All of the circumstance, none of the pomp
I find myself taking a goods lift up into a converted office space now known as La Nave de Sake, replacing my trainers for house slippers, and sitting down to listen to a story as the sun’s winter rays stretch shadows across an open kitchen and dining room. Sebastian Mazzola and Sussie Villarico travel the world preparing careful selections for discerning individuals. He is a chef, she a sake sommelier, and their concept is Cooking in Motion. They met at 41º on Paral·lel, where Michelin-starred Albert Adrià recognised the vision and tact Sebastian employs in the kitchen. He soon earnt considerable responsibility within the brothers’ empire, working creative roles at Tickets and Pakta. But he and Sussie eventually tired of the considerable hours and egos at play, and developed the new concept that would free them up to travel the world, consult, offer residencies, and open a space to showcase their food and sake pairings.
There’s no waiting list to get a seat at this long table which sits between the open kitchen and a considerable exhibition of sake bottles. Despite serving a maximum of 12 per night, there is usually a place for latecomers, and if there are more than six in your party, you’ll have the place to yourselves. It’s a Friday night, and we dine with another couple and a middle-aged Japanese gentleman.
The evening’s set menu draws inspiration from the duo’s recent trip to the Philippines, a country whose cuisine they claim can rival any on the planet. Each of the six pasos is paired with a sake, selected and imported by Cooking in Motion, from the yuzu fruit spritz blend, to a rare aged number, to a female-produced purple rice wine made from dark grains.
We barely notice the invitation to sit, such is the natural pace set by Sussie. We feel at home. Chef and maître d’ join us in toasts, and invite us to help prepare and plate up. Anecdotes, tips and techniques are shared and, as plates arrive and are explained the depth of their knowledge emerges. Some highlights: a tangy fermented fish bagoong sauce, drizzled over crunchy green mango. Chicken/fish inasal chargrilled and served on ewok skewers. Avocado rolled around roasted plantain.
The humble cooking apparati and relaxed atmosphere belie the intricate construction and precise timing of the dishes. The corvina kinilaw, an equivalent of ceviche, is perfectly cured, the chunks of meat balanced with slithers of spicy green chili, pickled red onion and coriander. The star course is a queen scallop with a rich taro purée. The seafood is plump and fresh, and dressed with pungent adobo sauce, another fantastic discovery and new experience for all of us at the table.
We end the meal together, chatting around an array of sculpted desserts, sharing sweet chilled cherry sake, satisfied and elated with such a novel and memorable evening. Payments are discretely made (€75, cash only) and plans are made to return soon thereafter. We are accompanied to the street and embrace our hosts before heading on our way, wondering what the point of a traditional restaurant is.