Suckling Spanish sweetness worth every kuai in your wallet
The line ‘make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’ was uttered by the physicist who defined E=mc2, and not by a chef. Regardless, it applies as much to gastronomy, especially when discussing the cooking of Jordi Valles at Agua, the Spanish piece of the Legation Quarter jigsaw.
To begin, the warm pre-dinner bread that greets guests is a delicate delight: doughy and crispy, crumbly and chewy all at once. Seafood soup (95RMB) serves morsels of mussels, squid and prawn, whose freshness pops in the mouth, over an original tomato and potato purée; the broth is at once light and flavourful.
Spinach salad (80RMB), usually overwhelmingly unkempt, instead works with sharp little leaves upon which are dabbled pine nuts, mini raisins, tiny croutons and shavings of Spanish parmesan.
All this lies upon a sweet, smoky apple sauce that creates cohesion. Another appetizer, the truffled canelloni (100RMB), is robust enough to be an entrée, so request the obliging, easy-going staff split it for two to share. The three meat fillings (beef, pork and veal) combine heartily with a creamy truffle and pesto sauce.
What has become an overnight classic, the suckling pig (180RMB), requires overnight preparation. The result is fall-off-the-bone tenderness, capped by skin baked until crispy, not unlike peanut brittle or a candied-apple shell.
The only dish that cracks under pressure is calamari stuffed with a selection of meats (150RMB), essentially a calamari sausage in a smoky sauce that does little to conceal a fishy odour. Seafood enthusiasts should instead consider the king scallop (170RMB), so large, tender and tasty, it rightfully sells out within a day of being shipped in.
Even with all these delicious distractions, the most delightful part of the night comes after the meal, when guests linger, unrushed by a studied, energetic and precise staff.
At 10pm on a Friday, the warm and intimate space (55 seats maximum) overlooking the Legation courtyard buzzes with energy and romance. Lighting fixtures with kaleidoscopic holes cast doilies of light upon the vivid crimson interior and soft Bossa sways in the backround. Order a dessert, like the warm Spanish torrija (45RMB), and savour the warm sweetness.
Legation Quarter, 23 Qianmen Dong Dajie, Dongcheng district (6559 6266). Open 11.30am – 11pm daily. Meal for two around 850RMB 东城区前门大街23号