In summer 2019, three Michelin-starred Valencian chef Quique Dacosta opened his first restaurant outside of Spain – Arros QD – in London. Alongside his famous paella, which is cooked in metal skillets on a six-metre-wide flame grill, are dishes designed to bemuse the senses. Jenny Southan reports
Described as a “pioneer of avant garde cuisine”, Dacosta’s flagship restaurant – Quique Dacosta, in Alicante – has held three Michelin stars since 2013. He also has El Poblet, a one Michelin-starred restaurant, MercatBar, Vuelve Carolina, and most recently Llisa Negra, all in Valencia.
I visited his showy new two-floor London outpost, Arros QD, one evening, intrigued to see how a humble rice dish could create such a buzz, and discovered that although his paella is cooked theatrically, it is Dacosta’s small plates and starters that display true flair and experimentation (for better or worse).Designed by Barcelonian studio, Lázaro Rosa-Violán, Arros QD features an open kitchen at the centre of the ground-floor (upstairs is a glamorous bar) along with seating for 140 covers, an immersive paella counter and a chef’s table.Dacosta said upon opening: “I am excited to bring part of our tradition and gastronomy to one of the most important capitals of the world. Paella is one of the best-known dishes around yet also one of the most mistreated – with this project, I am materialising a passion I have been nurturing for decades: to reinstate the rice culture from the eastern coast of Spain to its rightful home”.As a consequence, there is an entire section of the menu dedicated to rice with sections for “Soccarat”, “Traditional rice” and “Contemporary rice”.
Paella Valenciana (£17.50 per person), for example, is a traditional take on the dish that includes rabbit chop, chicken and butter beans, all cooked over a wood fire and using a variety of timbers to complement each dish. Whereas one of the more modern versions combines smoked “dashi” eel, katsuobushi, white sesame seeds and black garlic aioli (£32 per person).
But as food critic Grace Dent wrote in her review of Arros QD for The Guardian, there are more interesting things to taste on the menu than the paella, which tends to come as a thin layer of oily rice, crispy and caramelised around the edges.
“I feel my mistake at Arros QD was having the paella, which one feels thoroughly obliged to do, because in truth the menu is vast and features the likes of skate wing in chilli miso cooked on charcoal, whole brill with lemon and parsley, and stonebass ceviche with tiger milk.”At Globetrender, we are always on the look-out for innovative cooking, and there are certainly some treats in store for curious gourmands here.
I started out with the cheese stones (£1.50 each), which were smooth and black on the outside and cold and creamy inside. Made from Parmesan, Manchego cream and cocoa butter, I couldn’t decide if they were delicious or unpleasant. They displayed all the characteristics of a choc ice and yet were savoury, like Dairylea cheese spread. Other appetisers included truffle bomb, ‘liquid’ potato soufflé, truffle ‘spaghetti’; Napolitan cracker, rice cracker, anchovies, black olive, tomato powder; and beef cheeks, red curry stew, coriander, mint, coconut foam.The delicate, finely shredded kale citrus salad (£14) – scattered with “mixed Valencian citruses” (possibly mandaquats), three tomato dressing and cashew nuts – was zesty and artful, while the seasonal cherry tomatoes, “tomato snow” and sundried tomato emulsion was more like space food (the snow is created with aquafaba chick pea water and dry ice, I heard).If you do fancy trying the rice, the most inventive-sounding options include Quique Dacosta’s black ash rice (£19); the black ink rice with Basque cod, sugar snaps and pil pil emulsion (also £19); and the wood pigeon breast, wild mushrooms, rosemary and porcini aioli (£29).