A secret gem of Valencian fine dining

Every time I travel I choose very carefully the places where I am going to eat and always include in the list at least one fine dining experience with modern cuisine based on local ingredients. This time in Valencia I was lucky to discover a relatively new restaurant. Xanglot is a cosy place with indoor sitting just two minutes away from Plaza de la Reina and El Micalet.

Sandra Jorge is the head chef here. She gave up business school to bring her culinary ideas to life and make her dream come true. Her most intriguing menu includes rose fish, skate wing and pig trotters.

In this interview, Sandra shares her story of opening a restaurant right before Covid and surviving, explains the differences between “paella” and “arroces” and gives useful tips about cooking these dishes.

In this interview Sandra shares her story of opening a restaurant right before Covid and surviving, explains the differences between “paella” and “arroces” and gives useful tips about cooking these dishes.

When did the passion for cooking start for you? When did you understand that you wanted to work with food?

I loved cooking since I was a little kid. Everyone in my family cooks (although not professionally) and as a kid I spent a lot of time in the kitchen watching my grandparents cook paellas etc.

Was it a simple choice for you then when you were choosing your future profession? Did you know straight away that you wanted to be a chef?

Not at all. When it was time to choose a university, I was 20. I went for business and management and studied it for two years. Then I realised that it wasn’t my cup of tea, I didn’t like it. So I quit.

How did you come up with the idea for the restaurant?

After I’d quit business school, I was working in a restaurant for a while. It was a nice place, beautiful ingredients, modern cuisine, but I knew in my heart that I wanted my own place. I wanted to create my own thing.

I shared these thoughts with my parents and they supported me. In fact, they both quit their jobs in order to help me open my own place. That is how Xanglot began.

First Xanglot was much smaller than this one and the concept of the menu was very different. The atmosphere was more informal and the cuisine was more traditional.

I kept working for another restaurant but all my free time I devoted to the Xanglot kitchen. Before long I realised it couldn’t go on like that, I was working all the time and felt exhausted. Also, I just wanted to focus on what I wanted to create as a chef, bring my own ideas to life.

What was the initial concept of this new Xanglot? How did you decide you want to create modern cuisine?

I love traditional cuisine, don’t get me wrong, I do love it. But working in that other restaurant gave me the chance to try more unusual approaches, and cook finer ingredients, so I couldn’t get that idea out of my head that I can apply the skill and knowledge I got there but combined with my own vision and my own taste.

It began in the summer of 2019. I quit working for another restaurant. And set to open a place where I could bring my dream into reality.

The restaurant opened right before covid, right?  How did you cope with the lockdowns, lack of tourists, etc? 

We had just opened, worked for four months and had to close for the lockdown straightaway. It was March – high season in Spain, because of the Fires Festival. It lasts a week, and a lot of tourists come to see it. It’s a profitable time for every restaurant and we all were looking forward to it. But we had to close right before.

It was really hard. The full lockdown lasted for two months. We were pouring money into rent, earning nothing. In two months some of the restrictions were lifted, and cafes and restaurants with terraces were allowed to open for business. But we don’t have a terrace.

The hard decision to make was to close for good or to endure. We were ready to endure. Two months later another set of restrictions was lifted and we were allowed to open, but we had to cut the number of seating in half. You can see now we have space for 40 people, at the time we were able to accommodate less than 20.

Did you try to find some other solutions? Launch new projects like takeaway etc?

The was no point to launch a takeaway in Xanglot, it’s not that type of food, also we’ve just opened and takeaway works better for popular places.

But for the second lockdown, I moved back to my hometown – Benimodo – for a bit and there I started making menu boxes with Spanish tapas.

Just 5 years ago the main direction in fine dining was using as many exotic ingredients as possible. Today the current has changed. Chefs are using local ingredients wherever they can, but try to look for the most unusual ways to cook and combine them. What is your favourite local ingredient that you feel you can never get tired of? 

I love very basic ingredients. My favourite is rice. It’s very typical for Valencia.

I don’t think I tried anything cooked with rice on your menu?

Oh, that’s right. In Valencia we call all paellas – arroces – “rices” and traditionally it’s a lunch dish. We don’t normally eat paella for dinner, so we don’t serve it for dinner in Xanglot.

What is the most shocking or even yucky ingredient you worked with? 

I work with many unusual ingredients. I am from a rather small village and I was raised in a culture where we don’t throw food away. So I am quite used to cooking with all parts of an animal. I also love the idea of taking something unconventional for a modern city and presenting it in a beautiful way, so nobody would have thought it could be made of the unpopular parts.

To give you an idea I cooked with rooster combs, chicken feet, pig trotters, pig head, pancreas and lamb kidneys.

Also, do you know what a sea cucumber is? It looks disgusting but it is surprisingly rich in taste and very delicious. I cook that too.

What is your fav dish to cook?

My favourite dish is all types of rice. As I explained earlier, “arroces” is a term we use in Valencia for what everywhere else is called paella. In Valencia there only one paella – paella Valenciana. And it is my favourite thing to eat. But in terms of cooking – I love all kinds of arroces.

Since your favourite ingredient is arroz and your favourite thing to cook is arroces, can you share a tip with us? Maybe something about choosing the right ingredients or maybe even the secret to how to make an amazing paella.

The first rule of cooking is to use as many seasonal ingredients as possible, because when in season they have more flavour and will give your dish more flavour.

Another tip I’m going to give is: fry your rice when cooking paella. A lot of recipes call for making a sauce first, then pouring in the water and then adding rice. I do fry my meats or fish or veggies first with onions, garlic and spices, then add rice, fry them all together and only then add water or stock. That way rice absorbs a lot more flavour.

What is the dish (good or bad) you can never forget? 

I love my grandmother’s grilled tuna rib. Tuna is a huge fish, so it has quite big bones and you can cook them the same as pig ribs or cow ribs. It doesn’t even look like fish and it is so flavourful and delicious. This is the taste I will never forget.

I love my grandmother’s grilled tuna rib. Tuna is a huge fish, so it has quite big bones and you can cook them same as pig ribs or cow ribs. It doesn’t even look like fish and it is so flavourful and delicious. This is the taste I will never forget.

Michelle Roux – Eggs. Your culinary library

Cooking books are my love of a lifetime. Since I first discovered my passion for cooking I’ve collected a pretty decent cooking library. No, I’m not showing off. Well, okay, maybe I am, but just a little. I thought that my reviews on some books could be useful for you. Because I am not selling these books and I actually cook those recipes they content. So I’ll start with one of my favourites, classics, an absolute pearl of my book shelf. Michel Roux – Eggs. 

Eggs seem to be such a simple thing to cook, what can you write about them? But do you know how to boil a perfect egg with soft creamy yolk that won’t crumble on your tongue? Can you poach eggs without all those silicone domes? What about soufflés or ice-cream? There are so many recipes with eggs playing the first violin. This book offers not only the methods for cooking eggs, but also suggests lots of combinations with different ingredients so you never get bored of poached eggs for breakfast.
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Salmon fishcakes. Kids’ turn to cook

Aren’t you a little tired of taking over the hob 7 days a week, 30 days a month? Sometimes we all need to rest. Okay, not sometimes. We often need to rest. And how do we get it when talking about cooking? Some say – food prep is an answer, but as for me – I like it a bit fresher than 2 days in the fridge. We all use a little take away now and then and that totally suits my definition of rest, but it’s a bit pricey to use it every time I don’t have energy to cook a proper dinner. So my way is to teach my kids to cook, so they can take responsibility for family meals once in a while.

Today Ilya cooked some delicious salmon fishcakes (and even didn’t do much mess in the kitchen- Yay!) This recipe might require adults’ help when boiling fish and taking baking tray out of the oven. Everything else is safe and absolutely doable for a 10 year old.

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How to make your bakes better. Part 1. Cakes and sponges

It is a rather nerdy topic to speak on but I’ll try my best to keep it simple. It’s very important to understand, what happens in the process of cooking and how eggs and flour convert into stunning cakes, to get the best result of any recipe. So here is some advice to make all your bakes lighter, fluffier, higher and juicer.

All the cake recipes you use will describe different ways of mixing ingredients, but essentially there’s only one method that allows all ingredients to play their best part in batter (we’re not talking dough and pastry right now).

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Quick and easy. Baked sweet potato chips.

Even the most sophisticated gourmands sometimes take a break and cook something really simple. So here I kind of introduce you the new rubric – Quick and Easy. The title speaks for itself no need to explain further. I just hope you’ll like it.

Today we are making sweet potato baked chips. Very easy to cook but yet delicious.

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Better late than never. Our New Year’s Eve menu

Do you think it’s the right time to publish the New Year’s Eve menu? Yeah, I know it already passed. But I look at all those bloggers who publish all Festive recipes starting from October – and I just wonder how do they manage to do that? I can hardly wrap my head around all the preparations going on not to mention the blog. So, yeah, sorry, I am late. But there are going to be other holidays and parties, right? And fish menu is always a good choice.

Pan fried scallops

Pan fried scallops with brie cheese and raspberry sauce

There will be several recipe cards in this post. You can print all of them or choose the one you need.  Continue reading →

Cottage cheese and pumpkin Hungarian scones

With the Festive season gone it is time to return to day-to-day food. I know, I know, January is the month of eating healthy stuff, exercising  much and detoxing. But really how long do you keep to those resolutions?

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Every year it’s the same: the new life starts on the 1st of January. You wake up with a great hangover and suddenly remember you promised yourself a healthy and strong body, new healthy habits, no wasting time and so on… Continue reading →

Autumn bucket list for foodies

Let’s pretend how dull would be the foodies pallet if there were no autumn in the world. No roots, no pumpkins, no plums, no marrows, no apples, no late autumn honey, no mulled wine from thermos… Autumn is a great time to celebrate comfort and flavour. So I have a quick bucket list of things to do this fall if you are a food lover.

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  1. Bake an apple pie. Absolutely a must. No autumn should pass without a pie. May I offer you a recipe to try? This one with apple roses tastes good and looks delicious. Or why not to try an apple cake instead?
  2. Mulled wine! Who said mulled wine is for Christmas? I promise you that it’s spicy warmness suits autumn beautifully. Make some mulled wine and spend a gloomy evening in the park or garden, drinking it. Maybe watching the stars, or maybe reading some poetry.
  3. Go chocolate hunting. Research what shops in your city have the best variety of chocolate and spend some time reading labels, taking photos and tasting (if available). Buy couple, or three, or five (no more than ten)… And spend a half an hour comparing different bars with tea or coffee.
  4. Buy a pumpkin. Actually, buy two. Waste one on all that pumpkin dishes you save on Pinterest. Pumpkin curry, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin soups and pies are among those really nice things to try. (May I also suggest you these really nice pumpkin cupcakes?) Make a “nature morte” with the other one. Place it on the dinning table as a centrepiece or on a mantel (if you have one) as an object of art.
  5. When it’s time, gut it, carve it, make the scariest lantern on your street. Or the cutest if you like it better. Do not discard the seeds. You are a foodie or what? Extract the seeds, wash them, dry them, then bake at 50 degrees C for 30 minutes to make the best pumpkin seeds for salads, granola or bread… You made it yourself!
  6. Apple chips. No more words. Just slice and bake!
  7. Go adventurous and choose seasonal menu in your favourite restaurant. How often do you come to your fav place and order the same fav plate? To be honest, I do that all the time. I have several dishes I love the most in several restaurants I like. And tend to order them all the time. But autumn is so generous on fruits and veggies that we can’t ignore it. Viva celeriac! Viva parsnips!
  8. Herbs and spice tea can be a great remedy for all that colds and flues waiting around the corner. But it also can be a pleasant way to calm down after a stressful day at work. Fill you teapots with mint, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, cloves, orange peel, cranberry and raspberry leaves and steep for 5-7 minutes, add some honey and dive into you relaxed evening. It can as well be linden, camomile and lavander  for a goodnight sleep.
  9. Preserve! Whatever you like. My own stars of the shelf are pumpkin confiture, raspberry jam, black currants jelly and minced marrows.
  10. Apples are very rich in pectin wich makes them really good for making jam. It sets quickly and has a nice consistency once set. But it’s also great for making jellies and zefir (Russian marshmallows). Give it a try.
  11. Pack a hamper for a picnic. There’s no other such joy in the world as autumn picnics. Herb tea, hot chocolate, apple tarts, plum jams, cheeses and wines – oh, don’t start me on this. Get some inspiration here. Have a look at how we made our big Lavender picnic in Hyde Park.
  12. Cook! Autumn is a nesting time, you spend more and more time at home and cook more and more comfort foods. Use all the help you need from books, magazines and blogs – find the recipies you dare to try and come on, turn the stove on!

Girolle and eggs en cocotte

The end of summer is a pleasant time for all types of foodies. All kinds of tasty things reach their perfect ripeness. Fruits and veggies, of course, some berries, honey, nuts and – kings of foraging – mushrooms.

Girolles are my personal favourite among mushrooms. They are dense, clean, a little sweet and look very vivid and colourful on the plate. When I happen to get a bag of girolles, my first desire is to make Russian style fried potatoes with mushrooms. But after that I allow my fantasy to rush. So how do you feel about girolle for breakfast?

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9 most inspiring movies about food

Where do you get your inspiration to cook? Colourful cookbooks, foodie blogs, magazines – there are a lot of sources for cooking creativity. Today I am sharing my favourite movies about cooks, chefs, food and love. They give me tones of inspiration and ideas. Also a good plan on Friday night at home – many of the movies are family friendly. So tuck yourselves in a cosy blanket and push the Play button! Hope they will be a lot of inspiration for you!

1. Chef (2014)

Carl Casper works as a chef in a prestigious restaurant. But one day he loses a twitter “war” to a famous food critic and has to leave his job. He gets a food truck and goes all the way through the country from Miami to Los Angeles, teaching his son to cook and serving top-quality sandwiches in every single town they stop. Continue reading →