Jazz notes embrace and allure you into Arola, done up with dark wood, glass and yellow lights. The semi-circular bar, which holds two bottles in each of the glass casing shelves that cover the wall, is tempting. But the eye moves to the glass door that leads into the open-air seating, which is captivatingly casual, classy, and gives you an unhindered view of the waves, sands and if you are early, the sunset.
Head chef Manuel Olveira sat across the table to answer my questions. There was but just one problem — he knew no English, and I knew no Spanish. In came Hina Gidwani, assistance guest relationship manager, Arola, and offered to interpret. And that’s how I got my first class in Spanish foods.
“The core ingredients of Spanish gastronomy, which has heavy traces of salt, are olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and garden veggies such as potatoes, bell peppers and carrots.
Spanish food is also synonymous with sea food and meats, Iberian pork being a speciality,” Olveira tells Gidwani in Spanish, who in turn translates for me. Arola, which has been crafted by Michelin Star chef Sergi Arola, has no main course, tapas or finger foods being the crux of the menu.
“Many colour combinations and a lot of texturing goes into plating up the dishes. The core ingredient, for example the sea bass, is left untampered on the plate, so that all your attention falls on it. The secondary ingredients never cover the core ingredient,” he adds.
Walk into Arola and ask for your regular whiskey, vodka and red/white wine and they’ll give it to you. But the bar also stocks 30 different types of gin, which best pairs with the tapas. We tried the Signature Arola Gin, an orange flavoured gin, and were hooked. Make sure you take one teetotaler friend to drive you home, because the variety is sure to boggle you.
We started with Gaspacho, the national cold soup of Spain — it came in tiny copper pot-like servings, and without spoons. The server smiled at me, gesturing that I was supposed to drink it straight from the bowl. Subconsciously, I blew into the soup before taking a sip. The fresh flavour of cucumber was shortly overtaken by a strong, pungent taste of garlic and then gently replaced by the tanginess of tomatoes, which were the most overpowering ingredient. Perfectly prepared, this soup had us off to a great start.
Next up was Naan with Tomato and Manchego Cheese — a simple serving of flat bread, olive oil, salt and tomato puree. The tempting platter of yellowish cream-coloured triangles were examples of the perfect Pythagoras theorems. It was a decent combination with our Sangria, a rare concoction, that had an overpowering aerated texture — a welcome change from the flat sangrias we are accustomed to at house parties.
It was time to dig into Eggplant salad, which is a direct route into heaven for all eggplant lovers. The mushroom starter had a tangy cum sour taste, making it unique, but pleasant. It comes topped with tomatoes, black olives and simple flavours of salt and pepper. Up next was the Patatas Bravas, a crispy, rolled potato seasoned with sour cream and tomato gravy. This was our favourite tapas dish for its tangy puree and artistic plating. The chicken tapas was another star dish, which had a beautiful soya and pepper flavour. The chicken was tender and the crunchy pine nuts uplifted the dish. Our last dish was the Idiazabal Cheese Rice, which was a bland disappointment, but not for long, as we still had dessert to taste.
Spanish dessert is made of egg, cream, sugar and milk, but trust the chef to bowl you over with Crème Catalana. We had three miniatures shot servings of yogurt with Rhubarb syrup (so very MasterChef), grated apple with cream and chocolate lava, which could have been a tad sweeter. But, we aren’t complaining.