Barcelona date night: Hoja Santa

As part of our focus on food in 2017, general managers and head chefs are going on “dates” to keep up with the food scene in their cities. Here, the Soho House Barcelona team review the Adrià brothers’ latest restaurant

Richard Van Batenburg, general manager (above right)
We dined at Hoja Santa, which translates as “holy leaf”. It’s a new Mexican place from the Adrià brothers, who used to run El Bulli. We chose Hoja Santa somewhat because we’re fans of the team, but also because we’re looking to develop our Tuesday taco nights, which were well received by members when we ran them earlier in the year.

We ordered the festival menu, which consists of about 25 courses: it looked incredible and the explosions of taste were phenomenal.  But as general manager, I was most impressed with the service. Our Mexican waitress knew the history of every dish, and had lots of stories about the origins of ingredients and her grandmother’s cooking. Michelin-starred restaurants are often rather boring but Hoja Santa ran neither too fast, nor too slow. Our senses were constantly triggered. Conversation flowed over Pisco Sours at the bar, then a lovely white wine from the Catalan Penedes region, but all we could talk about was the food. It was remarkable.

Back at the House, I reiterated to our club manager the importance of product knowledge in our waiters. I told all heads of department that perfect pace of service is definitely something we can learn from Hoja Santa.

This autumn we are looking to bring back Taco Tuesday, and some of the exquisite flavours and textures we discovered at Hoja Santa will for sure be making an appearance at the House.

Alessio Biangini, Cecconi’s Executive Chef

It’s amazing that the team behind Hoja Santa can run several restaurants simultaneously, all with very different concepts. There’s Pakta, which does Japanese/Peruvian fusion. Enigma, which is more experiential than anything. A few others. And this place, which does Mexican flavours in a fine dining concept.

I’m passionate about Mexican food. Even though at Cecconi’s we’re very traditional Italian, there are always things to learn. About presentation, about knowledge, about technique. One dish at Hoja Santa that inspired me was a very thin toast, like a cracker, with a layer of avocado and a sea urchin on top. Perfect, and something that can be remade. All night the flavours were traditional Mexican, but presented in a very modern way. Lots of avocado, cilantro. All using local ingredients – suckling pig, for instance, is something we should use more of. 

What made the difference was the details, the little touches. An empanada with a smoked prawn head on top, and lime squeezed by our waitress as table-side service. Everything exquisite, down to the cutlery.

It’s a very different type of experience compared with what we offer at the House. There were maybe 30 people having dinner. Between front of house and back of house, more than 30 staff were working there. I loved the open kitchen, and counted 12 chefs, each preparing one dish, or maximum two. Everything co-ordinated to provide the perfect service. It was a brilliant date night.

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