Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shhh, Secret Foodies: Spanish Warehouse Dinner

We all have secrets, but how often do they involve warehouses and celebrity chefs? As part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival, Secret Foodies hosted a couple of secret warehouse dinners featuring two well-known Spanish chefs over two nights.

Secret Foodies Spanish Warehouse Dinner, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
In a secret location revealed via SMS two hours before the dinner event, a large group of diners (mostly couples and small groups) filled the footpath outside a doorway at the city end of Oxford Street.

Diners on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, waiting for the Spanish Warehouse Dinner
Just hours ago, these diners knew nothing about their evening's dinner plans except that it would be Spanish themed, in a warehouse in the 'eastern suburbs', and that they would be joining many other diners in the same situation.

Entering the warehouse
There was a bit of relief when I spotted the crowd on the footpath (Google maps always seems to have problems with Oxford Street), and excitement when a head popped out from the doorway which led straight down a flight of wooden stairs.

Long table settings
We were greeted with glasses of fruity sangria and several long, seat-yourself tables decked out in festive red napkins and trademark gold masks, for those who wanted more secrets to the night.

Chef Miguel Maestre starts the paella
It was hard to miss the gregarious chef in the corner, stirring rice in a gigantic paellera. Miguel Maestre was the chef for this evening and always a riot of fun. It's interesting to see what kind of banquet he can turn out in the warehouse, which obviously has no proper kitchen nor ventilation.

Tables set in the warehouse
The entire set-up of a pop-up restaurant within hours of a day is impressive: we're talking tables, chairs, decorations, glasses, cutlery, plates, lights even; not to forget the temporary kitchen.

Steaminess aside, I think for the first few minutes everyone just took in and appreciated the enormous effort of the 'restaurant' setting before moving on to socialising with complete strangers.

Miguel Maestre - cooks and entertains!
It's not often you join a dinner table with strangers - even communal tables are designed more to save restaurant space than to encourage talking to the unkown next door. But in the unique situation described, people are more than open to conversing with those next to, across from and even down the end of the table.

Of course, matched Spanish booze helps as well - though not for all the right reasons with the warm Tio Pepe Fino sherry - in addition to the stories and laughs from Maestre himself.

He chats about the evening's menu among many other things, and could consider a career in stand-up comedy though his endless jokes about his heavy northern Spanish accent are all the more endearing.

Ajo blanco - Spanish style cold soup
We start on a cold soup, gazpacho of sorts Maestre explains, featuring almonds and garlic. The grainy texture of the cool, creamy soup suggests bread or coarsely ground almonds in addition to almond flakes, loads of garlic and a traditional accompaniment of a grape slice.

Not to say I didn't like the big garlic hit with the cream, if it were toned down a little, I think this would make a wonderful starter for a summer garden party (otherwise a party where air kisses might even be vetoed).

Tigres - Stuffed mussels
I wasn't sure what to expect of the stuffed mussels, but took a couple on the half shell as the shared platter came down the table. Topped with a golden crumb, there was no suspecting the creaminess of the not-so-stuffed as coated mussels.

In a lightly creamy bechamel-like sauce, these molluscs were reminiscent of mornay styled seafood though not cheesey and flavoured with onions and herbs. It was quite the surprising mouthful - tender mussel and creamy sauce - and a firm favourite of the night.

Tortilla de Patatas - Spanish omelette
Another large share platter came along bearing perfect portions of Spanish potato omelette featuring most impressive uniform slices of potato. The classic tapas dish was lifted with the red sauce served alongside - possibly a tangy romesco but so full bodied that I could have eaten it by the spoonful.

Martin Codax Albarino
These first few dishes were matched with a well chilled albarino wine, supplied by Broadway Liquor Distributors, which was much like a crisp, dry sauvignon blanc.

Chorizo a la Sidra - Chorizos cider style
We couldn't wait to dive into the next shared dish, which Maestre calls "chorizinos". The huge bowl (to share) of mini chorizo cooked in cider with onions smelt heavenly and featured some of the best chunky chorizo I've had.

The little onions, stewed to a sweet softness, were just as good as the little spicy pork sausages, while nice white bread would have been perfect to mop up all the cider juices that the chorizo had been cooking in.

Maestre dishes out his paella
After the scrummy chorizo, Maestre announced the next course of his paella and family-style, we were to bring our plates to him for feeding. He cheerfully greets everyone he serves and proffers a hearty handshake to anyone claiming Spanish blood - north or south.

The servers get through the queue quickly, and any concerns that the huge paellera isn't enough to feed the entire room are hastily quelled when each diner receives a massive serving of the rice; while seconds are also offered.

Cuatro Pasos Mencia rose
At thispoint of the night, the wine turned somewhat red with the nicely chilled Cuatro Pasos mencia, which is a rose style wine with a dryness that made it ideal with the carb-heavy main.

Paella a la Maestre
I've tried Maestre's paella a few times before and although the toppings sometimes vary, I have to say that this was his best yet. The soft rice was well seasoned with bits of chorizo and loads of baby mussels and squid - I even managed to score some of the crispy bottom bits, but there was no way I could manage seconds. Besides, I could smell the beginnings of dessert.

Churros con chocolate - Churros with chocolate dip
It was pretty cool to see the kitchen pumping out fresh churros in the makeshift kitchen, squeezing batter into numerous deep fry setups. They arrived to the tables piping hot and thickly coated in sugar as opposed to a light dusting.

With dipping bowls of melted chocolate, the crunchy outers of the churros were just as pleasing as the soft, fluffy innards. These were just as good, if not better than anything in a restaurant setting, and given the lack of proper kitchen or ventilation, a job extremely well done.

Pedro Ximenez sweet dessert sherry
A high point of the night (and I'm not just talking sugar levels) was the dessert sherry; the Nectar Pedro Ximenez that was dark and fortified in tastes, bursting with the sweetness of raisins. I'm sure I could have downed half a bottle of this, though that may have made walking back up the stairs a little difficult.

Secret foodies
As the last of the churros were scoffed and the very last drops of Pedro Ximenez sherry squeezed from the bottles, Ms Darlinghurst and Maestre said their goodbyes although the cheeky chef was sticking around to sign copies of his books which were available for sale.

The evening had been extraordinary fun, and there's nothing like sharing food to bring people together - strangers or not. There's a few extra photos from the night here at my Facebook page (and Like me while you're there), and hello to all those I met on the night!

Food, booze and shoes attended the Secret Foodies Spanish Warehouse Dinner courtesy of Secret Foodies and Ms. Darlinghurst - thanks for sharing the fun!


Dumpling Girl said...

Looks like a great night out, it's good not to know where you are going sometimes. The paella looks wonderful.

chocolatesuze said...

aw sad i couldnt make it to this dinner it looked like a blast! drooling over the paella yum

gastronomous anonymous said...

bummed i couldnt make it to this dinner, food looks fantastic, especially the paella! yum!

Anonymous said...

Wow, look at the size of that paella! I bet it was amazingly flavourful.

joey@forkingaroundsydney said...

I'm not really into secret meals but this looks ok. And the paella is certainly inviting!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Alex does an absolutely brilliant job with these dinners doesn't she! She's very clever indeed :)

Vivian - vxdollface said...

This secret dinner looked like a load of fun! Gosh look at that paellera!

Tina said...

Hi Dumpling Girl - It was lots of fun; a good twist on yet another night out ;)

Hi suze - We had such big serves of the paella too!

Hi gastronomous anonymous - What a shame, but there'll be plenty more, I'm sure!

Hi lateraleating - I was very impressed with the flavours in that gigantic cooking size.

Hi joey - Must say it was my first "secret" meal; unless degustations without a menu count...

Hi Lorraine - She sure does!

Hi Vivian - Yep, and it's lovely that everyone talks to each other too; such a fun experience :)

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

Intriguing...and a bit of a fear of the unknown for me, I think!

Tina said...

Hi Rita - Definitely the unknown, but in a very good way!

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

Finally made it here!!

Looks like another fabulous secret foodie night! I can imagine Miguel working that space :)

I didn't get to try to Rosé wine but Pedro Ximenez and I were inseparable ;)

Tina said...

Hi Corinne - Ooh, yes - that was one amazing dessert booze!


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