Making the case for a plate of Spain

Making the case for a plate of Spain
Carrot and pumpkin pudding, caramelized with saffron soup and orange ice cream, is a signature dessert at El Patio. Photos provided to China Daily

BEIJING, Nov. 3 — For one reason or another, Spanish cuisine, arguably the world’s hottest thing on the dining table nowadays, finds little place in China’s food metropolis, Shanghai.
Local housewives can make French croissants and baguettes at home even without recipes, while pizza, pasta as well as tiramisu are as common as dumplings for the city’s young foodies. The word “tapas” alone, however, can confuse diners here.
But given its “world city” reputation, Shanghai is latching on to both modern and traditional Spanish cuisine, especially as a sluggish economy plagues Europe, closing down fine dining restaurants and sparking layoffs for top chefs.
So here comes chef Pol Garcia, the latest “victim” of the economy and a native of the Basque country, a region in northern Spain that is home to 40 Michelin-starred restaurants.
At his new playground, El Patio, a secluded and stunning three-floor mansion in the city’s former French concession, an adventurous menu features the creme de la creme of traditional Spanish cuisine, especially the northern style, and the innovative techniques Garcia acquired from world first-class restaurants he’s worked at.
For example, the creamy black rice topped with baby squid is a must-try, though some diners find the rice too moist or too heavily flavored. All I want to say about this heavenly Spanish dish: Unless you are dining with George Clooney, forget that you’ll have horrifying dark-tinted teeth and lips afterwards, and eat to your stomach’s content.
For “creative tapas”, as the restaurant calls it, the Iberian ham is sliced by waiters a la minute at tableside for freshness. The creamy eggs with mushrooms and truffles serves as “a light break” for the whole meal though it is also creamy.
Do try the carrot and pumpkin pudding, caramelized with saffron soup and orange ice cream, for dessert and for fun. As waiters slowly pour the cream into a finger-sized tester bottle, placed beside the pudding on the plate, clouds of fog are produced, inviting flash photos and laughs from the diners. But if you’ve been eating the black rice, don’t forget to gargle and rinse the black squid juice away before taking pictures with the “miracle gas”.