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Hidden Factory: The Clandestine Restaurant Movement in Barcelona

Clandestine Restaurants BarcelonaChef Javier Morón and business partner Sergi Salguero have joined the slowly growing cadre of gourmands and entrepreneurs who bring their passion for food and service directly to the public of Barcelona in the form of underground—“clandestine”— restaurants.

“Clandestine restaurants are exciting,” says Javier. “They are ephemeral events; a space, an ambiance, a menu, and a note of theatricality all in one. They are born from the inspiration of the moment, or the actual physical space that the restaurante clandestino inhabits. To me, what we are doing is completely different than cooking in a restaurant. In a restaurant, things are always the same, while at Hidden Factory and other places like us, every day is something magical; something unrepeatable.”

Javier trained in culinary arts and pastry arts at Barcelona’s Hoffman Culinary School and the Espai Sucre pastry school respectively, as well as having completed a master’s degree program in creative haute cuisine and management at Barcelona University. After years in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury hotels, prestigious pastry shops, and catering companies, Javier finally was able to realize his long-awaited goal of being his own boss and letting his ostentatious personality shine.

He began with supper clubs in his home one night a week while he was still studying at the university. He loved the mystery that surrounded his events; a secret location and surprise menus. During that exciting period, actors, singers, hotel managers, bankers, and lawyers, among others, passed through Javier’s cozy kitchen. Beyond his front door, Javier also serves as a charismatic culinary instructor at Barcelona Cooking –  a very successful, top-rated English-language cooking school in downtown Barcelona that was founded to teach foodie foreigners how to cook classic Spanish cuisine in a fun, four-hour lesson.

xavierIt wasn’t until the late summer that Javier’s Hidden Factory began to take form. “It was never something premeditated,” he admits. “I was actually looking for an apartment and studio space in which I could live, as well a store for all the “junk” I have collected for my food photography. But when I found this space, I realized that I was face-to-face with something much bigger; something more interesting and exciting, with potential. Something that could theoretically die and be reborn every day with a rejuvenated soul.”

The clandestine restaurant movement Javier speaks of is paralleled by the trend of people hosting casual dinners at home to showcase for strangers the things that they enjoy cooking; often the flavors of their homeland or their youth. Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisine is simmering in home kitchens all over Barcelona, whipped up by amateur chefs with a passion for food and new friends. (One popular website that speaks to this trend, Eatwith,  has really exploded onto Barcelona’s gastronomical community).

However, what sets Hidden Factory apart from virtually all of the other ‘supper clubs’ of the city is the space itself, and the professional talent behind the seemingly limitless flow of creativity that it brings to the table. When Javier discovered the industrial space that was to ultimately become his versatile “workshop,”  it took great vision and hard work to see past the awful state that the property was in. Sweat equity included: power sanding and finishing the vintage hardwood floors that they found buried under paint, tar, and cement, painting all the walls as well as the ceiling, eliminating mildew, and bleaching and painting doors and windows. Most importantly, a complete kitchen was installed where none previously existed—pipe, fixtures, appliances, and all. It was a huge project, but what has made it so remarkable is that it was all achieved in a four-week stretch of ten-hour days with the Esprit de corps of friends and family.

“Without those who helped on the project, none of this would have been possible,” says Javier. What was left after his whirlwind of renovation is something truly spectacular to behold – a long, high, naturally-lit room with vintage nuances and the capacity to host many dozens of guests. The room is playfully adorned with Javier’s antique treasures, found in the markets of London, Paris, Prague, and Barcelona’s own market of oddities, Els Encants Vells. The rest are vintage kitchen tools and flatware from his family that add a certain whimsy to the dining environment.

_DSC0309Javier hasn’t yet invested in marketing, trusting the word of mouth between friends and happy customers to organically grow his base. The first official event thrown by Hidden Factory was “Scarylicious,” a Halloween tasting menu of high cuisine dishes with a lot of technicality but a playful—and somewhat gory—twist.

First Course: Spherified mozzarella “eyes” with confit cherry tomatoes

Second Course: Anchovy “ghosts” marinated in vinegar and garnished with its own skeleton, fried as a “chip”

Third Course: Bone marrow cream with Trumpet of Death mushrooms and foie gras

Fourth Course: Smokey, barbecued “zombie” ribs (pork) with “edible coal” potatoes

Fifth Course: Milk chocolate mousse “cemetery” with chocolate soil and a chocolate “gravestone”

The second event that Javier and Sergi hosted was one that I happily had the pleasure to attend (for a great value at €30).

What Does the Fox Eat?” was the name of the menu, and autumn, woodlands, and wild game of Catalunya were the themes of the evening (not to mention a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the wildly popular song, “What Does the Fox Say?”). Inspired by the changing of the seasons, a walk in the forest, and a desire to use traditional ingredients with a contemporary twist, Javier and his team executed a six-course degustación, accompanied by thematic video imagery, music, and decorations.

_DSC0303The dinner began at 9:00 pm and as I walked through the seemingly-abandoned, industrial entrance and up three flights of dusty and precariously-steep stairs, I knew I was in for a truly unique experience. I could hear classical music and voices from the dark, creaky landing at the top of the steps, and upon ringing the buzzer, I was welcomed into a glowing, magical scene — hanging autumn leaves, soft lights, and a projection screen looping artistic, nature-themed cinematography upon the long, high walls. We all —some 15 guests— gathered around Javier’s work station, greeting each other and enjoying the first of many glasses of young Rioja,  while the chef put his finishing touches on our first course: Raw, pomelo-marinate Pyrenees trout with mustard-basil foam, white asparagus ribbons, and trout roe.

The rest of the meal went like this:

Second Course: Partially de-boned, roasted quail “lollipops” served in a vinegar-pomegranate escabeche with yucca chips and lentil sprouts. This dish offered a nice contrast of textures and wilderness flavors with the tart marinade playing nicely off the rich roast quail and earthy sprouts.

Third Course: Duck tartare “boulder” encased in a flavor-neutral chocolate shell over a bed of broccoli and corn in multiple textures. The flavor of the duck was quite mild; the star of the dish—for me—being the corn “soil” and perfectly-blanched, vivid little broccoli florets.

Fourth Course: A bed of wild mushroom risotto topped with a brochette of teriyaki and star anise-glazed wood pigeon. Warm, unctuous, sweet, salty, and tender, this dish was definitely a favorite.

_DSC0319Fifth Course: The final savory course was a indulgent stew of venison braised in Cabernet Sauvignon with an excellently-rich truffled potato purée straight out of the classic French repertoire. The garnish was fried boniato and purple potato chip “foliage.” Not a drop of the delicious sauce was wasted, as I followed suit with my fellow diners, wiping the bowl clean with a crust of hearty bread.

Sixth Course:  Dessert was a thick cream of confit chestnuts with chocolate “soil” and “roots,” topped with “dried leaves” of ultra-thin, caramelized filo pastry. Chef Javier tells us he enjoys pastry work most of all, and he loves to end a meal on a high note with something sweet and creative.

Javier creates his menus by letting his impulses carry him to new ideas and arrangements of ingredients. He looks for what’s fresh in the market and tries to recall dishes from other chefs that he has enjoyed, as well as meals from his childhood and things he experienced throughout his travels.

“I’m not usually in the habit of testing new dishes,” Javier admits. “We prep the food for each event over two days; the first day I write the menu and shop, the second day I cook. I almost never make changes. I start by conceptualizing the major combinations that each dish features. Then it’s just a matter of refining my idea before execution.”

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetThe Hidden Factory is on the up-and-coming street of Joaquín Costa in Barcelona’s rapidly evolving neighborhood of The Raval. Javier says that Barcelona, like all big cities, is cyclical; trends come and go and there are noticeable high and lows. “2004-2008 was a period of great growth, and now we (as a city) are beginning another. The last three years were ‘sleepy’, but now things are starting to happen, fast. Lots of creative people have big plans; people with a lot of talent and the aptitude and drive to better their lives while enhancing the environment which surrounds them.” The Raval has long been considered a neighborhood of ‘bad people’ and ‘morally distracted woman’, but the new era of art, food, and culture has brought new life into this eclectic—if not still rough—barrio.

The future for Javier and his exciting space will include a venture into new and fertile territory: food combined with art expositions, book readings, small-scale theater performances, and intimate music concerts. His friends are nearly all of the artistic bent, and our evening actually included some musical cabaret by Sergi himself, while we merrily lingered over our wonderful meal.

The next menus for Hidden Factory? Cenas Eróticas (erotic dinners), beginning in January! A stimulating tasting menu of seasonal ingredients with known aphrodisiac qualities, accompanied by erotic spectacles including Shibari, the art of ancient acrobatic Japanese rope bondage. “It’s not vulgar,” says Javier. “It’s something extremely elegant and sensual, full of feeling and beauty.”

According to The Art of Contemporary Shibari, “In Shibari, the model is the canvas, the rope is the paint and brush, and the rigger is the rope artist.”

The dinner will surely be something  to remember, and this renaissance of alternative dining can only lead to positive growth in the gastronomic world of Barcelona. I personally look forward very much to seeing the full scope of what the current generation of chefs and gourmands of this city are capable of creating.

Seek out Hidden Factory on Facebook for details!