The Dish: Tiradito of scallops with Ibizan sobrasada
The Place: Zela, London WC2R 1HA
The Chef: Ricardo Sanz
What? Fusion restaurant Zela defines Meppon (a portmanteau of Mediterranean and Nippon) as a blend of Japanese techniques with Mediterranean ingredients. We’re talking plenty of raw dishes such as tataki, tartar, sashimi and sushi, but with classically European ingredients like scallops, butterfish, Iberico ham and burrata.
The ‘cuisine’ was invented by Ricardo Sanz, a Spanish chef who fell in love with Japanese cuisine from an early age and has, ever since, looked to blend traditional Asian methods with classic European schools of cooking.
He has applied a similar methodology to his Kabuki restaurant in Madrid, which has a Michelin star.
As the “gastronomic director” at Zela – which counts Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal and Enrique Iglesias as financial backers – Sanz aims “to make its mark on the city’s culinary and nightlife map, for London’s foodies and the international jet-set alike, with exotic menus and vibrant atmosphere.”
One of Sanz’s signature dishes is a tiradito of scallops. Originating in Nikkei cooking, a Peruvian-Japanese hybrid, a tiradito is similar to ceviche, though it is sliced like sashimi and isn’t marinated. A sauce usually accompanies it, but Sanz uses sobrasada: a raw, cured spicy sausage that is something of an Ibizan tradition.
Where? Zela is owned by Mabel Capital, which is run by Spanish entrepreneurs Manuel Campos Guallar and Abel Matutes. After rocking Ibiza since opening in May, the second spot was unleashed in London’s Covent Garden at the start of October.
Mabel also owns Tatel, a Spanish fine dining restaurant group that has outposts in Ibiza, Miami and Madrid, with a Beverly Hills branch next on the agenda.
Zela boast prime real estate in London’s West End: a 100-cover restaurant at the ME London Hotel on the Strand in Covent Garden – ample room to try and prove that their Meppon cuisine is more future than fad.
To the beats of Ibiza-style ambient DJs, punters are treated to Iberico pork gyoza, usuzukuri toro pa amb tomaquet (tuna belly sashimi with grated tomato, olive oil and bread) and 48-hour braised Wagyu teriyaki. There’s even a poke option on the menu.
Why? The whole Japanese-Mediterranean fusion is hardly a new phenomenon – certainly not in Spain or the US – but it is very trendy, with the clean and healthy connotations of the blend proving extremely popular.
A Catalan restaurant that dabbles with Asian fusion, Tast Cuina Catalana, landed in Manchester this summer, receiving rave reviews.
Meppon's reputation isn’t hurt by the fact that Zela’s superstar backers are singing its praises, with Ronaldo saying: “The blend of Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine, with familiar flavours and a fresh and healthy touch, really matches my lifestyle.” Way to peddle the soft sell, Cris.
So has Meppon got you salivating, Sparkie?
The restaurant looks swish but it seems like an oddity. Right now, I am convinced that the things that will really stand the test of time are the authentic traditional cuisines – especially those that expand on familiar cuisines, introducing new dishes.
This could be a reasonable business for Zela, but I don't think Meppon will spread to other places – that fact that the owners have named the cuisine themselves doesn't really do it any favours in the current climate. That’s not to say that fusion is a no go. For example, I’ve previously been quite positive about Western-meets-Japanese yoshoku, but that has much older roots.