Matthew Pearson

Brindisa Calçotada 2020

Everything you need to know about the Brindisa Calçotada, including...

  • Just what is a Calçotada anyway?
  • What happens at the Brindisa Calçotada
  • And how was it?

What is a Calçotada?

A Calçotada is a Catalan food festival centring on the famously straight and sweet calçot, a type of spring onion that grows abundantly in the area. Taking place across the winter months when the calçot is harvested, Calçotades (which we’ve been reliably informed is the correct plural form) bring families and groups of friends together to eat and drink communally. The calçotada is a harvest celebration that’s all about having a well-deserved relax together, appreciating the food you’re eating, the wine you’re drinking and the people you’re with. Calçotada events from January to April see endless streams of beautiful green and white calçots chargrilled until they’re black, rested to steam a while, then served. The charred onions come to the table wrapped up in newspaper bundles. Eating with their hands—like they’ve always wanted to—it’s the diner’s job to do the rest. Peel off the char, twist off the root of the bulb, dip the tip into a thick, nutty romesco sauce, and drop the red sauce-painted whites straight into your mouth. The calçots frequently come served with chargrilled sausages and lamb and vegetables, smokey white beans, red wine and cava. The wines are traditionally served in a porrón, a thin-spouted glass wine pitcher originating in Catalonia. Pop the spout up to your mouth, then gradually extend your arm, pulling the pitcher away from you. A steady stream of wine should pour into your mouth. If you’re doing a good job, it’ll be doing so with great accuracy from a great height. If you’re doing a bad job, it’ll be all over your face. It’s hands-on and involved, just like the messy process of peeling the calçots. Also, you don’t get your own pitcher, so it’s a social way of drinking. [caption id="attachment_6471" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez Espejo[/caption]

What is the Brindisa Calçotada?

London tapas restaurant chain Brindisa are putting on Calçotades every February and March weekend at both their Shoreditch and Battersea branches. They’ve been doing so for a few years now. Newbies keep taking the chance on this unusually messy and social foodie event. People keep coming back, drawn to the sweet charred onions and the chance to handle the porrón with a little more grace this year. And Brindisa’s reputation coos to you, they know what they’re doing. They have a rich heritage as both an importer of Catalan produce and a Catalan-inspired tapas restaurant, translating the idiosyncratic food culture of the region onto London plates. The Brindisa Calçotada features vegan and meat menus created just for the event. The main event—bundles of chargrilled calçots served with a romesco sauce dip—arrives first. It’s followed by plates of grilled meats and seasonal vegetables, potatoes, white beans and, finally, a crema catalana. Add to that a few friends and family, the chance to drink from a tricksy porrón, a silly bib to keep you clean amid all this messiness, and a warming Catalan shelter from a miserable British winter weekend. You’ve got yourself a Calçotada, right here in London. [caption id="attachment_6476" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez Espejo[/caption]

The Brindisa Calçotada

We sheltered from the naff February weather at the Shoreditch Brindisa Calçotada. We were there for the vegan menu, for some officially sanctioned pouring of wine into our mouths from a great height and, of course, to get messy with some onions.

The Bib

First thing you notice is the Brindisa Calçotada bib waiting on the table for you. We didn’t wear all white silk for the Brindisa Calçotada, but we didn’t really think we’d need to wear a bib. We did need to wear a bib. You will need to wear a bib. When they give you a bib with a cute spring onion character on it, put it on. You need to wear this charming little bib.

The Porrón

Working the porrón seems to be all about confidence. Extend a steady arm, gradually further from your face, and a steady stream of wine should go right where you want it to. Guzzle it like an adventurer at a freshwater spring. But you have to be confident. You have to be confident of how strong your arm is, how long your arm is, and where your mouth is. Misplaced confidence will cost you. But that’s what the bib’s for, and the below wet wipe.

The Calçots

The calçots came out like freshly cut bundles of daffodils. Fresh and green and sprouting. Just the sight of them puts a spring in your step, even if it can’t summon up springtime outside. Getting stuck in, using your hands to peel and dip the charred onions is a liberating thing. You’re playing with your food. Just like with the waterfall of wine you’ve been positioning yourself under, it is officially sanctioned playtime. It feels good to get messy, to pull the onions apart, to discover the sweet white flesh under the char that’s softened its flavour and texture. As a vegetarian, it feels like a good substitute for all the fun people seem to have eating a lobster or fresh prawns. There’s a messy, involved, ravenous search for the bit that you eat. You toss away the exterior in joy. The romesco sauce dip at the Brindisa Calçotada is wonderfully nutty, its tomatoey nature subtle, its firmness and rounded flavour a perfect foil to the falling-apart sweetness of the calçots. When you’re finished, the char on your fingers, the discarded ends strewn all around, the smokiness lingering in the’ve eaten with abandon. But you’ve eaten the abundant with abandon, not the scarce. You’re gorging on the plentiful, the seasonal, not the rare. It feels good to be so full of something so seasonal and singular that is just perfect and abundant RIGHT NOW. It’s a joyful food festival for the start of the year. [caption id="attachment_6474" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez Espejo[/caption]

After The Main Event...The Mains

The main event is followed at Brindisa Calçotada by superb tapas dishes, each one with something to add to the table. Spinach inspired to up its game by toasted pine nuts and raisins. A soupy artichoke rice with depth. Smokey white beans with mushrooms threaded through them. Potatoes with their mojo rojo comfort blanket, which used more olive oil than most would dare use in a week. All around the restaurant, people looked chuffed, a little giddy with what they were eating. The white and black butifarra sausages and roasted baby poussin looked incredible and generous as they were brought out to long tables of colleagues, friends and family. Both menus end with a crema catalana. A perfectly luxurious push over the edge before home for a lie down.

The Brindisa Calçotada takes place every weekend throughout February and March, 12.00am - 4.00pm at Tapas Brindisa Shoreditch and Tapas Brindisa Battersea. Tapas Brindisa Shoreditch, 152 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AT Tapas Brindisa Battersea, Battersea Power Station, Unit 25 Circus Road West, London SW11 8EZ

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