Michelin-starred cuisine in Valencia: La Salita in Ruzafa

Looking for Michelin-starred cuisine in Valencia? La Salita in Ruzafa is a wondrous garden of creative, enchanting delight, says Eugene Costello

Looking for Michelin-starred cuisine in Valencia, Spain? La Salita in Ruzafa is a wondrous garden of creative, enchanting delight. Which is as it should be. The very name, Ruzafa, means ‘garden’ in Arabic. It dates from the 9th century when Valencia was known as Balansiya and ruled by Abd Allah al-Balansi who decreed that a large green recreational space should be constructed outside of the city.

These days, Ruzafa makes up part of Eixample, the “new town” outside of the mediaeval city walls, typified by Parisian-style modernist townhouses and straight streets – across, sideways, diagonally – and not so much green as trendy and central.

But one of its outstanding landmarks is Begoña Rodrigo’s astonishing temple to epicurean pleasure, the Michelin-starred La Salita, the Spanish word for “the salon”. It’s quite appropriate, conjuring up visions of elegance and style associated with Michelin. But more of that later.

La Salita is a delightful slap in the face for those who assert that paella is the only show in town. 

First, who is Begoña Rodrigo?

Rodrigo is locally grown and, like many of her creations, is sustainably sourced. She was born in Valencia in 1975. Her quest for adventure saw her move to Amsterdam at the age of just 20, where she worked as kitchen assistant at that city’s Marriott Hotel. Although initially she worked on preparing breakfasts, she had arrived in her natural milieu of high-end fine-dining, and sought unpaid work experience at the restaurant of the Hotel Karel V with its Michelin star.

After a year, Begoña was off again, this time to London where all roads lead. (I would say that – although technically Irish, I was born and bred in that great city.) She carried out another stage of training at the French-style Aquarium, a private members’ club with two Michelin stars.  

The call of home proved to be a siren call, and Begoña returned to Spain, first to Reus and then home to Valencia. She joined the team at La Sucursal, the fine-dining vision atop Veles E Vents, the former marina constructed for the Americas’ World Cup. She spent eight years there, finessing her art and skill before deciding with her then-partner Jorne Buurmeijer to go out on their own and launch La Salita. Begoña first met Jorne at Bistro Ana at Hotel Karel V in Utrecht. They found a suitable space in l’Amistat, across the Túria, and found her present temple in Ruzafa, which is where she picked up, first, three Repsol Suns and then in 2019, a Michelin star.

In fact, Jorne remains part of the team, although they are no longer partners. He is the chief sommelier and has won various awards for his work as such. You could say that it is something of a family affair, since the maitre d’ is Begoña’s brother Sergio Rodrigo.

Before that, she became a household name when she won the Spanish TV chef show Top Chef (think a Spanish version of Masterchef, for British readers). 

A palace to epicureanism

And so to the experience. From the outside, la Salita is a handsome, square 19th-century building in the colonial style, two stories with a cupola perched atop. (Alex, our waiter, would later tell me that the cupola houses a small apartment used by Begoña when she works late at night doing accounts and running the business.)

It was formerly a palace, and is an imposing edifice. A handsome, sturdy wooden gate in the brick wall gives way upon knocking to a charming patio garden with tall palm trees whose fronds sway in the breeze. We arrive at 8pm and Sergio leads us to our  table downstairs beside a long cocktail bar that brings a hint of beachside Cuba to proceedings. First, the serious business of arranging our cocktails. 

I opted for the Magreb Sour, a pisco sour infused with Ras El Hanout lending a taste of Morocco, white tea and yuzu. This is an Asian citric plant that has a taste like lemon, but on steroids. It’s finished with a parmesan bitter.

While we are sitting outside, we receive our first round of dishes. These are beautifully presented on homemade wooden stands that look like bonsai tree trunks. It is the first introduction to the amazing and explosive riot of tastes that are the hallmark of the evening.

We are having the Sangonereta menu (175,70€ per person, wine charged separately). The selection of small plates to begin are enchanting. Croquettes with a fesols i naps broth is a reductive play upon a typical Valencian stew that is the consummate autumnal dish. The broth is made up of turnip cabbage, thistle and white beans cooked long enough that the broth contains all the flavours, perfectly confected. Brought in a small iron pot, two croquettes are balanced on top, providing a great crunchy and punchy counterpoint to the heady broth. The croquettes are made of home-cooked beef and pork in a creamy bechamel sauce. Wonderful.

Next, I turned my attention to a delicious crispy maki, cauliflower and squid dish with a picante mojo sauce. This last is typically associated with the Canaries, and is made up of bell peppers, garlic and chilli peppers, well seasoned. A triumph.

Asian-inspired Valencian produce

The spicy tonyina nigiri is an interpretation of a tuna nigiri or sashimi that is both fresh and with a little contrasting spice. And by way of contrast, a fishy sardine that has been through the slimer, making it a crispy clear blue fish fossil with confited leeks and potatoes, making it a riot of flavour.

Possibly my favourite here was the oyster salad, presented as a small open tart filled with a foam of the mollusc that was simply divine. Finally, we had a deer tartar wrapped in a shiso leaf (think a Valencian dolmade) with a tofu mayonnaise. All exquisitely presented, all perfectly formed.

After this, we were led upstairs to the main dining room.

This is a large large room divided into alcoves and dining areas. It is not overly filled, with plenty of space between tables to ensure a sense of privacy. The ceiling is made up of living citric plants that attest to Begoña’s love of seasonal, local vegetables. She has been voted Spain’s greatest chef for vegetables, and the second greatest in the world.     

Once settled, we were waited upon hand and foot by Alex, a young Canadian waiter, with Ana and Lucia. They were full of pride in their jobs and impeccably turned out in black trousers and collarless tunics. A credit to the restaurant. 

The opening salvo was a cold soup of tiger nuts and razor shells. Ludicrously tasty. The combination of seafood and tiger nuts is a Valencian twist. Seafood for obvious reasons, and tiger nuts are special to the region. Grown in la huerta, the huge allotments that surrounds the city, they are well known as the basis for horchata, a kind of vegetarian batido or milkshake beloved locally. Served alongside homemade focaccia bread and with lagrima olive oil from the Sierra Caldona west of Castellón in the north of the Comunidad Valenciana. That the bread was perfect was no surprise. But the olive oil was incredible. Powerful and punchy, it was both fruity and spicy, if that is not a contradiction. This dish was paired with a Las Travinas white wine from the merseguera grape typical of the Utiel-Requena region just west of Valencia city. Good acidity, and a hint of bitter almonds and herbs.

Think globally, act locally

This opening salvo was followed up by a dish they call ‘The Queen’. It’s a broth made from shrimp heads with  ginger, and with a refreshing cucumber base. A winning combination. It came with a whole shrimp from Denia. Alex explained that the shrimp is dipped in hot water “for only 30 seconds” to retain that sweet, fresh flavour. This came paired with a Casa Julia, a flinty and mineral albariño, making a perfect duet.

Next up was an eel sausage stew that had a powerful, meaty taste, a potent follow-up to the light but zesty shrimp. This was akin to a creamy haddock risotto, La Salita’s tribute to the local Valencia eel stew, normally eel and potato. It had a superb crunchy base known as soccorat, the burnt rice at the bottom of the dish of any paella worth its salt. Its force was underlined by its wine accompaniment of Cambio de Tercio, a fruity bobal, again from Utiel-Requena, underscoring La Salita’s commitment to showcasing the best of the region. It had an intense cherry flavour with a hint of lavender.

Since Begoña has been feted by the vegetarian world as well as by Michelin and Repsol, it was no surprise that the next dish was meat-free, despite being called “Charcuterie”. Expect marinated turnip cane, smoked-radish watermelon pastrami with a pumpkin sobrasada and a wonderfully autumnal mushroom and chestnut pâté. 

This was followed by another exquisite “Tot de poble”, a Valencian artisanal cheese, here in a dish with parsnip and fermented cabbage cream, a celebration of local produce served with a Sinto Centella cabernet franc and marselan, a Spanish version of a languedoc. Incredibly moreish.

This wine worked well with our final savoury dish, a quail breast in a broth with a leg of quail on the side that had been marinated in a sweet and sticky sauce.

A quirky touch of humour in the dishes

Our postre was a Mexican taco, a fun dish with the appearance of a taco who cantilevered span sides were made of a kind of biscuit stuffed with with a bubble-like sauce made of Hoya de la Iglesia, a goat cheese derivative, here with fig cream, sauteed figs and a Tintoralba garnacha wine. For me, it was the taste of childhood, I could not put my finger on why, but it was a happy and fun dish. 

All that was left to do was to sample one of their exquisite homemade chocolates that came in a wooden box with individual drawers, and a complimentary cognac on the house.

We had spent north of four hours in this temple to epicureanism, and left with the wooden gate clicking behind us, happy, fulfilled and full of resolve to return.

  • La Sangonereta menu, 175,70€ per person, booking essential; La Salita, Carrer de Pere III el Gran, 11, Ruzafa, 46005 Valencia; +34 609 33 07 60
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