Powered By Two Michelin-starred Powerhouses, La Ventana Reinvents Spanish Cuisine
It’s been 2 years since I stepped into this leafy joint; things have taken some drastic turns since their last consultancy act with Chef Carles Gaig came to an abrupt termination early this year. Now helming the kitchens are two Spanish Michelin-starred powerhouses, Chef Roberto Terradillos and Toni Gonzalez, both behind successful restaurants in Santander, Spain. My main concern for the afternoon would be the absence of old-school romanticism, a quality I deemed quintessential to the La Ventana dining experience and one that I was privileged to experience with Chef Gaig’s cuisine. His grandfatherly mannerisms and pensive ways spilling over into the thoughtfully created menus. Sure, culinary talents are surmountable in the room, however, would it be a good fit for the tranquil establishment highlighting exemplary Spanish hospitality. I was raring to find out.
It’s a balmy day and the move of the restaurant was a languid lunch service, the white linen clothed and chandler lit dining room accommodating random groups of diners. I spied on a Korean family who had just wandered into the restaurant, quizzical about their exploratory nomadic ways in the area. Where could they have been going?
The thick foliage, melodic tunes, cool breeze aloft, starched linen, and the gentile waiters toting long-spouted decanters with ruby red wine: everything about La Ventana screams “come on in and stay awhile”, that is especially true when you spy on the back patio, a wooden board and rattan chair spotted oasis in the middle of Dempsey Hill’s thick forests. This is a venue which beckons diners to lose track of entire evenings over reasonably priced re-interpreted Spanish food and too much wine.
The first course of Carabinero Prawn Salmorejo (Gazpacho’s richer cousin) was a shining example of reinvented classics. Traditionally conjured from bread, olive oil and tomatoes, the soup’s aberration appears in the form of mounds of cubed watermelon and strawberries, providing hints of restrained sweetness in the cold soup. This was preceded by a dash of salinity contributed by sliced olives. Sweet prawns were sourced from a nearby kelong, a definite deviation from Chef Gaig’s ‘import everything if you encounter dissatisfactions from local sourcing’ mentality.
There was wine, cava to be exact. The Freixenet Cuvee D.S. Brut Gran Reserva 2008 pouring a crispy yellow straw colour into elegant flutes. The nuances of ripe fruits and jasmine obscured beneath refreshing citrus notes warming the palate for better things to come. I revelled in the rare and complex buttery finish of the pour, it’s toasty remembrances titillating the sweet subtlety in the local prawns.
Mandatory in most Spanish meals, the octopus with wasabi mayonnaise and tapioca was a bit lacklustre if not for the saving grace of tender grilled octopus. Parred to an almost zilch existence, the so-called wasabi mayonnaise spoke no words of its presence. The dreamy aioli, however, an extremely nice precursor to the umamified seafood affair amplified with tangles of salty fingers.
We graduated to the next course of Tuna Belly with Peppers broth and toasted garlic parmentier. Sashimi grade tuna made a guest appearance, and the usual Japanese suspect was given a quick sear to unveil shy pink innards. The exquisite protein was delicately cloaked in a prawn head based peppers broth which boasted a ton of flavour while the silky mashed potato provided the perfect nesting grounds for the remainder of the liquid gold to percolate into.
It’s not all about seafood at this Spanish joint. Chef Roberto Terradillos’s wizardry manifested in the next dish—Iberian Presa charcoal fried, served with Carro puree and toasted coffee. Prized for its high marbling and nutty flavour, the Iberian pig is the product of reckless liberation in meadows at its final stages of breeding; feeding off grass and aromatic herbs such as thyme and rosemary; it’s no wonder the flesh acquires a truly unique flavour. Using that to his advantage, Chef Roberto coated it in a squid ink crust alongside a buttery mound of unbelievably sweet carrot puree, grounded by toasted coffee powder. The juxtaposition of bitterness against the sweet carrots and intensely unctuous meat was so deliberately wilful, that I found myself working through it at a reduced pace just to prolong the celestial experience. I wanted more.
Dessert arrived in the form of Carajillo. No, not the regular coffee and brandy amalgamation, but reinvented in the form of an artistic plated dessert featuring half domes of cinnamon ganache, Szechuan peppercorn jelly, buttery lemon crumb and brandy gel—it was a fun dish that is even better when wrapped up with a quick shot of brandy and coffee on the side.
Reasonably priced for what it is worth, La Ventana promises to take you on a Spanish gastronomic journey and it certainly does deliver on that pact. If you’re eager to have your impressions on the regular Spanish cuisine (Paellas and larger sharing portions) swayed, La Ventana’s menu is a culinary adventurist’s dream.