Brindisa Kitchens’ first Calçotada of the year is a big thing. A big thing and a messy one.
We arrive at Morada Brindisa, the Soho branch of Brindisa Tapas Kitchens, in the early evening for the launch of their Calçotada – pronounced Kal-sot-ah-da, or as near as you can get with your mouth full of romesco and onion leaves.
In the Catalan region, where the festival originates, calçot is the word for the enormous spring onions that come into season in the winter. And the Calçotada is the festival celebrating them, with a mix of barbequing and wine drinking and getting extremely dirty in honour of the allium harvest.
Seated at the big counter running three sides of the central kitchen, we’re brought paper bibs, plates of the grilled onions and bowls of romesco sauce. You peel the outside, charred leaves off the calçots – holding the top of the leaves, dip the bulbs in the romesco sauce and tip your head back, lowering the bulb into your mouth. Romesco goes everywhere, hence the bib. It’d be the messiest thing you’ll do in a restaurant all year if it weren’t for the porrons of wine, a glass jug with a curved spout. We have one each of red and white wine, the technique roughly the same as the calçot-eating – tip back your head and pour the wine from a height into your mouth.
My bib is a nice gesture, but token. Nothing about this is neat, and the bibs are good but unequal to the task of keeping you clean – everything but a wipe-clean space suit and helmet would be unequal to it. Wine goes everywhere. As a small consolation, when the Brindisa chef demonstrates the porron, a stream of red wine runs along the side of his mouth and down onto his immaculate chef’s whites – which he takes with equanimity, apparently this is how it goes at a calçotada, even for pros.
The rest of the calçotada runs along more conventional Brindisa lines – we’re brought plates of grilled meat, and a lot of it, baked potatoes, more wine, finger bowls that go a really tiny way to cleaning up the mess we’ve made with the onions, and after that, a bowl of crema catalana to finish off. The calçotada’s over at a civilised hour, though my clothes, face and hair are going to bear the signs of our evening till I get home and into a shower. And impressively, it’s been just as enjoyable as it has been filthy.
The Calçotada runs for February and March at Morada Brindisa in Soho and Tapas Brindisa on Curtain Road. Booking is required for the Calçotada menu, which is available at weekends from 12pm till 5pm, and tickets are £35 a head.
Morada Brindisa, 20, Rupert St, W1D 6DF. 0207 4788758. Website.