Sergi Arola in Abu Dhabi

Superstar chef tells us about his new tapas joint, P&C at the Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri Discuss this article

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Sergi Arola talks about his new tapas joint, P&C by Sergi Arola, with Liz Totton and assures her that what happens at P&C, stays at P&C.

Pearls and Caviar at the Shangri-La was well known for its epic views and glamour. RIP Pearls and Caviar. Enter Sergi Arola, a celebrity chef with a rock star reputation. He’s rebranding the restaurant with his distinct style, which is one part tapas and another part rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, it’s not exactly rock ‘n’ roll. P&C by Sergi Arola will be first ever jazz and tapas spot in the city, and perhaps the world. Sergi likes to mix things up; if it’s not in the kitchen, it’s on the dance floor. With a grin, Sergi says, ‘What is the first thing you think of when you think of the Spanish? You think of fun!’ And fun is what P&C is all about.

TOAD sits down with Chef Sergi Arola, a Michelin-starred chef, who has outlets in Europe, India and South America, and now Abu Dhabi. Sergi explains why his food belongs in Abu Dhabi and why P&C by Sergi Arola should be your new spot for nightcaps and noshing.

Bienvenido Chef Sergi! Are you excited to open your new tapas spot in Abu Dhabi?
Oh yes! I find people in this region to be very curious. I cannot wait to open up their palates and minds with my fun new take on tapas. It has been a very exciting four months.

Four months? Is that how long it has taken to open P&C by Sergi Arola?
[laughing] Just four months. Thomas, my general manager, called me and asked if I’d like to open a place in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of the year. I jumped! I cannot imagine a better place for my brand. Spain shares so much in common with the Arab world. After all, we were occupied by the Arabs for seven centuries.

What exactly does Spanish food have in common with Middle Eastern cuisine?
What doesn’t it?! The Arabs brought the Spanish almonds, honey and citrus, which still form the base for most of our desserts. Spanish food is now so heavily influenced by the Arabs that it is hard to tell where one cuisine begins and one ends. Our cuisines have a symbiotic relationship. It is easy to bring my food here.

You have restaurants all over the world. Has there been a location that was a challenge?
Mumbai was my greatest challenge. I had to revise my menu for a largely vegetarian clientele. I had to completely relearn to cook. How can you make vegetables taste as good as meat? This was a concept I didn’t understand. The Spanish use vegetables as garnish, not as a main ingredient. Brazil was also a challenge. It was hard to pry Brazilian diners away from their beloved buffets and move them towards small, sharing platters. This is not part of their culture. That’s why I first jumped at the chance to open a restaurant in Istanbul a year and a half ago, and now here in Abu Dhabi.

So beyond ingredients and techniques, you’d say that the Middle East and Spain share the concept of mezze?
We do. We are cultures that love to share food. I cannot stand buffets. I do not want to share spoons and my food with complete strangers, but for me it’s very natural to share small plates amongst friends. We love to break bread with our hands. Tapas and mezze are basically the same thing: small portioned plates that are meant to be shared. It’s very Mediterranean. It’s an issue of north and south. In our latitude, we eat like this and our cuisines are alike. It would be harder to open a restaurant like mine in Finland than here in Abu Dhabi.

So it all comes down to latitude?
I think so. Look at the US, they are not a sharing culture, but Mexico is. Then China takes sharing even one step further with dim sum, which is a menu dedicated to sharing. If the table is not big enough, they add another table to make room for more people, more food and more sharing. It’s so much more sophisticated than just a few tapas plates in a bar.

How do you convince a wary diner to share?
That’s easy! For the taste. You open their palates to the taste, then you have opened their minds to the concept. For example, think about how people perceive Spain and the Spanish. What comes to mind when you think of a Spain? Most people think Spain is a very friendly and funny country. Then 90 per cent of people will think food and then equate the food with pleasure. When you think of French food, you think high-end, high value, and a serious gastronomic experience. But when you talk about Spain, you think it’s going to be a party. The first impressions of Spanish food are always positive.

You have found your perfect home then. I think everyone here equates P&C with fun.
Absolutely. It was love at first sight. P&C is not only food; it is food, music and fun. P&C is the perfect place to offer our new concept: tapas and jazz. We have taken such sophisticated food and linked it to sophisticated music, and you’d be surprised at the synergy when you match the right food with the right music, with the right location. It’s magic!

Jazz & Tapas? How did this come about?
Most people think flamenco and tapas or jazz and mocktails. These are natural together. Jazz and tapas comes to nobody’s mind, except Thomas. He had this beautiful, crazy idea to combine the two, and it works.

I know this venture happened fast but why Abu Dhabi? Did you consider Dubai?
Well it did happen very fast, but the Shangri-La is such a natural fit for me and my brand. The Shangri-La is not a skyscraper. It feels authentic. If you analyse my other locations; Barcelona, Istanbul, Mumbai and now Abu Dhabi, I am not interested in glitz. I am interested in tradition, substance and culture. I don’t need fashion, gambling and big malls; I relish delis, beautiful architecture, history, museums, and culture. I am sure Dubai is amazing, but I feel when you are there, you might as well be anywhere. But when you are in Abu Dhabi, you really feel the Arab culture. It’s more authentic.

Let’s talk about food. Did you adapt your menu at all for the Abu Dhabi people?
Absolutely not. I took out an item or two, but the rest is the same. We have a shared culinary legacy: Spain and Arabia. To bring Spanish food to the Arabs is almost like bringing it home.

What is your signature dish?
It’s my patatas bravas. You must come in and try it. We also make many seafood standards and sharing dishes with sardines.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t like sardines?
I am sorry for you – more for me!

When you Google Sergi Arola, ‘rock star chef’ comes up in all the results. Are you more jazz or rock ‘n’ roll?
You wouldn’t have rock ‘n’ roll without jazz. Jazz is in its roots. Just like Spanish food. You certainly wouldn’t have it – as we have it – if it hadn’t been for the Arabs. The only difference is aesthetics. I like to honour really good things; simple ingredients, sophisticated music and breathtaking views.
Open Sat-Thu 7pm-11.30pm; Sat 8pm-11.30m. P&C by Sergi Arola, Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Bain Al Jessrain (02 509 8555).

By Liz Totton
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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