Quique Dacosta - Dénia, Spain

Lunch - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quique Dacosta (the man) exudes an air of derring-do. He's a rakish charmer, a raconteur. But that concentration - his thoughtful, serious side surfaces quickly and we are plunged deep into a discussion about his cuisine and its place in the web of things.

Quique Dacosta (the restaurant) is a reflection of its patron. Four hours from Barcelona in the holiday town of Dénia, it is a disarming space - modern yet rooted in history (it was previously owned by his father-in-law). The servers are relaxed, and it is their consummate professionalism that sets diners at ease (the GM, Didier, gets a special mention for being a true credit to his profession).

Our party of five arrived at the restaurant for a 1.30pm appointment - the first of the day. The shaded patio was inviting in the heat of the Spanish afternoon - our meal, the "Tomorrowland" menu, began there.

NB: Because of the extensive number of courses, I will keep descriptions to a minimum in this post. Suffice to say, it was the best food and service we received during our time in Portugal and Spain. Indeed, this was an all-time top 10 meal.

Act 1 - Snacks
Gintonic of apple, petals of roses
A sweet beginning - the faux inner petals of the flower were juicy strips of apple infused with rose syrup. This was paired with an apple-infused gintonic (yes, one word), a perennial favourite hereabouts.

Dry leaves, roots of boletus
Two different leaves - sweet corn, and herbs in vinegar (the latter being especially good). The roots were made of rice flour mixed with mushroom powder - quite addictive.

Stones of Parmesan cheese
We've had our fair share of edible "stones", but these jet-black specimens were a standout - pungent, salty, cheesy.

Tomatoes in vinegar
"Spaghetti puttanesca"
Raïm del pastor
A medicinal plant found throughout the area around Valencia, the raïm del pastor (Cat's Claw) was pickled before serving. The leaves were succulent, but I found the stem and root too fibrous.

Act 2 - Pickled
Mullet roe
Octopus was air-dried, then seared over an open flame before being simply dressed with olive oil and salt. The texture was remarkable - chewy in the best possible way.

"Olives and its stones"
Olive ice cream and anchovy "pits" were set atop an olive oil gel - I loved the interplay of salt and fruitiness.

Ajoblanco and almonds
The ajoblanco liquid was encapsulated within a thin shell. Again, the olive oil really shone here, highlighting the flavours of almond and garlic.

Act 3 - Tapas
"Tobacco leaf" and toro
The faux leaf was made of crispy seaweed - an ideal pairing with the luscious (and very generous) slices of toro. There was almost too much of this course... almost.

Bacalao beignet
"Socarrat" of shrimp and aioli
The shell that held the aioli mimicked the socarrat crust that forms under the rice in properly-cooked paella - it was thin, crispy and tasted of the sea. Atop this cylinder sat a barely-cooked shrimp - so good.

Razor clam, ginger
A braid of raw razor clam kissed with ginger - a bold demonstration of local product quality. Excellent.

Razor clam tartare
Mint, lemon balm, gojuchang, coconut
Smoked seaweed and plankton
"Natural sea urchin"
This was anything but natural - the thin nori shell (with additional nori "spines") held a creamy center of local uni. One of the best bites of the day.

Grilled scallop, cilantro
Mochi of black truffle and "torta de la Serena"
Wow. The mochi skin was a bag of wonders - creamy La Serena cheese (an aged sheep's milk product) and black truffle essence. Taste-wise, it triggered memories of Alinea's "hot potato, cold potato", although it was texturally distinct.

"Jerusalem trunk"
False sunchokes composed of a sunchoke shell holding a filling of creamed sunchoke - this was, to me, a rare instance of the creation being better than the original ingredient.

Act 4 - Mains
Oysters, raw and fried
Crispy shell of oyster water
Red king prawn from Dénia
This prawn, blanched in seawater, was the closest any preparation has come to the superlative grilled Palamos shrimp at Etxebarri - no mean feat. It was served with a warm, thick "tea" of its innards - heavenly. I would happily eat through an identical menu just to have another of these prawns.

Rice of peas and cuttlefish eggs
The fish was served three ways - crispy skin as a base, holding cubes of cooked flesh, topped with its eggs. Simply conceived, masterfully prepared.

"Mediterranean taco"
The monkfish filling of the taco was en adobo - deep red and smoky with a touch of heat. A particularly delicious bite.

Act 5 - Meats
Tendon, "horchata" and black truffle
Stewed tendon, all sticky and gooey, drizzled with a thick purée of chufa (tiger nuts, the primary ingredient in Spanish horchata). Over the top, shavings of black truffle from Valencia - I did not know these existed. A rich, mouth-coating dish.

Pigeon and its jus
Malt spaghetti, watercress

Act 6 - Desserts
"Mojito" of cucumber and seaweed
Challenging, but strangely addictive. The seaweed, in the form of a mint-infused chip, was not subtle. Yet, it's brininess worked well with the sweet mango pearls underneath, and a strong note of lemon (in the liquid?) somehow balanced out the marine flavours.

Black forest cake
A lighter take on the classic - shards of dark chocolate piled atop the aerated cake, studded with stewed cherries.

Cinnamon branch, spherified prunes

Act 7 - Sweets
"Dove nests"
Raspberry-yogurt paper
Cocoa paper
Almond "stones", gold "nuggets", truffles, macarons
On a Wednesday afternoon in early October, with Quique Dacosta (the man) on premises, the restaurant served a total of eight guests. Essentially, we enjoyed a private lunch cooked by one of the best chefs in the world.

Why aren't the gastro-tourists pounding at the door for reservations - surely it's not just the location? They are missing out. This was a special meal (as mentioned at the beginning, I think this cracks my all-time top 10) - modern but drawing on tradition, simultaneously global and hyper-local. The Michelin man gets it right - 3 stars, without a doubt. My biggest regret is not being able to taste his other menu, the "Universo Local", a collection of greatest hits developed over a decade. But, we will return, sooner or later. We must - Quique Dacosta (the man, the restaurant) deserves no less.

Quique Dacosta
Carretera de las Marinas km 3
Carrer Rascassa 1
Urb. El Poblet 03700 Dénia
Phone: +34 (965) 784 179