Fine dining amidst the vineyards of Tarragona
TEXT: EDDI FIEGEL | PHOTOS © CELLER ESCODA
Whether it is Spain, France or the hills of Tuscany, the idea of the must-visit finedining restaurant tucked away in the nether regions of gorgeous countryside has almost become a cliché. But at the Tossal Gros restaurant in Catalonia and the surrounding Escoda Sanahuja wine-growing estate, they do things a bit differently: both when it comes to the food, and indeed, their wines.
“Our wines taste like no-one else’s,” explains vineyard owner and restaurateur Joan Ramon Escoda. “Even though we’re near the Penedès (the wellknown wine and Cava producing region nearby), our wines taste nothing like theirs. Our wines are warmer and closer in style to French wines and our Pinot Noir more rustic and wild.”
“We’re also less than 20 miles from the sea,” he continues, “so you can taste those salty, mineral notes too. What really makes our wines different, though, is the fact that we don’t use any chemical additives or sulphurs. Everything we produce is natural and organic and that’s really important to us. It’s about respecting nature and the landscape.”
It was with this ethos in mind that Escoda decided to open a restaurant amidst the vineyards. He brought in American expat chef Kaya Jacobs, who had been working in Barcelona and was equally keen on doing something which focused on sustainability, freshness and honesty. “My cooking is based on a broad philosophy,” says Jacobs. ‘Basically, I only use local ingredients that are in season, so the food becomes an expression of where we are.”
“There’s a strong local identity to what I’m doing,” he explains, “with a dash of my own influences added in. The Catalan tradition of ‘mar i muntanya’ (ie ‘sea and mountain’, or as we would say in English, ‘surf and turf’) is a good example. My own take on that is one of my signature dishes: grilled squid with pork belly, baby fava beans and wild thyme.”
Jacobs also uses locally foraged ingredients, from spring flowers and sprouts to wild blackberries and figs in summer, and mushrooms in the autumn, but his philosophy really comes together in Tossal Gros’s signature pudding – fennel marmalade served with tangy goat’s milk yoghurt, citrus segments and olive oil. It sounds unusual but the dish has proved one of the most popular on the menu. “We use wild fennel for the marmalade,” explains Jacobs, “so it’s very intense and it just really wows people every time.”