IF you love tapas, then you will love tasting menus. It’s a similar concept, but more elegant, artistically beautiful little dishes, usually created by top chefs to show off their best and newest creations all in one meal. It is what I love to cook, what I trained to cook and what I love to eat because of the variety of flavours, textures, styles and origins. Tasting menus encapsulate everything that a great meal can bring, all wrapped up in one dinner.
I owed a close friend of mine dinner, and as we are not yet open (because of the restrictions) I decided to take him out. Danny, my friend, is Dutch and a real foodie but a healthy one! He works out in the gym every morning at about 6.30 am, I often think of joining him, but think again at 6 am when the alarm goes off! I know of a Dutch chef who recently opened a little restaurant in Benalmadena about a year ago, called Mar Chica. I have been intrigued to try it, as his food looks a similar style to mine, and the restaurant is small like ours. Chef of Mar Chica is Dennis van Tintelen who has a fantastic biography working with Michelin legends like Chef Alain Passard and with Herman den Bliijker who is a well-known Dutch TV chef.
He has also travelled and worked extensively throughout South America and Mexico. So, filled with inspiration and enthusiasm, he opened Mar Chica here in Benalmadena near Malaga, with his lovely wife Kiki. This is literally a husband and wife team, just the two of them. Kiki looks after and serves the clients and Dennis cooks, but serves the occasional dish too! I asked Dennis, why no staff? He replied that in Spain it’s expensive to take on staff and unnecessary for a small restaurant. I felt awkward to tell him that we were the same size and before lockdown had 14 staff! Everything was lovely at Mar Chica and it certainly didn’t feel like it needed more people serving.
We had a great tasting meal, kicking off with a white asparagus mousse as the chefs amuse and then Dennis’ signature Mackerel with avocado puree, watermelon, radish and herbs. Then came homemade bread served with seasoned whipped cream served on a stone which was contemporary and delightful, then a white onion velouté with ricotta filled cannelloni, which was divine. Next, the freshest cod arrived, cooked perfectly- crisp on the outside and soft in the centre, with a lemongrass velouté. We had breast of duck as a main dish with beetroot and a cherry jus with herbs and nasturtium leaves that had been forested locally.
A lot of attention has been taken to look out for local fresh seasonal ingredients typical Michelin and exactly what we love to do also. As always when I eat out somewhere nice, I get a bit of inspiration and I came home feeling that the concept of keeping the restaurant small and exclusive is a perfect one, especially for post lockdown. So, we open on Wednesday, July 1 with just two staff plus myself and Michele. I will be firmly at the helm in the kitchen and Michele front of house, just like Kiki and Dennis, except for a tiny bit of help! Tasting menus are something that The Little Geranium has become well-known for and we continue with that concept but with a little more variety on price.
Our entry-level tasting menu, three courses is now just €30, whilst our Platinum menu has nine courses and a complimentary Porsche Panamera to collect you and return you home safely. Wine pairing is extra but something that Mar Chica and Little Geranium do very well. It is a great way of getting the fullest sensation of the food married to the perfect wines. Just sit back enjoy the food and every mouthful of wine, perfect. We had a great evening at Mar Chica and I will be back. When I left, I called for the Panamera but then realized… I was the driver!
The chefs amuse comes from the French words amuse-bouche which literally means amuse the mouth. It’s a small taste of the chef’s genius, usually complimentary when served in a restaurant. It can be anything really. Chef Dennis served a white asparagus mousse with trout caviar. I love creating new amuse dishes. Today I am preparing you a simple watermelon gazpacho, refreshing, light and full of flavour!
Chef Steven’s Watermelon Gazpacho:
500g of small fresh tomatoes (Piccolo) halved
500g of watermelon deseeded, cut into chunks
1/2 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
Olive oil, 5–6 tbsp, preferably a fruity Spanish oil
Red wine vinegar 2 tbsp
½ glass of red wine
1 flat tablespoon of caster sugar
1 slice of stale bread (white) broken into pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled, whole & then blanched for 1 minute in boiling water
Fresh milled black pepper
For Basil Oil, 2 large bunches of basil 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley
300ml of Spanish olive oil
Ice and cold water
Muslin or a fine sieve
1. Blanch the basil and parsley in boiling water for 10 seconds
2. Plunge the mint into ice-cold water to shock and stop them cooking
3. Squeeze out the water using your hands
4. Blend in the food processor with the olive oil
5. Pass through a fine sieve or muslin cloth
6. Decant into small plastic bottles and keep in the fridge
Method for Gazpacho
1. Marinate the tomatoes, cucumber, and watermelon in the wine and vinegar and add the sugar and a little salt and olive oil so that it is all covered. Leave overnight in the fridge
2. The next day… blend with the bread and with the blanched garlic in your food processor. (Blanching the garlic takes the heat out of the raw garlic, so enhances the flavour.)
3. Taste and gradually add the remaining olive oil, blend until smooth, taste and season
4. Refrigerate for at least three hours
5. Serve cold in chilled glasses or bowls, drizzled with basil oil on top.
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