February 22, 2024

The highlights of Spain’s cuisine, according to three London-based Spanish chefs

From delicate slices of rich jamón ibérico to a vast array of seafood specialities, the UK’s appreciation for Spanish cuisine has gradually evolved beyond the classic staples of paella and patatas bravas. Nowadays, restauranteurs recognise a growing appetite for dishes that showcase the intricacies of Spanish cuisine and reflect the diversity of flavours that can be found across Spain’s regions. We speak to three London-based chefs who are helping champion the very best that Spain has to offer.

Angel Zapata Martin

Chef Director of Barrafina and Parrillan

Tell us a bit about your cooking style. 
Accessible and unpretentious. You can tell what you’re eating just by looking at the dish — there’s no artifice or frills. The most important thing for me is using the best seasonal produce and letting the ingredients shine. I’m drawn towards seafood as I was born close to the best fish ports in Catalonia.

What’s your favourite dish on the Barrafina menu? 
Aside from the classics, of which I’ll never tire —  tortillas, croqueta de jamon and gambas al ajillo to name a few — I’d say grilled squid with chickpeas, bomba ibérica (a ball of potato, meat and cream) and mushrooms with cured egg yolk.

What are some of your hero ingredients? 
Mushrooms and truffles.

What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you? 
When I first started cooking, my chef, Jean Paul Marat at Hofmann in Barcelona, told me something I’ll never forget: “Be humble; a chef never says no to anything. Try to get over yourself every day.”

Who do you admire in the world of food? 
My all-time hero, a chef I worked with and admired hugely, was Santi Santamaria. The person who inspires me the most now is Josh Niland. 

Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Chef director of Sabor

What kind of food did you grow up with? 
My mum used to cook all kinds of things — there were constantly amazing smells in the house. She often made cocido (a kind of chickpea stew with chorizo, black pudding, and swiss chard), and I also loved her flat green bean stew with sweet potato.

What’s your favourite Spanish region for food? 
Spanish food is so diverse, it’s impossible to pick just one. At Sabor, we do a bit of everything — seafood, stews, roasts, rices, frituras; it’s food from every corner of the country. 

Do you have a favourite Sabor dish?
The menu is governed by the seasons, because I like to take whatever’s currently best at the market, bring that back to the restaurant, and cook with it. It’s a very seasonal approach and is the reason why we have so many specials that change on an almost daily basis — we normally have eight a day, with two each from the four categories of seafood, fish, meat and vegetables. It’s so fun to change the menu regularly, I really enjoy it.

What’s the one ingredient you couldn’t live without? 
Olive oil, specifically Arbequina olive oil — it’s a Spanish variety, and the best. I wouldn’t even be able to start cooking without it. 

José Pizarro

Chef/restaurateur at José Pizarro Restaurants

Which dishes remind you of childhood? 
My parents were farmers, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by the smells and flavours coming from the farm [in Extremadura, Spain]. I grew up with stews, soups, grilled dishes, lentils with chorizo… It was simple food but delicious.

How would you describe your ethos? 
It’s all about searching for the best ingredients and producers. I respect the love the producer has for the ingredient, in the same way that I love and respect cooking. To represent Spanish cuisine now is important, bringing new flavours, new cheeses, new meats, new cuts of Ibérico ham, etc. I always try to educate people through my cooking.

Why do you think there’s such an appetite for Spanish food in London? 
We love to discover things here and have so many people and different cultures. When I first came to the UK, people thought Spanish food was just patatas bravas and paella, but it’s more than that. Spain is so diverse — it has 17 regions. We now have amazing creativity in London, but at the end of the day, it’s still all about flavour and simplicity.

What’s the one dish you couldn’t live without? 
Lentils with chorizo cooked by my mum. It’s amazing.

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