When you talk about cutting-edge cuisine in the Valencian Community region, the same name inevitably crops up in the conversation, that of Ricard Camarena. Since he opened his first restaurant, Arrop in the coastal town of Gandía, this chef has always championed a work philosophy based on the search for the most authentic flavors of locally sourced food, with a special emphasis on fish and vegetables.
Gradually and without too much fuss, Ricard began to be noticed by specialist food critics and haute cuisine fans alike. From Gandía he moved to the busy city of Valencia, where he now has a set of three restaurant ventures attracting all kinds of clientele, from the more laid-back kind of customer to the most erudite gourmet foodies. Menus in the first two restaurants vary from affordable to mid-range, while the third is at the top end, in the so-called signature cuisine market.
Our tour of Camarena's world starts in his most informal venue. For this we have to go Valencia's temple of food, the Central Market, a modernist style building housing the essence of Valencian cuisine, its excellent produce. Stalls selling fish, shellfish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, dried fruit and nuts, plus several charcuteries, are all a source of fascination for tourists, while the locals just get on with the business of doing their daily shopping. Here, tucked away in a corner, is CentralBar, a tapas bar where Ricard Camarena serves, for example, tasty portions of octopus, Russian salad and fried whitebait.
Canalla Bistró is Camarena's mid-range restaurant, with a varied menu featuring seasonal produce presented with small doses of unexpected flair. The prices are intentionally affordable for food that is halfway between traditional and sophisticated, in an atmosphere inspired by local nightlife. But where Ricard really captivates his customers is in his namesake gourmet restaurant, Ricard Camarena. The dishes served here ooze creativity and flavor from every single square centimeter. The cuisine here is packed with genuine character. And, like other professional colleagues, he has designed his kitchen to be in full view of people eating in the restaurant. Plus, the waiting staff add the finishing touches to dishes at a table next to the kitchen but inside the dining room itself. Nothing is hidden away, everything is open to scrutiny.
Caldos (Montagus, 2015)