Perhaps it is no longer the case that decent Western food is hard to find in Beijing, but it’s certainly true that there’s a lack of choice when it comes to restaurants.
A handful of players dominate most European dining options, and for Spanish food one undoubtedly thinks of Migas
. This Sanlitun favourite has been keeping us busy from dawn to dusk for years now, with its restaurant and rooftop bar. The new CBD edition takes its fiesta even further.
The new Migas is, like everything these days, in China World Mall, offering the requisite awesome views of the surrounding urban vista. It is also something of a vista in itself, being totally freakin’ huge – there’s a sprawling terrace bar, and the restaurant itself seems to go on for miles of dimly lit, sensuous Spanish ambience.
Just as expansive is the menu. While the choice of Spanish restaurants in Beijing may be limited, the choice once you’re in Migas is endless. There are close to 20 starters, including the indulgent options of grilled fillet of foie gras (148RMB) and a gourmet burger (90RMB), which can be stuffed with soft shell crab, oyster and foie gras or eel. Disappointed not to find our simple Spanish favourites of chorizo or tortilla anywhere on the menu, we go for a tuna tartare with a 'spicy "ajoblanco" chilled almond soup' (158RMB). The fish is surprisingly browned for a raw dish, but it’s still refreshingly fresh and juicy. The chilled almond soup is certainly chilled and subtly almondy, but it becomes more of a sauce when the waiter pours it over our fish. It’s an interesting complement, but we’re not convinced by the slightly grainy texture. Also, no spice. The platter of Iberico ham is more of a crowd-pleaser, but 260RMB only gets you a few salty slivers.
Moving on, the roast Iberian pork (180RMB) is a beautifully simple dish of perfectly cooked slices of meat paired well with fresh, fruity ketchup. The Migas mountain paella (240RMB) is truly a mountain of rice, with deep, earthy flavours and a smattering of meaty jewels of pigeon and sausage. In these two dishes, Migas hits the note it advertises so well of serving rustic Spanish fare with a generous helping of glamour.
So, then, to the most glamorous beast of them all: the menu description of 'grilled octopus' does nothing to warn us of the scale of what’s about to arrive, although the price (678RMB) hints at it. This is a whole, charred monster of the sea, lying prostrate for your gustation. There are seemingly hundreds of suckers clustered along the body and tentacles, which, if you think hard about it, is terrifying, but if you taste it, is anything but. The flesh is firm and white with a delicate flavour that’s belied by the sheer drama of this wriggly, meaty, aqua creature being dragged out of the sea and onto your table in the CBD. The rims of the suckers – suckers! – are blistered and black, and delicious in a way that somehow echoes both a barefoot beach barbecue and the extravagance of an imperial feast.
Certainly, if you’re willing to spend a bit of money you’ll leave Mercado well-fed and luxuriously inebriated. But really what counts here is the atmosphere. You’re here for a taste of Spain and a truckful of opulence, with a hearty meal to boot, but one that isn’t in itself hugely memorable. Apart from the octopus, that is. We will remember that octopus for the rest of our lives.
By Amy Hawkins