Photo by Melanie Aronson
If you are the son of multi-starred Carme Ruscalleda your life is likely to go in one of two directions.
You will either run screaming from the kitchen to live out your days using food strictly as fuel, or you will breathe it in, embrace your fate and set about carving your own culinary mark.
Raül Balam Ruscalleda has spent many of his young years in the kitchen with mama—both in her three-starred restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar and at their two-starred restaurant in Tokyo—keenly learning her art, honing it and experimenting until finally he was big enough to fly on his own. And fly he did; straight into the kitchen of one of the most prestigious hotels in the world, Mandarin Oriental’s restaurant Moments. Open for just a year, it has already been awarded its first Michelin star. And so we sit there, my friend and I, and wait for the degustación de otoño to begin.
It’s a serious kind of dining room, smooth and silent, muffled by cool, white linens and a curved ceiling painted in gold leaf, like a cowhide. Staff bustle about, tending to our every whim. The wine list is encyclopaedic, impressive but too long to actually read. You’re much better off asking sommelier Judith Cercós for her recommendations. I wanted a wintry white. She delivered with Quinta Apolonia, a perky young Verdejo from Belondrade y Lurton, which worked so well with each dish that I didn’t bother to change it.
First then a selection of aperitivos, pretty as petit fours: herb and pinenut ‘candy’, magdalenas of grass peas and hazelnuts, chawanmushi (Japanese savoury custard) topped with little wild mushrooms and a crunchy wild boar croquette. But how does one follow such culinary curios? To use Ruscalleda Jnr’s own words, you go on a journey. First with something sensible and true to roots, like escudella, a soothing, familiar broth of bones and chickpeas, ganxet beans and butifarra. Followed by something exciting, like crayfish tails on a chayote suquet topped with violet potato crisps and succulent Maresme prawns on a velouté of artichokes.
Next you might get something Catalan to the core; espardenyes (sea cucumbers) for example, on a simple potato Parmentier with ribbons of baby courgette and crisp snow peas. Then something designer, like vegetables wrapped in Joselito jamón raviolis inspired by Paul Smith. I’m not quite sure of the connection here. As far as I know Paul Smith is best known for his stripes and natty tailoring.
Among this rally of taste explosions, the only flaw was a filet of dorada on a curry sauce studded with tiny squares of mango. The fish was impeccable but the curry seemed slightly out of place (everything else bore the hallmarks of Catalan flavours and ingredients), as if it had found itself there by accident, like people who end up in Puerto Rico when they think they’re going to Costa Rica.
The pacing and portion sizes though were bang on. All this and still we wanted more. We took both of the ‘either-or’ meat courses: smoky, pink venison with a wild berry ‘cake’, just sweetly acidic enough to take the musk off the deer; and a bomba (potato stuffed with deeply savoury mincemeat) on a ‘football’ of more potato, carrot and courgette.
At this point Raül and Carme appeared at our sides, beaming. “Are you enjoying it?” they asked in unison. We gaped. Carme Ruscalleda comes in on Thursdays to keep an experienced eye on things and has long been one of my favourites among the stars. “Yes”, we squeaked, beaming back, lost for words.
Saved by the cheese and dessert—the former, a mighty combination of interesting pairings; Comté with celery jam, Bleu de Séverac with pears cooked in coffee and a weird partnering of Tupí with white chocolate ganache—the latter, refreshing sisho ice cream with coconut sorbet, followed by an extraordinary liquorice ice cream with cola and rose petals.
As I said, if Mum is Carme Ruscalleda, great things can but follow. And Raül seems destined for greatness.