As I walked into my favorite traditional Spanish restaurant, Donosti, I was greeted by one of its chefs, Borja Duran Cid, who quipped, “Next time you bring Telmo Rodriguez here, you better tell me in advance. Telmo Rodriguez is a rock star!”
He is to Spanish wine what the Beatles were to music, according to my Spanish friend.
An advocate of traditional wine-making techniques, Telmo insists on using only indigenous Spanish varietals (Tempranillo, Godello, Mencia, Verdejo, etc.).
His wine philosophy is quite different from the conventional.
With passion and emotion, he spoke about wine-making, how it is never about the process; it’s not about the percentage of oak, aging, recipes…. Otherwise, you lose the essence.
He showed me a photo of a vineyard in Galicia, by the Romans 2000 years ago. “My job,” he said, “is to put all of this in a bottle of wine. The taste of wine is this, still pointing at the picture. Beautiful vineyards, beautiful places, make beautiful wine. The magic of wine is the place. We are viticulturists, wine growers, not wine makers, we don’t make the wine.”
Rodriguez is in constant search of vineyards that have been lost or forgotten in Spain. If you respect the land, listen to it, it has its own story to tell.
While we were all engrossed listening to Telmo’s wine tales, it was difficult not to nibble on the delicious pintxos of tuna with caramelized onion and jamon, especially since it was paired with a refreshing glass of Telmo Rodriguez BASA, Rueda DO—fresh, green, crisp, fruity—green apple, peach, overall, an amazing white wine. (And very affordable, bragged Sherwin Lao of Golden Wines, importer of Telmo’s wines.)
While we were enjoying our tapas, a thought came to mind—how each visit to Donosti seems to reaffirm my belief that everything chef Pablo Lopez Iglesias concocts is delicious.
His menu is a reflection of what he feels like serving and thus, much of it changes weekly, depending on what he sees and wants to cook.
From start to finish—the pulpo (octopus), paella, butifarra sausages, huevos estrellados (fried eggs over fries), gulas (surimi eel), baby chopitos (small squid), croquetas (so soft and silky), setas empanadas con aioli (oyster mushroom empanada with aioli)—everything is always good!
The tastes and flavors of Lopez Iglesias’ food bring back memories of very happy times in Madrid, on a plate.
In my opinion, the best cordero lechal in Manila is at Donosti—suckling lamb (imported from Spain) roasted to perfection. With the first bite, you taste a hint of salt with a gentle crackling of the skin. Then comes a taste of the soft, moist juicy meat that melts in your mouth. With the potatoes, oh my!
Their cochinillo is the same—milk-fed, grown locally and slaughtered according to the restaurant’s exclusive specifications.
The owners, José Antonio Gutierrez and Bettina Aboitiz, have succeeded in bringing authentic Spanish food, made with top quality ingredients, served in a comfortable setting.
As the story goes, “Chef Pablo Lopez Iglesias is a Madrileño with two passions in life; music and fine food. Music brought him all around the world as a young man. When he finally decided to settle down, he went into cooking, something ingrained in his families’ restaurant tradition and love of good food and wine.
“He trained in Madrid, Canary Islands and London. When he was finally ready to set up his own restaurant, he chose to go back home to Madrid, opening in the Club Nautico San Ramon in the Pantano de San Juan. This is where he became a close friend of José Antonio Gutierrez who frequented his restaurant.
“Back in 2012 when Donosti was just on the drawing board, José Antonio invited Pablo to come and visit the Philippines with the prospect of a very exciting project. The rest is history!”
Much like our lunch, but I will fondly remember the highlights of it—the privilege to dine with Telmo, his passionate views on wine, the wonderful company, Chef Pablo’s delectable food, especially his mouth-watering lechal that harmonized with Telmo’s Lanzaga (Tempranillo—excellent wine, easy to drink, light yet full-bodied, rich aroma).
I will remember Rodriguez’s parting words: “Now people will see us in a very different light. I am very happy to see so many young people and all these Spanish restaurants opening all over the world. It is this, the chefs, the passion, knowledge, hard work and the talent of the Spanish people that will make everyone want to rediscover Spain.”
Telmo Rodriguez Wines is distributed by Golden Wines, tel. 6385025, 6385027.
Donosti Restaurant is at Bonifacio Global City; tel. 5779783 or 0917-6227356.