Real Spanish food, designed for the ‘new normal’

The raison d’être of fries is that they are crispy. The irresistible quality of good fries is the enormous contrast between the crispy, ultra-crispy exterior and the crumbly-soft interior. One ingredient, two beautiful structures. It is absolutely beautiful to dip such a red-hot golden rod in a cooling, creamy-white emulsion sauce. But I would like to do that myself, preferably at the last minute. So that that moist sauce doesn’t have time to affect the crispiness of my fries. Over time, this results in the nightmare of every true fries lover: soggy fries.

That is why I have been dogmatically opposed to potatoes stew, rendang and the like all my life. Not because of the flavor combination, but because of the way it is served: on top of each other instead of next to each other. That is why monstrosities such as Canadian poutine (fries with pieces of young cheese, topped with brown gravy) or the Rotterdam ‘kapsalon’ (fries covered with shoarma or döner, melted cheese and salad) are intrinsically unsuccessful dishes.

With some melancholy I think back to that unambiguously dualistic French fries philosophy. To last week, when life was still manageable.

If you order home-made fries with chorizo ​​and egg, you’ll get a divine plate of limp fries at Bar Berta. I didn’t know it was possible. These yellow white farts are poured directly from the deep-fat fryer à la carbonara with raw beaten egg, which half solidifies due to the heat around the fries and fried pieces of spicy-salt sausage meat. Suddenly, they’ve become flexible, soft carriers of a gushing, glossy egg coating: a totally unexpected culmination of silky softness. The ultimate sliding experience.

Bar Berta, on the Veerhaven in Rotterdam, is a tapas bar. But not the trite with meatballs in tomato sauce and stuffed olives in an earthenware dish. Most dishes wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary bar in Barcelona. Except maybe the Oosterschelde lobster croquette. But if you’re in the Netherlands and those animals are in season… The result is a roaring sweet lobster taste, with a subtle, almost Cajun-like spice in a clean-fried, thin jacket.

Picasso’s Dachshund

The opening of this Spanish asset was actually planned on April 1, but the corona lockdown was announced two weeks before. This put Bar Berta in the same precarious boat as all other catering companies, with one big difference: it had never been open. Double bales of course. But on the other hand, it might also be an advantage. From day one, Bar Berta has been completely set up for the ‘new normal’. At Berta, nobody – guest, cook, waiter – knows better. Perhaps that is why there is so wonderfully little to notice about the corona measures.

Under normal circumstances, we were supposed to hang out at the short bar with a drink until our party was complete. That the crutches would be much closer together. That there would be more hanging out and drinking outside – like in Spain. But we don’t know any better. We enter a bustling tent, with rust-red Iberian tiles, a wild boar and Picasso’s dachshund on the wall. Where three chefs are ready for the hot plate to grill razor clams à la minute and reach over the wooden bar from an appropriate distance and put the dishes in front of you. Disinfecting in front of the door and waiting neatly for each other at the toilet later, we haven’t thought about corona more often.

From day one, Bar Berta has been completely set up for the ‘new normal’. At Berta nobody – guest, cook, waiter – knows better.

The biggest adjustment, says chef Remco van de Lagemaat, is that he takes reservations at all. The intention was that everyone could just blow in from 12 noon and then see where the evening ends. Now everything is divided into shifts. We are late, so no end time.

The fact that things are going well here also has everything to do with the flair of the Rotterdam catering couple Remco and Magdalena van de Lagemaat, known for the French Bistrot du Bac and the Italian Osteria Vera. A Spanish bar was a long-cherished wish of these Valencia goers. “We also looked at what the city needs. This wasn’t there yet,” says chef Remco.

So this is the real Spanish food: rustic, simple, but right on target and above all with tasty ingredients that speak for themselves. Fortunately, he did not tinker with the card. It is still exactly as it was once intended, pre-corona. The reasonable prices have not changed either. “You really have to import wind-dried tuna because you enjoy it, you can barely get a margin on that. And we also gave a little cheer when we had the investment on the first ham out.” The real Jamón Ibérico de bellota (acorn ham) is therefore not the least.

Iberic secret

There is no Spaniard walking around in the kitchen, yet I wouldn’t know where you can eat such a typically Spanish casual gastronomic meal in the Netherlands right now. From well-executed classics such as ham croquetas, marinated anchovies, fried octopus and a fantastic Iberic secretsautéed on the plate with plenty of garlic (the sweet fat spurts out when your teeth sink into it – an orgasmic delight, any glossing over of this qualification would do the pig short). To more contemporary creations such as aubergine chips with maple syrup, langoustine with cantaloupe melon and grapefruit and a sauce of greatly reduced langoustine stock and smoked olive oil. And the very latest trend from San Sebastián: the burnt cheesecake, a blackened cheesecake. They have undoubtedly made it here exactly as it should be. Very hip, but burnt. Must love you.