It’s widely known that Spanish food is some of the most exciting and nutritious in the world. With fresh produce harvested from thriving local farms and sunny hills to seafood caught from the glittering Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona is without a doubt the city for taste bud exploration. Chef Sebastian Mazzola of Bar Veraz, talks exclusively to us about the best eats in the region, where to enjoy a Sangria, and discusses how the Barcelona EDITION has changed the face of Barcelonian cuisine.
ESQ: You moved to Spain in 2007, what initially captured you and as time went on, what kept you there?
I came to Spain to join elBulli, which in those days was considered the best restaurant in the world. It was pretty much like a dream come true to be part of the team. The intensity and creativity in that kitchen was amazing. Later on I moved to Barcelona and in no time I fell in love with the city. It’s big enough to always have something new to discover and small enough to cross paths with people you know every day.
ESQ: How would you describe Catalan food?
There are two types of Catalan food; the traditional type and the extreme creative type that changes the way you view gastronomy. The traditional gives you a base to create and evolve recipes, but the creative can’t really be described. It makes you think, love and hate, but at the end of the day it evokes a feeling. One of my favourite dishes is Fricandó. It’s a beef stew with mushrooms.
ESQ: Tell us about ‘Catalan Autumn’, we love a dessert made with sweet potatoes!
Sweet potatoes are very popular in Autumn/Winter season in Catalunya. On most street corners around the city you can find a small stand roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts. For the Catalan Autumn dessert we roast the sweet potatoes to make a smooth purée and we make crisps out of the peels. It is finished off with caramelized pumpkin seeds, preserved chestnuts and liquorice ice cream.
ESQ: What are your personal favourites from the menu?
During colder months, I really enjoy the more hearty dishes. Our version of Fricandó is a good example. It’s made of fine slices of slowly cooked beef filled with a Jerusalem artichoke purée and served with a creamy Chantarelle sauce, a reduction made of the beef juices and toasted pine nuts, breadcrumbs with parsley.
ESQ: The Barcelona EDITION brought Bar Veraz to the food scene, as well as the Cabaret’s unique offering – how did you come up with each concept?
We have been working closely with the creative’s to ensure we have an interesting offer for both our hotel guests as well as the locals of Barcelona. Bar Veraz is open all day, seven days a week so logic told me it should be a place to enjoy accessible food that could be eaten daily. To this idea we added a little of technique and a lot of love, and the result is there.
Cabaret is a very unique venue, from the location, to the design, to our creative partners Mike & Claire Davis (AKA Manumission). Cabaret is not only about the food, it is about the whole experience and the stories we create, and each story only lasts six months. I can’t give too much away, so come down and check it out.
ESQ: Where do you like to go for great Catalan cuisine?
There are several really good truly Catalan restaurants in Barcelona but if I have to recommend one I would suggest Alkimia by the Catalan Chef Jordi Vila.
ESQ: Cookery Classes seem to be really popular in Barcelona, much like in Vietnam and Thailand for us in Asia. Why do you think that is and what do you think of companies like Born To Cook in Barcelona?
Spain is a very rich country culinary speaking, like those countries in Asia. Spanish cuisine is popular and known worldwide and visitors are keen to learn how to make it from local chefs. I think places like Born To Cook are really great for promoting and passing knowledge about local food and how to prepare it. Living in a highly digitalized world, I think it’s great to see that people still enjoy getting together over cooking.
What makes a good Paella for you?
The secret is in the broth and the rice. The layer of rice on the pan should be thin and the paella shouldn’t be loaded with too many ingredients. The rice on the part towards the edges of the pan should also have socarrat (the caramelized crust of the bottom of the rice).
ESQ: Let’s talk Sangria – where does a Barcelonian go for one?
Barcelonians actually don’t drink much Sangria, but if they do, then it’s probably enjoyed at home before Paella on a Sunday afternoon. Right now the most fashionable drink for the local is Vermut. We are also working to create and interesting food offering to go with the nice selection of Vermut we have at Bar Veraz.
ESQ: Street food and Hawker Centres are huge here in Singapore, but Barcelonians seem to prefer finer dining at sit-down restaurants. Do you see this changing in the future?
Actually in recent years lots of street food markets have been popping up all over town. The younger generation seem to really enjoy this type of eating.
ESQ: Bar Veraz is situated in El Born, Ciutat Vella, one of the most colourful districts of Barcelona. What are your local hot spots?
I have a list. El Mercado de Santa Caterina for daily grocery shopping, Bar Brutal and L’Anima del Vi for natural wine and relaxed food, Nomads Coffee for a cortado and of course, Punch Room for cocktails.
ESQ: For anyone visiting Spain for the first time, what do you suggest is the first thing they should pass through their lips?
It depends on what part of Spain they are visiting as well as the season. Food wise there is so much to try; red prawns from Costa Brava, Iberian ham, tomatoes…Drinks wise I would say a glass of dry sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) from one of the many artisanal sherry producers in the very South of the country.
Bar Veraz is at The Barcelona EDITION Hotel. Rooms start at 588SGD per night, including breakfast.