When do the staff at Spanish
restaurant Migas have time to siesta?
Whether the kitchen is turning out
stunning dry-aged cuts of Chilean
wagyu, imported by head chef and
resident madman Aitor Olabegoya
himself, or setting up a summertime
cevicheria – they have a rooftop that’s
effectively the beating heart of Sanlitun
all summer, maybe you’ve heard of it?
– there’s not a moment of peace in this
culinary powerhouse. The Migas team are full of energy
and culinary invention.
The spirit of the place is infectious, intoxicating (that
might also be the gin) and inspiring.
There’s always opportunity to check
out new dishes on the regularly
updated menu: both a tapas of
molecular olives draped in anchovies
on potato crisps, and dry-aged lamb
chops charred in a Josper oven (served
with black garlic sponge cake cooked in
a microwave) are representative of the
ethos at Migas. Always creative, always
Migas caps the top of Nali Patio with artful walls of Spanish graffiti by a gang of artists including Sixeart. A cool interior display complements the contemporary Spanish cuisine of executive chef Aitor Olabegoya, who trained under Michelin-star greats such as Ferran Adrià of the nowclosed El Bulli. Olabegoya is based in Barcelona and jets in occasionally to oversee executive sous chef Jordi Garcia De Alcaraz who is responsible for holding the daily fire.
Migas has a menu of small tastings meant to be shared alongside a selection of wines by the glass including three different makers of Tempranillo that can be sipped in the dining room, in the interior bar or, during spring or summer, upstairs on what may be Beijing’s best rooftop bar. The word ‘migas’ means ‘crumbs’, and they playfully appear throughout the menu. A classic Spanish favourite involves a rub of tomato pulp on bread with a drizzle of fine olive oil and salt that tastes of the sea. It could be as addictive as the menu header of ‘Addicted to bread’ suggests, but for the lack of really good bread.
The creamy cod and steamed eggplant is a must for bacalao lovers, and this version of salted cod doesn’t get better. A quenelle of soft eggplant snuggles up to a beautiful white spread that makes us long again for better bread.
The red wine oxtail is fully argumentative: the red wine and sugar-braised oxtail will remind some of grape jelly flavours, an abhorrence for those who shy away from sweet mains, particularly when the menu description gives no such hint. Whatever your taste, it still begs for a splash of something tart to cut through the saccharine coat.
The ‘suckling pig in 69 degrees’ has an intriguing title, but it’s really pork that’s slow-roasted for 24 hours at 69C in ‘the Josper’, a fancy charcoal oven. The result is a perfect pair of crisp, tender cubes on a thin pool of jus beside an artful swoosh of something white. Parsnip? Potato? It’s cauliflower, the underdog of vegetables. The purée was unseasoned and cold on one visit and room temperature at another. ‘Contrast’ is the intended effect according to chef Jordi, but it’s a contrast that may not work for everyone. Expectation, emotion and psychology often play a part in this type of cuisine and without a precept, the whimsy and element of surprise in the dish can outweigh the important role of overall taste.
Desserts are nothing you could expect. There’s no lemon tart or crème brulée. But you can have something called ‘orange watermelon with olive’, a sunny thickened liquid in a small dish with speckles of vanilla and an icy pile of watermelon granite with dark seedy dots of olive that give a slightly bitter taste to play off the orange-vanilla. Liquid bombons are the bestseller – two warm, golden, crisp delicate rounds filled with a liquid and apple filling or runny, bitter chocolate dusted with cocoa. Be warned and pop it all in your mouth at once or risk a ruined collar.
Migas is still in its nascence, with servers earnestly trying to answer questions about food they simply do not understand. This is an ambitious and courageous attempt at Spanish gastronomy in China and a tall mission. In time, Migas is likely to become a destination for adventurous dining outside the box.