Quique Dacosta: A Mediterranean Feast of Exquisite Flavors

In 1986, a 17-year-old named Quique Dacosta stumbled upon the doors of El Poblet restaurant in the coastal town of Denia near Valencia, Spain, by a serendipitous chance. Little did he know that behind those doors lay his future and destiny. El Poblet not only became the cradle of his culinary skills but also deeply influenced his cooking style. The ambiance, the romantic sea breeze of the Mediterranean, and the lush greenery of Montgó Natural Park all became sources of inspiration for his creations. In fact, in 2009, he even renamed the restaurant after himself, becoming his own brand. And in 2012, he achieved the highest honor of three Michelin stars.

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This journey was undertaken to attend the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in Valencia, Spain. In the scorching heat of June, I drove through the remote town of Denia, heading towards the hidden gem of a Michelin three-star restaurant – “Quique Dacosta.” After an one hour journey, all fatigue vanished as I beheld the scenery and anticipated the forthcoming gastronomic delights.

Sitting outdoors, amidst a gentle breeze, the prologue of dinner unfolds slowly. First came the light doughnut of Benaguasil mature pumpkin and summer truffle with its soft texture and the refreshing Consommé of pumpkin and its seed oil. Quique is an ambassador for Dom Perignon champagne. As I savored this doughnut, the weariness of the journey instantly dissipated.

Act 2, Quique’s kaiseki, began with aged tuna. The brilliance of this dish lies in the four-year-aged belly salted to perfection, symbolizing the fusion of Japanese and Spanish cultures. Next came the Cake of Ling, made from intensely flavored ling roe salted for twelve days, reminiscent of the texture of cream cheese and akin to the wonders of sturgeon caviar. The Blue lobster with caviar in gazpachuelo emerged as a highlight of the evening, creating multiple layers of freshness and textures that whispered the secrets of the ocean with every bite. The treasure of the Mediterranean, Denia red prawn, is Quique’s signature dish. After a quick blanching in seawater followed by chilling, the prawn achieves a perfect balance of texture and flavor.

Aged Tuna

Cake of Ling

The Cold saffron Fideuà with razor-clams is a reinterpretation of the traditional Valencian seafood Fideuà. Unexpectedly adorned with saffron and razor-clams, it presents a surprising combination. The black butter made of green pepper and squid ink offers a fresh and unique taste experience, while the white pearls are actually oyster juice, slowly unfolding their rich flavors in the mouth. The grilled bread with extra virgin olive oil is the epitome of simplicity, perfectly combining the crispy bread with the aromatic richness of the olive oil from milennial trees of Maestrazgo, proving that the classic dish never goes out of style.

The Bajoques Farcides combines grilled red peppers with long-cooked beef broth, topped with another layer of red pepper. The sweet, sour, and smoky flavors intertwine in the mouth, making it my favorite dish of the evening. Dacosta’s cuisine emphasizes local ingredients, often drawing inspiration from the Mediterranean charm and the land itself. He particularly enjoys utilizing ingredients from Denia, where his restaurant is located, and employs innovative techniques to elevate them to a high level of gastronomy. For example, rice is a representative ingredient of Valencia, and Dacosta has conducted in-depth research on it, even writing a book titled “Arroces Contemporáneos” (Contemporary Rice).

Cold saffron Fideua with razor-clams (www.quiquedacosta.es)

“Bajoques farcides” from Alcoy, stuffed pepper

The dried whiting, white eggplant soup and Denia Pensa grape, as well as the fried pavia, showcase the exquisite flavors of fish, whether air-dried or deep-fried, embodying the essence of the sea. The “Arrós en pata” beef leg rice, chick peas and cumin is a perfect fusion of rice and beef, with just the right amount of cumin flavor. The dessert, Piluka’s Box, is inspired by the jewelry box of the chef’s mother, combining lychee sorbet, English custard, and matcha biscuits, adorned with wild strawberries and edible flowers, serving as a beautiful finale to the meal. His menu design seems to have two personalities, but I prefer the part that embraces the modernization of traditional dishes. The interweaving of different ingredients creates a Mediterranean symphony, reflecting his profound emotional connection to Valencia and the town of Denia. Whether it’s local seafood or traditional Valencian rice, he breathes new life and interpretation into them. His cooking is not just a passion for food but also a reverence for the land.

Dried whiting, white eggplant soup and Denia Pensa grape, fried pavia

Piluka’s box

This Spanish culinary master continually strives for excellence in his career, never satisfied with mere accomplishments. From El Poblet (2*) in Valencia to Llisa negra and Vuelve Carolina, and now ArrosQD in the heart of London, his creativity and unique culinary style are evident everywhere. At ArrosQD, his passion for seasonal rice and cooking with real wood is showcased. It is worth mentioning that this restaurant is the only one in the UK to be honored with the “Cullera de Fusta” (Wooden Spoon), symbolizing its ultimate commitment to Valencian gastronomy – arguably the highest traditional recognition in the realm of Paella cuisine.

Long ago, he mentioned in an interview that he was influenced by Ferran Adrià in the late 90s. However, through constant self-challenge and research, he has developed his own distinctive style. Like Ferran Adrià and other renowned chefs, Dacosta dislikes the term “molecular gastronomy” and prefers to describe his culinary style as “avant-garde.” He once said that his love for cooking stems from the necessity of life. Working with his team every day has further convinced him that cooking is not just a job but a journey of his life.

Author and Quique Dacosta

Author: Jocelyn 华姐

Photo: www.quiquedacosta.es、Instagram@qiqedacosta

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Jocelyn Chen
Jocelyn Chen
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