I sit at the head of the bar of Ultramarinos Marin. With the door behind me and the plancha off to my right. The first to be seated at 1 pm. The chef has time to take me through the menu. It’s seafood, simply cooked, no sauces. Within minutes Ulrtramarinos fills up, and the tickets start filling the bar I am sharing with the chef Adrià Cartró.
It’s voyeuristic. I sit and sip my wine while the chefs’ bodies tense visibly like a coil, and then they spring into their dance. Because it is a dance. The chef dips into the fridge drawers, pulling out glistening fish. He scatters salt onto the plancha, squeezes out zig zag’s of oil and then lays down the food. The gambas Rojas are on for less than a minute. One side only. The deboned and flattened chicken thigh stays on, skin down for about 10 minutes. He lays a tray on top to flatten it down. But not before he calls another chef over to show her that she hasn’t trimmed away the yellow fat enough.
That’s not all that’s happening. There is a small pot of bubbling oil, in which pancetta renders. Later, he slices it up into bite-size pieces for an on the house treat. In another pot, he decants a vac-packed tripe stew, it lingers, and for the last minute, he adds chickpeas. I am trying to count the orders he juggles; it’s too fast. Eight? Ten? Orders get crossed out with a pink highlighter.
Still, Cartró has enough band width left that every time the door opens behind me and a customer lingers, he shouts at the floor staff, “Puerta!”
The floor staff say, “Sorry, no table”,
Cartró contradicts them, “stick around. Someone is bound to pay”.
He overhears a conversation about where Ultramarinos buy their fish. “We don’t buy it from the market; we buy it straight from the boats,” he tells them proudly.
It is clear to me that this is the beginning of the love affair for Cartró. At the primary colour phase of love before it turns into marriage.
It’s carnal in the kitchen; I see his trapezoid muscles seize as he puts all his power into scraping down the black gunk that forms on the plancha every couple of orders
All the while, the customers are relaxing in the hubris of their lunch. While in the kitchen, intense exertion and stress. Albeit probably the good kind of stress that comes with the flow, seeing it all come together, plate after plate. It’s odd to see the two playing out side by side, the yin and yang of it.
For dessert, he recommends the Tocinillo. “It’s really sweet”, he tells me. “Pero la textura es muy guay.” it’s a dish that was traditionally made from the egg yolks that were leftover from clarifying wine with egg whites. I have it with an unsweetened cortado.
With that, the curtain is drawn on this vivid lunch and I step back into the slower tempo of the city.