Written by Chloé Morris, Edible Stories | Daniel Breger
Last Saturday, on a bracing winter night, GastroInsider was transported to glorious Mediterranean climes by the amazing duo that is Adam Rawson and Sofia Gonzalez Eirin. Granted, we traveled there by train (rather than plane) - to The George & Dragon in the British Algarve, Fitzrovia - and journeyed across the lush Portuguese landscape through food (rather than foot). But what a journey it was; all eight courses of it!
Our companions on this trip were two couples who have been following Adam around London, as he pops up wherever he sees a fit. In this instance, Taberna Portuguesa was inspired by Adam’s latest trip to the country; this is what he does – he travels, eats, gets inspired, eats some more and then puts his own twist on his favourite dishes for us lucky Londoners. On this occasion he didn't only serve us up the eight courses, he also came to the table to tickle our tastebuds with sardine roe (salty and unctuous) and fermented capers (sharp and full of flavor), both of which he had snuck though customs on his way home. The meal was even finished off by a choice between two traditional Portuguese digestifs - ginjinha or what Adam referred to as ‘firewater.’ We played it safe and went for the ginjinha (a super sweet cherry liquor); the firewater we’ll have to leave for another time and place.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, getting drunk on cherry wine before we’ve even told you about what we ate. How very rude of us. It was a one off – so we wouldn’t want to give you food envy. Let’s just say it included contraband, the best salt cod we’d ever tried, goat – which we'd never tried, and one of our top 5 desserts – Pastel de Nata. That’s all we can share for now – as we can imagine the envy is already building up.
Overall, the experience felt extremely personal – every dish was served either by Sofia or Adam personally, accompanied by an explanation of what inspired it and how Adam had reinvented it. We were stuck by how passionate Adam was about the food he was serving and bringing the best of Portugal to life.
After dinner we were able to catch up with Adam and ask him all about this exciting venture. His two years of sampling cuisine all started with a trip the couple took to San Sebastian where they discovered ingredients such as Idiazabal cheese, cider, txakoli, slow-cooked baby pig and lamb and, of course, the beef from the old ex dairy cows. Once back in London, they hosted a San Sebastian pop up and its success led them to host a range of pop-ups in random locations, showcasing all the places that they had visited. Adam ended up doing so many trips that he now needs to return to five or six of them to freshen up his memory and allow him to bring those wonders back to our rainy country.
Other than the first place that triggered this successful string of events, we asked Adam what his most memorable location was. Without hesitation he answered that Croatia blew him away. Whilst there, he visited a string of restaurants - varying from fine dining at Marina in Novigrad, to mama's food at a restaurant called Stari Podrum, near Trieste, which was probably his favourite. Dishes such as fuzi, atypical pasta covered with fresh truffle, gnocchi with braised beef, and wild asparagus scrambled egg were standouts. Also Toklarija near Buzet was on his hit list! We wanted to know about what inspired him to create the menus – was it the restaurants, the people, the ingredients? He admits that it can be a combination of all these things but also depends on the place in question. He told us that he spends a lot of time thinking about dishes he could cook back in London when he was walking around. His tip for a Croatian get away would be hiring a car when you arrive because you must drive round and embrace what a beautiful country it is, from the coastal towns of old Pula and Rovinj to the stunning inland villages of Groznjan and Buzet.
We then wanted to know what his worst food experience had been. Again, without missing a beat, he said Morocco. The fact that it was so full of tourists was a big problem for him as Adam likes to go off road and there were people everywhere. And with that came a lack of good meals, except for the rare occasions where he was invited into someone’s house or found a spot that was truly for the locals. One thing that made us laugh was that he learnt a really important lesson - never to ask a Moroccan man where to find good food, as apparently they don't have a clue (supposedly the women are the ones that cook and know where to find all the best produce)! However, he did bring a bunch of things back from his Moroccan trip, including tagines, amazing spices from Essaouira, such as zingiberaceae, black cumin, paprika, ras el hanout and cumin (and a couple of pair of fake branded shoes, obviously!)
So what was the best ingredient he had brought back from his travels? This year it was Kokotxas (Hake throats) from The Basque Country, and it seems like it’s become a little bit of a habit to wrap things in ice and sneak them through customs.
With of these amazing places and subsequently delicious pop ups we thought it might be quite hard to find the appropriate venues to host them in. But what truly inspires Adam about a London venue was his flexibility to have a burger menu, sharing menu, and tasting menu. Sadly, size constraints often take over.
What's next for this wandering chef? He actually is going to come back and plant some roots in the UK. But before he can open up his Notting Hill joint called LayLow, he’s going to go on one more trip to Japan and work at the chocolate show in Fukuoka (and bring us back an inspired pop up).
If you haven’t yet experienced Adam’s food – head over to The George & Dragon, Fitzrovia on the 18th for the Wanderlust event for the 9 course meal where he shares some of his favorite dishes from his journeys. You can get your tickets here.
(Photos: first, second Hot Dinners. All the others Chloé Morris)