Surprising Korean Basque cuisine at Luke Jang's new restaurant, formerly of El Bulli and Mugaritz
Korean chef Luke Jang is in love with Spanish cuisine and, above all, its product. "You have four seasons, when there is something excellent in one place there is in another," he says. He liked our gastronomy so much that, a decade ago, at the age of 24, he settled in El Bulli and tried to get a job.
Lisa Abend, magazine correspondent Time in Spain, he told his story in the book The Sorcerer's Apprentices. The Korean arrived at Ferrán Adriá's restaurant in the middle of the season and, when they told him there was no space for him, he pitched a tent in front of the premises. He was lucky, in just three days he managed to talk to the cook, but only for him to tell him that he had to leave. Years later he returned and repeated the operation and, after a week, managed to enter as an apprentice. He spent two half-seasons at El Bulli, in 2008 and 2009, and then he went to San Sebastián and ended up working in Mugaritz, where he settled from 2012 to 2014.
It was in the Basque Country where he picked up a large part of the influences of what makes up his new restaurant in Madrid, Soma de Arrando, which opened just over a month ago with a risky proposal: a single communal table, where 12 people can fit, and a unique tasting menu of nine passes and two desserts at 65 euros a place setting.
Lang and his assistant Sung Kyun, also Korean, finish all the dishes in view of the diners, at one end of the table, and discuss the play with the staff, explaining each of the dishes. Some preparations for note, of Korean roots, but inspiration and Spanish product.
A festival of Korean flavors
The menu begins with two appetizers based on kimchi, the classic Korean sauerkraut, which Lang prepares every Sunday at the restaurant, to be served three weeks later. When he opened, he says, he prepared seven kilos, no one came, and they spent weeks eating kimchi. Now you have got the point to quantities. Serve the kimchi accompanied by trout roe, first, and Iberian dewlap and oyster, later. Of ten.
Kimchi cylinder with Iberian confit, oyster and kimchi foam.
The deployment continues with another typical Korean dish, Ssam, a name given to any green leaf that wraps a portion of meat, as if it were a taco. Lang opts for a dragon leaf –acid and crunchy– with confit Iberian bacon, crunchy purple onion and a homemade fermented soy and chilli paste.
Iberian bacon ssam.
To prepare the ground for the most hearty dishes, a salad is served, with carrot juice, seasonal herbs, creamed corn and black tiger vinaigrette.
Then comes one of the restaurant's star dishes, the foie of sea with kombu candy, black sesame and wasabi cream. He foie, Lang explains, it is made with monkfish liver, a product considered a delicacy in Korea that is hardly appreciated in our country.The Korean tells how, working in a restaurant in Spain, they threw eight-kilo livers into the garbage because nobody wanted them. It is a very bitter product that must be treated thoroughly for consumption. In Korea it is salted and cleaned with water and vinegar to reduce its bitterness. What Lang serves in the restaurant is nothing more than a micuit of Foie gras made with this liver and it is really delicious.
Exquisite sea 'foie', made with monkfish liver.
The menu continues with a finished grilled quail with its egg - a trompe l'oeil made with the bird's blood - and a tomato leaf, a surprising dish but too sweet and a bit cloying.
Seconds of Basque inspiration
The following dishes, more powerful, are of clear Basque inspiration, a cuisine that Lang got to know well during his stay in San Sebastián, working at Mugaritz.
Sea and mountain.
It is the turn of a sea and mountain dish: pork tail glazed in its juice –cooked 48 hours at low temperature–, accompanied by a Korean-style tempura shrimp and sour cream. Lang says that he prefers to fry with rice flour, as it allows the preparations to be more crunchy, as it has more starch, and it is tastier than wheat flour. Very good.
Hake from Cantabria with burnt milk skin.
We continue with what is, along with sea foie, the best preparation on the menu: a hake from Cantabria, Lang's favorite fish, which he claims he discovered in San Sebastián. "When you nail the cooking it is like a flan," he explains. And we attest that the Korean nails it. The fish is accompanied by a "burnt milk skin", which is nothing more than a previously frozen cream that is heated with a blowtorch at the moment and adds even more juiciness to the fish.
The salty part of the menu ends one txuleta Grilled Beef with Pear and Korean Sauce Bulgogi: a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic and sesame seeds with which meats are marinated in Korea. Also excellent.
Beef txuleta with Bulgogi sauce and black garlic vinaigrette.
Good desserts, nice conversation
Finish the menu with two desserts that do not detract. In the first place, Lang's reinterpretation of the classic dessert from Basque yesterias: walnuts, quince and Idiazabal cheese. On this occasion, the cheese is served in cream, the caramelised walnuts and the quince in the Korean version, where it is fermented for a whole year to eliminate its bitterness, turning the fruit, inedible raw, into a refreshing and aromatic bite. This is also wrapped in a fake chocolate nut.
Lang's interpretation of the typical cider house dessert.
The second dessert and last dish on the menu is quite a surprise: yoghurt flower, edible yuzu stone, toffee mud and soy cake. It is a dish that Lang devised on one of his mountain walks, trying to imitate the frost and mud that forms on the paths. The result is a dish that is not sweet, but refreshing and that puts a very interesting finishing touch to an already outstanding meal.
There is no doubt that Lang predicts a good future in Spain. The fact that everything was prepared with the diners and that the cook is present at all times chatting with them adds a bonus to the experience and the food is really interesting. Only one but: the winery is very scarce and the only wines available, somewhat expensive considering that there are no other options (35 euros). Now, if you want to bring your own bottle, they uncork it for only 10 euros.
A highly recommended visit.
The worst: there is no wine list, and the ones that do exist do not lower than 35 euros; the quail promised more.
The best: hake, kimchis and sea foei; the conversation with Lang, a very interesting guy.
Where: General Arrando, 16 (Madrid)
Average price: 65 tasting menu, without drinks.
Reservations: 91 022 76 30.
Closed on Sundays.