The second restaurant on my journey was the highly acclaimed Tinars, the home of brother and sister partners, Marc and Elena Gascons. Being a third generation of the Gascons-Lloveres- Palagós Vergés, Elena tends the restaurant and Marc is executive chef.
My initial impression of the restaurant was rather mixed – Tinars is a road side restaurant, not what you would typically come to expect from fine dining. It has an entrance room with couches and several dining rooms adorned in the local style with at least 50 tables or more, as well as a large outside terrace for the smokers.
The tableware was exquisite and it was evident that thought had gone into creating a memorable experience by attempting to balance an ‘elegantly casual’, yet somewhat arty, fine dining experience. The absence of background music was a bit empty and the lighting was a little on the bright side leaving me feeling as if I was under the spotlight…all-in-all the overall ambiance was neither overly romantic nor intimate.
The cuisine was based on traditional Catalan cooking and the finest seasonal local produce… a testament to their menu, which they entitle “Faithful to the Catalan culinary tradition, produce from our region for every season”. They take advantage of new cooking trends to bring traditional dishes continually up to date. Being true to their passion, Chef Marc changes the menu roughly 14 times a year, adapting to seasonal availability of fresh, local produce. The all-encompassing and traditional a la carte menu is enhanced by a worthy collection of more modern dishes.
To kick-start the evening, we received a Copa Cava Invitacio on the house. Crisp and truly delicious! We were personally served by Elena and managed to get some good insights into the journey of the family since the first bakery that was opened in 1918 by her grandmother.
The sommelier failed to introduce himself, so unfortunately I cannot give him credit for his exceptional choices in wine during the evening. The first of which was the three-star rated Brunus Rosé 2011, from the winery of Portal del Montsant, located in the old Marça’s former cooperative, a building dedicated to the collaboration of wines from the beginning of the last century. The Brunus wines contain an abundance of subtlety and vitality. These are different, almost distinctive wines. This particular rosé is a remarkable mouthful of fresh and juicy red fruit, with a good finish, along with an understated floral aftertaste. Easy to drink, especially in great company on a hot summers night.
The wine list is unquestionably one of the best I have seen during my travels through Spain. A 41-page wine bible featuring Spanish, French, New Zealand, Portugal and South African wines, to name a few.
Our amuse bouche was a refreshing garlic gazpacho with salami, tomato bread and olive tapenade. Gazpacho is a widely savoured in Spanish cuisine, as well as in neighbouring Portugal, where it is known as gaspacho.
The first entrée of the evening was a tuna tartare with guacamole, wasabi, soy, rice, ginger and shoots. This is by far the best tuna I have ever tasted! The slight wasabi taste was just enough to thrill your palate. It was exquisitely plated although it could do without the three rice balls on top.
The second entrée was a ‘high risk’ item of Carpaccio of pig’s trotter and Norway lobster from Palamós, a pinenut vinaigrette and crispy Jabugo ham. Being South African we know all about tripe and trotters or “pensies en pootjies”, but be warned, this dish is not for the faint hearted. Definitely an acquired taste with very strong flavours and a somewhat unflattering texture! Jabugo ham is said to be the best in the world, which is made only from pure-bred black Iberian pigs, sometimes known as black foot, which are descended from the prehistoric Mediterranean pig. The process of curing pork began out of necessity thousands of years ago. Today, Jabugo ham is one of Spain’s greatest gifts to gastronomy!
We started mains with veal tenderloin with duck liver, baked apple and sour apple tartare. The veal was perfectly cooked, medium rare and complimented with gorgeous flavours. The duck liver was exceptionally rich and enchanting in flavour. A delicate partnership!
The second main was a beautifully crafted plate of charcoal-grilled Galician beef tataki, potato and piquillo peppers. The spices in this dish were robust and masculine. The chili taste of the traditionally Northern Spain piquillo peppers were a delightful surprise.
We finished off the dinner with crêpe Suzette’s served with Grand Marnier, an orange-flavoured brandy liqueur, vanilla and strawberry confit as well as a smooth fresh cheese flan with strawberries and citrus fruit. The crêpe Suzette was impeccably prepared, at the table. Both desserts were gastronomic masterpieces - very rich, but unquestionably mouth-watering!
I was invited into the kitchen by Chef Marc, where he treated me to my own amazing entrée, which he cooked in two minutes flat - all fresh ingredients, all from scratch. The kitchen was enormous and immaculate with all kitchen staff communicating by way of microphones and earpieces to call out orders and to communicate to station managers in the restaurant - very high tech gadgets.
After dinner we enjoyed house petit fours with two exceptional dessert wines – served on the house. The Jorge Ordóñez Málaga Sellección Especial 2008 is a white-fortified wine with its origin being Málaga in Andalucía, Span. This wine is welcoming on the nose with a melon aroma. It is fresh and not too challenging on the palate, with nectarine, peach and mango flavours. Simple…and sweet.
Long before champagne, there was Tokaji – a prized Hungarian wine dating back to the 16th century when France’s King Louis XIV believed to have crowned it as the “king of wines and the wine of kings”. The Tokaji Aszú 3 Puttonyos 2002 is a world-famous sweet wine with a colour often described as “topaz”. I savoured this glass and couldn’t resist a second!
Overall, the service was good but not extraordinary. The very strict waiter hierarchies and the running around of staff was not entirely an oasis in which to enjoy your dinner in peace.
The food however, was fantastic! I will definitely recommend you try Marc’s exquisite dishes if you ever visit. He is young, talented, brave and extremely creative in the kitchen – all in all a delight to see, smell and eat his gorgeous culinary creations. He is definitely a chef to watch…