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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Appetite for art and good food in Spain

There’s only one word to truly describe Spain: spellbinding!

brunch Updated: Oct 29, 2017 11:45 IST
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Hindustan Times
The beach of Es Trenc in Mallorca, Spain
The beach of Es Trenc in Mallorca, Spain(Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi )

I landed in Barcelona to acquaint myself further with the painter Joan Miró’s work. I went to the Fundació Joan Miró, which houses his iconic works such as The Morning Star, 1940. Walking through the spectacular pale grey building – designed by Joseph Luis Sert – my admiration for Miró’s bold, singular vocabulary amplified; his genius, critics believe, places him in the Spanish pantheon inclusive of Picasso and Dali. Born in Barcelona and subsequently domiciled on the island of Mallorca, Miró invented a particular language – whimsical, cryptic, brash, substantive, reverberating childhood innocence. His idiom drew from what might be the Jungian ‘collective unconscious’ but it also gave relief to his specific, elaborate way of inhabiting the world.

I flew to Mallorca to study more key works, including lithographs produced on the island, at the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca, a modernist miracle of museum architecture, hinged on a cliff. That evening, at my hotel – the magnificent Belmond La Residencia – I met with Miró’s grandson, Joan Punyet Miró, a friendly, refined man, who has advanced works from Miró’s estate to the resort’s Café Miró (in addition to his lends to major museum shows). It was a spectacle, as well as a profound immersion, to dine amid the artist’s work, which only reminded me of art’s impact on Mallorca over the years: The pianist Frédéric Chopin and the writer Robert Graves led part of their lives here.

Painter Joan Miro’s private studio
Painter Joan Miro’s private studio ( Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi )

I encountered more of Miró works in Es Baluard, a small, splendid museum of modern art, where I was impressed by an elliptical, poignant video art work Fervor by Shirin Neshat. Twin screens are used to explore the divide between men and women in the Islamic society. One sees the back of a hectoring preacher lecturing on sin, while men and women in his congregation appear frozen by his didacticism. But in a dramatic moment, one woman in full chaddar rises, turns, and abandons the assembly. I returned to the Belmond in a personal disquiet of Neshat’s affecting video. Here Mallorca’s astounding landscape ran its caressing hand over me. In the stone clad balcony of my impeccable room, the sounds of distant church bells were enveloped by sparrows trilling collectively. Yonder, an oyster grey sea, over which suspended fiery orange clouds.

In Palma, Mallorca’s thriving centre, I recommend The Lab, where the ‘tapas nouvelle’ are dramatic, dazzling reminders of Spain’s culinary brilliance

The resort, like much of Mallorca, fosters art. Not only can you move about a miscellany of Miros, the La Residencia has a collection of important, museum-level sculptures on their grounds; they regularly host music recitals and a writing workshop is on the cards, giving this luxury resort the status of a local arts hub. Over the next two days, driving through Mallorcan landscape, I went from flawless beaches (Es Trenc is the best, all Caribbean blue and pine tree copses) to Valldemossa and Sóller’s rolling hills, and landed one morning at a monastery (many on the island offer economical, austere rooms to rent for solitary contemplation).

Joan Miro, grandson of the artist Miro, with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi at  Cafe Miro
Joan Miro, grandson of the artist Miro, with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi at Cafe Miro ( Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi )

In Palma, Mallorca’s thriving centre, I recommend The Lab, where the tapas nouvelle are dramatic, dazzling reminders of Spain’s culinary brilliance; for a more modest, hearty meal, stop by Es Recó de Randa, and order their delicious fish and local peppers, while in the village of Deia, I had a meal at the exquisite Michelin-starred Es Racó d’Es Teix (one of my best dining experiences ever).

The food of love 

I went out to Madrid on an important task: to eat! Spain, after all, is a global food hub. And I flew auspiciously, on Turkish Airlines, not only for their excellent connections from India to Spain but also because their Istanbul pit stop lounge enjoys a menu so delectable and expansive that you feel like you gatecrashed an Indian billionaire’s extravagant wedding (the kind likely to end in a tabloid divorce).

In Madrid, Tatel is a trailblazer, with an equally fabulous base in Ibiza. Both blast the sort of entirely inappropriate dance music that makes you feel younger than you really are, and I noticed several senior diners commit orthopedically fatal head movements to Justin Beiber. The best octopus I ever had was at Tatel, full of rich, marine flavour, lashed with smoky flames. It was expertly paired with a wine so fruity and light I could down it like water (and, reader, I did).

Surya in Madrid offers authentic Indian street food
Surya in Madrid offers authentic Indian street food ( Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi )

Bibo is the Per Se of Madrid, a topnotch menu with a chef who thinks of his menu as if a philosophy. Bibo is also a people watcher’s paradise, I noticed several front-page variety Spanish politicians in rusty blue work suits and WAG’s with dealers on speed dial – the décor is designed to make you feel you’re dazzling by osmosis. After my third day, I was aching for street chaat and I headed to Surya, which has an older home in Barcelona, and is getting into the smooth sail of things in Madrid. I thoroughly enjoyed their delicately-laced bhel – and delicious butter chicken! – at the encouragement of attentive, discreet owner, Ketan Trivedi.

A friend recommended Diego Antoñanzas de Toledo, who helms Madrid’s best guide service, Madrid & You. De Toledo is not only a paragon of charm but also a canny insider for the city’s crucial watering holes. El quënco de Pepa, near the Bernabeu Stadium, is one of his chosen restaurants and he insists on ‘cocido’ – Madrid’s three course winter special – at La Bola. He’s captivated with his nation’s fabulous produce at Mercado de la Paz and shopping here must be followed by quick lunch at Lhardy, an institution for 175 years (ask for their Iberian ham croquettes). To wind up sweet, there’s no equal to canutillos de crema at Pastelería del Pozo, counselled the seasoned Madrinleno who showed me around town with aplomb.

Dessert at The Lab, Palma De Mallorca
Dessert at The Lab, Palma De Mallorca ( Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi )

The entrancing soprano in the opera of Madrid hotels is the La Orfila, elegant, powerful, discreet, set in one of the city’s finest neighborhoods and surrounded by prominent galleries (the Marlborough Gallery is right across). I enjoyed my stay at this grand dame hotel as it harked back to a forgotten world, with its extravagant, restful suites, patio water fountains and old-fashioned tea service (it’s so absurdly romantic I urge you stay here only with a lover). Because I was on a foodie trawl, I’d dined at its celebrated restaurant, El Jardin de Orfila, under the glorious stewardship of Michelin star-winning chef Mario Sandoval. At this classy eatery, the gondola of nephrops with sherry was a divine revelation, while the sea bass with onion chips would win over even the harshest critic. Chef Sandoval is, indeed, pressing all the marvellous buttons.

Near the La Orfila is the Prado Museum, which used to be a bit of a dump, but has undergone something of an overhaul to match Spain’s dazzling museum circuit (many believe the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao upped the ante and roused older sleepyheads to action).

The Chueca neighbourhood will set off anyone’s cool radar – design boutiques, organic cafés, cold press juice stations – and sex stores retailing that black leather whip you always wanted to buy (yes, for your boss). I stayed at the Only YOU Boutique Hotel, where the personal welcome card in my room with quotes from my books moved me tremendously. Just when I thought, with some cynicism, no one reads any longer, I was heartened to find extracts from my novels in a fine room in a far away city. Modern, proficient, smart, this Preferred Hotels property also has one of the swankiest stores in town, showcasing some of Spain’s cutting edge design talent.

The Brunch insider’s view
  • Pick your wine from Vila Viniteca, one of the best wine stores in Barcelona. It offers the best local and imported wines. (Source: Lonely Planet)
  • Cala Mastella in Ibiza is one of the best beaches for seafood. Come at lunchtime to feast on freshly caught and grilled fish. (Source: Conde Nast Traveller)
  • Check out Hotel Maria Cristina, a luxury collection hotel in San Sebastian. (Source: TripAdvisor )

As I strayed from my lovely hotel – and yes, went straight to the sex stores, for my Diwali shopping – I was taken by Chueca’s mischievous, bubbly mood that reminded me of New York’s Chelsea as well as London’s Soho. Strolling down the streets – passing dive Japanese restaurants and dodgy-looking florists and the city’s bomb-diggity bar, Kike Keller – I recalled my conversations with locals. Whether it was de Toledo, the charismatic guide, or the Only You Boutique Hotel’s amiable manager, Sam Bath, or museum curators I had met – all spoke of Madrid with lambent, loyal affection. How nice, I thought to myself, to live where the residents love their life, and their city, and where the thought of leaving home fills them with dread. After the flush of my first week in Madrid – where the energy is embracing of foreigners and admiring of the eccentric – I began to see why they felt like that.

Author of bestselling books, including The Last Song of Dusk, Shanghvi is honorary director of an arts foundation in North Goa. He travels extensively, and frequently contributes travel dispatches for Brunch.

From HT Brunch, October 29, 2017

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First Published: Oct 28, 2017 21:58 IST