There are some posts that are difficult to write for the simple reason that you have too much riding on them. The post about my lunch this summer in Tohqa (pronounced like you are from Cadiz – Tozca) has been one of them. I don’t just say that by way of excuse (although excuses would be in order having spent four months writing it), I say it because it is my only explanation.
My lunch in Tohqa, in Puerto de Santa de Maria, this summer, was one of the great highlights of a great summer that now seems like a distant memory. It was one of the best meals of a year which you know has involved a lot of lovely meals. It involved some of the sublime mouthfuls of a year which involved an awful lot of those. And it was also one of the great sets of pairings in a life that is literally beset with them.
It was not planned. I knew these fellas had opened a new place and dearly wanted to go but we did not have any chance of doing so until an unfortunate cold scuppered an alternate plan with friends. Once we were available we were also on the spot. Bizarrely, I had in fact booked the hotel opposite without knowing which hotel it was (or where Tohqa was either.) So we ended up pitching up not only Mr and Mrs Undertheflor but also the coming generation.
And it was magic from start to finish.
The start couldn’t have been better. They have taken over the location of a restaurant I used to love – El Arriate – but what used to be cosy and curious is now elegant and airy. In August it was full of light and the tosca was golden, and it was full of fun art – as the younger generation confirm. I will always cherish the memories of how it was (and the people there), but loved seeing it in its new form.
And of course these guys are just great. I should warn readers that I have known them for years. And while that fact may put my neutrality in question, the whole reason I wanted to go was because I had seen them in action before. Here the man on the grill is Edu Perez, previously of Cataria and of other top top places, but who has given me to eat some of the finest things to pass down the old Gregory Peck. An utter crack. And the other guy is Angel, who looks young and funky but is wise and deadly serious in the art of pairing wines. Another one of the same. Superbness squared, but also giften children’s entertainers – will just leave that there.
So we got cracking and it was awesome. We started with the grilled sardine to end all grilled sardines, it moved to a beautifully nutty bread, then a combination of dishes that combined superlight, super smooth, and just super.
I will probably never forget the green baby garbanzos (chickpeas, dudes) in a sticky ham sauce, or the sensational spicy ray and beans, and there are just no words for that magnificent big fish whose face and flank we ate but whose name I have forgotten. The girls tucked into grilled fish and asked for repeats …
But probably the best were the prawns. Such a small animal, that you eat so often, and even often in the great places. But when you eat them like Edu can grill them you realize you have never eaten them. The flesh, the flavour, the moisture. Really a different class: a total masterpiece.
You see Edu has a touch with the grill that is pretty close to sorcery. Anyone can grill a steak or a halibut – not always with the same results – bit it feels like Edu could grill a butterfly wing – or prawn, or sea urchin – without overdoing it. He turns things you have tried many times before into something unique and memorable. And then he grills things you have never tried before, and frankly the top ends up coming off your head.
And then there were the pairings. As I said on IG at the time in fewer characters, it was one of the most outstanding sets of pairings I can remember and the fruit of a lot of hard work. Incredible attention to detail really, and an incredible set of wines to work with. You can see above what he gave me – but I later saw the wine list and it is sensational. The wines above are not new to me and, in absolute terms, not the best he had in hand, but the choices were superb. But I cannot emphasize enough how much thought had gone into it – if one wine would not do for a given course you would get two – or even three – and it was great.
No, it was wonderful. The whole thing was fantastic, cracking, and will live long in the memory.