Andoni Luis Aduriz is a fun, engaging interviewee. His two Michelin star Mugaritz, in San Sebastián, which he opened in 1998, is consistently held up as one of the best restaurants in the world. And now, with a new restaurant, he’s ready to party.
“Mugaritz is 20-years-old. 15 years ago people came to us wanting to recreate Mugaritz in other parts of the world. But I said no, I can’t do that, I need time. If I’m involved in other projects all over the world, it would be impossible to do Mugaritz as I want,” he says. “Then when I realised Mugaritz was sustainable and doing okay, I thought okay, maybe this is the moment to think about other projects.”
The result of this loosening of the reigns is Topa, Aduriz’s new Basque meets Latin America restaurant (“Definitely not fusion!”), also in San Sebastián. Situated on a quiet street in the Gros neighbourhood, the restaurant's name translates as ‘meeting point’ and from the moment you walk in, well, the whole place just screams ‘fiesta' – from the wild mural on the wall by artist Judas Arrieta depicting Che Guevara holding an espelette pepper (a Basque chilli) (“Guevara is a Basque name!” enthuses Aduriz), to the sharing plates, to the DJ blending Basque and Latin American tunes. It is, Aduriz says, exactly what the guys from Mugaritz were expected not to do.
“I thought 'What would people expect from us?' Oh, pintxos! Pintxos in London, pintxos in Moscow, pintxos in Madrid – too easy,” he tells me. “Eating is not only eating, it involves many senses, and one of them is experience. The pintxos from San Sebastian could be good, bad, normal – but they are associated with an experience, a moment and that’s what make them beautiful. You’re usually on holiday, relaxed, with friends, partying. What you are eating is important, yes, but in that moment the experience is more important. So I focused on an idea that is not real, but could be – a supposed idea. And that is Topa.”
The concept is this: what would a Basque emigrant to Latin America – there are over 10 million Latin Americans with Basque ancestry – want to cook, taking in his or her new surroundings, while remaining faithful, in a culinary sense, to the old country? The idea came from his father in a roundabout way – he came to San Sebastián at the age of 20 from nearby Navarre, but continued to cook from his origins.
“He used to arrive home late, so he would prepare and have dinner alone,” says Aduriz. “When he was cooking he would use spice, different touches from Navarre – subconsciously. I always thought when I saw my father cooking this way at 80-years-old: how could it be, he left Navarre when he was 20-years-old, 60 years ago, 60 years living in San Sebastián, why does he cook the way of his origins?”
So, at Topa, there are ‘tacotalos’ made from millet and corn, filled with squid on its ink and mole, fried hake or marinated pork that recall Mexican tortillas. “We didn’t want a fusion restaurant, we wanted a contact restaurant,” says Aduriz. “What happens when corn arrives from America to the Basque Country? – talos. So how could you make a taco-talo or a tortilla talo, not using fusion? We use nixtamilised corn with a part of millet that is not used anymore. It doesn’t exist, anywhere. But we make one of the best tortillas in Spain.”
Seafood-wise there’s both hot and cold ceviche, cod tiradito, seafood ‘molcajete’ (a Mexican tool similar to a mortar and pestle), and air-light tempura baby squid. There are choripán, the little chorizo-stuffed sandwiches popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and parts of Brazil, egg arepa (corn cakes) made with chorizo oil, mole with profiteroles, empanadas bursting with juicy kalimotxo (Spanish red wine and cola)-braised veal, roast meats, and flan bolivar and churros for dessert. These are washed down with pitchers of cocktails with just the right notes of sweet, sour and citrus, served from a broad, welcoming bar that separates the bustling kitchen, helmed by Jessica Lorigo, from the rest of a the space. We told you it was party central.
In effect, this is Aduriz doing comfort food. A world away from provocative Mugaritz then, where Aduriz, Dani Lasa and the team have sought an end to what Lasa calls the “dictatorship of pleasure, flavour and taste.“ Indeed, speaking at the recent Diálogos de Cocina 2017 food symposium in San Sebastián, Lasa candidly declared: "I don’t really care whether people like what we serve them. It doesn’t have to taste nice, it has to make sense.” For Aduriz, who has previously stated, “Taste is a cultural construct,” Topa represents a chance to offer something considerably more accessible. “You can go for a meal with your friends, party, and the price is also good,” he says. “I could also go, for example, with my son. Popular means funny and accessible for everybody.”
Should it prove a hit, Aduriz is hoping to roll the Topa party out worldwide, while hinting there could be a multi-sensory element to the restaurant in the future – but definitely no pintxos.