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How Quique Dacosta is shaking up Spanish food in the capital

Immaculately dressed in chef ‘whites’, which in this case is a freshly ironed fitted white shirt, Quique Dacosta is standing in front of a blazing hot wood-fired stove in the open kitchen of his new Fitzrovia restaurant Arros QD. The lick of flames dances in the reflection of his black and cream rimmed glasses as he animatedly describes the paella-making process that is going on in front of us.

He oversees as head chef Richard De La Cruz puts pieces of monkfish and cuttlefish into the sizzling oil of a huge paella pan held above the flames by a bespoke frame fashioned out of stainless steel. Rice is added and the mixture is given a deft stir with a wide slotted spoon to sweat it in the oil until it is transparent. In goes a sofrito of tomato, saffron and smoked paprika, which is quickly mixed into the rice before a few litres of stock are added to the pan. Cue more stirring, then the rice is left to bubble away so that it soaks up all of the stock, sticking slightly to the pan to caramelise the base as it cooks.

The final flourish is four large carabineros prawns, which are placed evenly in the middle of the pan, under which some twigs of pine are quickly added, bringing the flames to a raging crackle. The paella is cooked for only a fleeting moment more before the bubbling mixture is taken off the heat and placed on the pass for everyone to try.

A rice-focused restaurant​

Arros QD, the large restaurant in which we are standing, is unusual for a number of reasons. First, we are testing dishes in a fully kitted-out kitchen and restaurant – aside from a few missing lampshades and minor fixtures – despite it not opening for at least another month, which makes a refreshing change from conducting an interview in a building site a week before the planned opening date, as is often the case. Then there’s the fact that, as the name implies, this is a restaurant devoted almost entirely to rice, and in particular the Valencian dish paella (Dacosta has chosen to use the Valencian spelling of the word for his restaurant’s name) – a dish that isn’t commonly championed in the UK beyond a smattering of Spanish restaurants. When it is served, paella is routinely abused and seldom cooked from scratch and served immediately, which is essential for such a dish. 

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