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Compared to London or New York, the emergence of ‘supper clubs’ (home dining) or ‘pop ups’ (a temporary restaurant that sets up pretty much anywhere but a restaurant), Barcelona has been slow on the uptake, but change is a-coming. I’d heard of a couple here over the past 12 months, but it wasn’t until I got an invitation from Jezebels with an attached menu promising ‘Cuban Fusion’, that I finally enlisted. With a food-loving friend, we pitched up at the ‘secret’ destination—one of the big warehouse buildings in Poblenou—at 9.30pm one Saturday night. The guests, about 20 of us ranging in age from 21 to 50, were mainly complete strangers.
Ruby was on holiday from Washington. She found herself here after her friend suddenly pulled out of the trip and she checked out singles-friendly happenings in Barcelona on meetup.com. Juan had done the same thing when he decided to extend a business trip from Madrid. Valerie had heard about it through a friend.
You could expect that things might be a little awkward. But the night began by admiring the views from the terrace and chatting over ice-breaking ginger mojitos served with tender rolls of slowly roasted pork rubbed with Southern spices and skewered together with melted Swiss cheese and a gherkin. It wasn’t particularly speedy —we didn’t sit down to eat much before 10.30pm—but nobody cared, because, unlike restaurants, much of the thrill of the ‘pop up’ comes in the social potential. The room filled with relaxed chatter as Kathleen Engelhardt, our host, chef and creator of Jezebels, pottered about the kitchen putting the final touches on dinner.
A former model and actress, Kathleen traded California for Catalunya a couple of years ago and used the move to focus on food full time. She worked for Roger Auberts of Food & Mambo for a while, learning about molecular gastronomy, but decided to go it alone recently with the staging of the first ‘Jezebels’.
“It gives me the opportunity to express myself creatively, to play but still be in control serving who and what I want,” she said.
For someone who is just playing, the food is deadly serious. First up is a martini glass of black bean soup carefully spiked with jalapeño, mellowed with sour cream and served with a crunchy rice croquette for dipping. Two small shot glasses of ceviche follow: oily mackerel chunks soured with lime juice and perfectly partnered with soothing sweet potato, buttery scallops with creamy avocado and crunchy cilantro shoots. A dazzling start that just got better and better.
Entrées include some crisp yucca chips with pumpkin seed mojo (a variable salsa, popular across all Latin American countries and the Canaries), and a hunk of tuna rubbed with sugarcane, seared and served very rare on a bed of seafood stewed in tomatoes and onions, a rif on the Caribbean classic of asopao. Slices of tender octopus were ingeniously paired with aji Amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli) mash and black olive purée, equalling a dish that was hot and bitter, salty and sweet, clever as anything.
More Caribbean flavours followed in the shape of Bomba potatoes stuffed with picadillo, the spicy Cuban meat sauce; spoon-tender guava-glazed pork belly piled on top of plantain chips and doused with mango salsa; and ‘Fried Cow’, a deconstructed ropa vieja of twice-cooked, crispy skirt steak with congri rice, Cuban oregano and onions. Velvety banana ‘tres leches’ with vanilla beans, meringue and brown-sugar cake, and a kick-ass coffee Daquiri made a triumphant finish.
We all struggled to finish—I’m told there will be fewer courses in the future—but finish you must, because ‘Jezebel’ is one of the most exciting young chefs currently working the stoves of Barcelona. Her dishes are fresh and lively, her flavours big and bold and her ‘pop up’ one of the most fun nights out I’ve had in a while. Long may it continue!
No fixed address—Dinner/brunch once or twice a month, usually Saturday. €50+ depending on the theme. See www.jezebelsclandestinedining.com for details.