how have I never seen this before?), and is a creamy yet delicate offering – though personally I’d like a little more sweetness in the mix to mimic the sensation I get from most tomato gazpachos. The individual serving is a pretty large size and it took me a little while to sip through the lot. No complaints on that front though!
The cornbread is well, corn bread shaped like corn. Hope I haven’t ruined the surprise for you there. The presentation is quirky, unexpected and expertly crafted – it definitely brought a smile to our faces. Unfortunately on this one, it was all style and no substance. Just a dry, airy imposter that to me didn’t really scream corn, bread, or cornbread. The tiny toppings of chia and coffee caviar atop the bread didn’t really do anything to enhance it for me either.
We had to enquire as to what ‘jicara’ meant in relation to our third stater after a quick Google didn’t herald anything that sounded quite right. We were informed however that Google was in fact all-knowing and it was simply our small human brains who didn’t get the interpretation right – ‘jicara’ means bowl, and that is indeed the delivery mechanism for this dish. Just a really, really little (and edible) one. It’s barbequed meat (lamb I believe) in a tiny bowl, and there’s actually more to it than first meets the eye, for something so small it took me a few bites. This one was rather delicious and I definitely would not have refused seconds.
POBLANO & CHICKEN SOPE – 5.7
FOIE GRAS & DUCK TACO WITH MANCHAMANTELES MOLE – 7.5
COCHINITA PIBIL INFLADITA – 4.9
Ahhh, the tacos! Thinking back fondly to these three scrummy selections, they were certainly the highlight of our Hoja Santa experience. I’m not sure tacos have ever been THIS good. Throw out all of your conventional ideas of tacos and just order the entire selection, ok?
In some ways pictures do a better job of describing these than I ever could – but they are all unique, nothing like what I expected and also the best value on the menu. The plating and dish construction is of the level one would expect from an Adria overseen venue – these won’t disappoint. They taste as amazing as they look too.
DUROK PORK RIBS WITH GRANNY FLOR’S ADOBO – 24.1
ASHED MOLE OF ROSES WITH BRESSE QUAIL – 24.3
Here’s where the wheels fell off a bit. The pork ribs were the superior of the two dishes, with tender meat and pork crackling ‘taco shells’ in which to eat it – a nice twist. The sauce was just so heavy and overpowering though, and the dish lacked any contrast or lightness. The same issue befell the quail – which was just that – a single, solitary quail. Really? For 24 euros? Compared to the tacos and starters, these dishes didn’t seem to carry the same value in terms of complexity and flavour. The ‘ashed mole of roses’ sauce annihilated the delicate quail, and the two (yes, only two!) small tortillas that were served to accompany didn’t improve the flavour. We were rather disappointed by this dish. Lovers of traditional Mexican flavours may have a different opinion on these so let me add that disclaimer!
SKEWERED CORN – 5.8
CORN, CHOCOLATE & CAJETA – 11.5
Let’s start with the ‘Skewered Corn’ – don’t be fooled by the name, it’s nothing of the sort (it does contain corn though)! It is however a devilishly good corn cream filled pastry – the pastry used in this dish is insane. So toasty, crispy, sugary! It’s the same style of pastry dessert we saw pop up at Bodega 1900 the following day – if you see anything similar described at one of the Adria group restaurants, order it! Great value too for the level of deliciousness contained in this simple looking dish.
The ‘Corn, Chocolate & Cajeta’ on the other hand was a bit of a mixed bag. I want to love it just for the amazingly crafted ‘corn’ that was not a corn cob, despite how much it looked like one, but instead a corn ice cream. The detail on this faux corn was next level. Impressive. It’s a shame however that the dulche de leche that formed the base of the dish was made from goat’s milk – it resulted in an awful aftertaste that kicked in about three seconds after the initial pleasant flavour. It killed the dish for me unfortunately, I was wishing I had more of the Skewered Corn to feast on! Thankfully some petit four came soon after to cleanse the palate.
Would I go back? Yes, but I’d stick solely to the first half of the menu, or perhaps pop next door to Nino Viejo – I wonder if their tacos are just as good? Some great creativity and plating, but too many flavour misses for me to rate this a 10/10. I also didn’t love the construction of the main courses (or rather lack of). One more little gripe, if you expect people to eat dishes with their hands, is it too much trouble to offer a hot towel at the start of the meal? So if you go, wash your hands before sitting down, order all of the starters and tacos on offer, and leave it at that (well maybe squeeze in a skewered corn). Shouldn’t damage the wallet too much if you stick to that plan and you should leave pretty chuffed.
Overall Rating: 7.4/10