A SUPPER CLUB VOYAGE
In December 2015, Salsa Verde sailed into Valencia. It might be easier to explain what it is by explaining what it isn’t. Salsa Verde isn’t a restaurant, bar or cafe. It’s a workshop, show-kitchen and supper club. And sometimes a school and a laboratory.
At 24/7, we were intrigued to hear about the opening of Valencia’s first (that we know of) venture of this kind so I went to their opening night to find out more.
As well as offering cookery workshops and corporate events, the key ingredient of Salsa Verde is the supper club, described in their words as club gastronómico privado. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s how it works: pro chefs or amateurs run a regular or one-off dinner service in an apartment or pop-up space. Diners sign up to go and pay the suggested donation (legally, supper clubs can’t charge). It’s popular in larger towns and cities in the UK and it’s been so popular in France that restaurateurs in Paris grumble about them. That might sound charmingly clandestine but, in reality, they can be a recipe for food bores and food poisoning.
No so aboard Salsa Verde. The large apartment in Ruzafa has been specially adapted to host 10 guests at the kitchen island – a huge bench table and cooking range. IKEA would envy the kitchen’s use of space and the myriad glass spice jars. Off to the side is a prep kitchen and guest toilet (no, you won’t be able to rummage in anyone’s private chambers, in the style of “Come Dine with Me”).
The charismatic captain is professional chef and bespectacled pirate lookalike Oliver Sharpe who, despite his Brit- sounding name, is Chilean (his father is Scottish). Oliver has worked alongside a constellation of Michelin-starred chefs but his cooking and manner are not at all intimidating. As I watched him nonchalantly blowtorching a hunk of tuna steak, I realised the way he cooks is with a schoolboy glee rather than chef-y pretention. And Oliver clearly loves to share his passion for food – he needs no encouragement to pass on tips and tricks. For example: How to get the seeds out of a pomegranate?
Half it, turn it upside down, bash it. The best way to fry mushrooms? In a very hot pan, in small batches, otherwise the temperature of the pan drops. Fun things to do with a blowtorch? Pass me the tuna.
I’m always nervous about ‘tasting’ menus because, as a non-red meat eater, I often end up admiring the aesthetics of a dish rather than actually eating it. So I was delighted to discover that the majority of Salsa Verde’s cooking is pescatarian. And anyone unconvinced by vegetarianism could be converted by Oliver’s hummus de calabaza – this pumpkin hummus hung around throughout the meal and I couldn’t leave it alone. Not only are non-meat eaters catered for perfectly, but the bread Oliver makes is gluten-free, too.
The menu itself looks long but it’s cleverly designed to be spread out over the evening and manageable for all appetites. On arrival, we shared picas (nibbles) such as the divine hummus with veggie crisps and flatbread. Over four hours, that was followed by two aperitivos, cold and hot entrantes, a main dish and then a pud and coffee or tea. Each stylish plate set in front of us looked like it had slipped from the pages of “Elle Food & Drink”, the kind of dish that looks so attractive you don’t want to attack it with a fork… but then… well, it’s unavoidable, isn’t’ it?
The highlights of the evening (aside from the hummus which I’m desperate to have the recipe for) were the Tataki de atún (tuna tataki) and the Raviolone de scamorza y espinaca (cheese and spinach ravioli). The tuna, seared by blowtorch and then sliced tataki-style (similar to sashimi), was so astonishingly fresh and clean tasting, I think I actually felt myself getting healthier. The ravioli was a highlight because of the way it was prepared: while everyone took a break between courses, Oliver demonstrated his method for making ravioli and several of the guests took over to finish the batch.
Beautiful healthy food, kitchen theatre and education, all in one. It’s pretty much my ideal evening. But all this virtue is off- set by the accompanying wines. Given Oliver’s heritage, we drank Chilean wines from the De Martino winery along with a white and red from Clos de la Vall, the Valencian producer. Keen to remember the evening in fine detail, I didn’t indulge but by midnight some other guests were three sheets to the wind and just getting started on whiskey. At Salsa Verde anything goes – drink and be merry, or if you don’t want to join in the bacchanalian revelry or need to slink home before the small hours, then that’s fine, too.
At the helm behind the scenes is Dorothee, Oliver’s wife and, at 81⁄2 months pregnant when I met her, the most glowing advert for Oliver’s cooking. The pair moved to Valencia after steering Salsa Verde to success in Barcelona. Naming their business after the Basque sauce, verde also neatly encapsulates the pair’s cuisine, interest and credentials. Between them, Oliver and Dorothee (who’s German) speak five languages (Castilian, German, English, French, Valencian) and the night I attended contained people from at least five nations, all of whom were warmly welcomed in their own language and included in all conversation. Impressive.
Desserts are Dorothee’s domain and our final dish of the night was a taste of Britain: a warm pear and chocolate crumble, served in charming vintage tea cups which Dorothee revealed belonged to her grandmother. (Serving heirloom china to a group of boozy diners? Brave.)
A Salsa Verde voyage would be an excellent date, an unusual dinner for a couple, or a fun night for friends. Or hire all ten spots for your own celebration. Come on board for the evening and you can expect to ‘donate’ around €35 for a six course tasting menu with matched wines. (Special offer for January and February 2016: €30) More drinks can be purchased if you wish. Special diets and allergies can be catered for, with advance notice.
By Suzanne Worthington
C/ Fuente de San Luis, 32 P20 Zona Ruzafa
Tel: 651 955 294