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October 1, 2009

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Basquing in intriguing cuisine of Spain

HIS restaurants in Spain are considered temples to gastronomic perfection, and three-star Michelin chef Martin Berasategui hopes his new namesake restaurant in Shanghai will gain its own following of devotees.

Opened to the public on Monday, the restaurant is in the four-floor building in Xujiahui Park that used to house the headquarters of the EMI record label in Shanghai. Restaurant Martin is the Spanish chef's first foray into Asia.

Built in 1921, the structure housed the biggest recording studio in the East at the time, but when it came to eateries it failed to serve up a smash hit with previous ventures failing to gain a fan base.

In a nod to the building's music heritage, antique gramophones decorate the cigar lounge and a live jazz band is slated to play most evenings in the bar.

An army of more than 50 chefs services the 350-square-meter restaurant, and Berasategui says he will reproduce some of the signature dishes that garnered him his three-star accolades. He also plans to adapt some creations to cater to local palates and utilize the produce available in Shanghai.

"While I have my roots in the Basque country, I have no frontier and no limits when it comes to my cooking," he says.

"With cooking you want to focus on the customer and the people we are cooking for and so we will adapt our approach for local tastes and what is available here."

He opened his original restaurant in San Sebastian, then two in Barcelona and one in Madrid. He also provides the culinary offerings in Hotel Abama on the Spanish island of Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.


Unlike some chefs who rule a restaurant empire, Berasategui is known for still spending lots of time in the kitchen and says he will be taking back produce from Shanghai to work on recipes in his central kitchen in Spain.

"There is a lot of produce in Shanghai and a lot to learn about what is available here but Shanghai is an amazing place with lots of options and possibilities," he says.

While Berasategui says he will visit Shanghai every three months to oversee the newest addition to his stable of high-end restaurants, the day-to-day running of the kitchen will be left to two of his young disciples, the 25-year-old executive chefs Yago Marquez and Maxime Fanton.

The pair have been working hard in the kitchen for the last five months finalizing the menu and tinkering with recipes.

"My most valuable critics are our local staff and they have given me great advice on flavors," says Marquez.

Diners can expect all the bells and whistles of Spanish molecular-driven cuisine that has garnered its kudos in the Michelin ratings systems and also traditional Spanish dishes.

While tapas will be limited to the bar area, a range of small creative dishes will showcase the skills and imagination in the kitchen.

One dish to anticipate will combine a section of pig's tail, the saltiness of flash-fried red snapper scales partnered with a mussel and white chocolate reduction, and Berasategui's famed foie gras, eel and apple terrine.

The menu will set diners back 580 yuan (US$85) for the traditional set menu and 780 yuan for the creative.

Address: 811 Hengshan Rd

Tel: 6431-6639, 6431-9811


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