Oliva and its sister town of Pego sit astride the boundary between the Marina Alta of Alicante and the La Safor of Valencia Province. Pego is inland without a border on the sea whilst old Oliva with its rural traditions is inland, `new Oliva´ is between the sea and the old town with its new developments, sports port and restaurants.
It was to Kiko Port on the urbanisation of the same name by Oliva´s dunes and sailing port that we were drawn to last week. Owner Vicent Frasquet had invited VÍ Vid to see the local style of gastronomy during the restaurants´ Jornadas Gastronómicas de Arroz, now in their 19th year.
The modern looking, minimalist in style, restaurant is adjacent to a Caravan park with Spa and sports hall started by his parents and it remains a family business. Originally it was on the beach but moved back behind the dunes to its current location in the early 1990´s. They still have a chiringuito on the beach in Summer months.
The Jornadas are an opportunity to highlight the traditional cuisine of the area with a modern style of presentation with a major element being the sourcing of high quality local produce and dishes the locals want to eat….which are popular with visitors as well. Vicent and Head Chef Rubén Cantabrana were to show us the attention to detail which is the byword of Kiko Port and we began with a quick tour of the banqueting suite upstairs, the preparation room and kitchen downstairs.
During the Jornadas Kikoport provides a set price menu with four sharing plates and then a main course, (a rice dish in one of its different styles) and a dessert. All are traditional and from local produce.
On the day we visited the menu was
- local artesan sausages from Planes, a nearby village.
- A salad of fresh leaves, (sea purslane and field mustard) with fresh orange, and capellan ( baby dried cod ) .
- Pastillets ( baby empañadas) with shrimp and chard leaves, deep-fried, and
- A `tower´of baby red mullet, floured and quickly fried.
- The main course was to be a Paella with the red prawns ( Gambas Rojas) from Denia.
- Dessert was Calabassa Arnadi, a base of pumpkin, with a chocolate mousse made from 70% pure dark chocolate from Valrona.
However, before we sat down to lunch we went on a brief tour of the area to put it into its geographical context. We set off through Pego and up a steep valley road, which we had to share with the local cycling team. Towards the top we stopped to look down on the La marjal Natural Park with its rice fields, orange groves and beyond the sea. effectively we were looking down on the depression which forms the Gulf of Valencia and with views to Valencia up the coast and to the South, Montgo.
As we drove back we passed through the orange groves with the late varieties still on the trees and the earlier varieties, destroyed by the previous weeks storms lying wasted on the ground. When we reached the rice fields awaiting this seasons planting, Vicent explained that the area has huge subterranean water sources which are naturally salty and that the ditches and streams are home to a small shrimp which is used in the dishes in Kiko Port. These rice fields were originally cultivated in the Moorish period and revived 200 years ago.
This is believed to be the home of Bomba rice, or at the very least where it was first cultivated, the water and the soils being perfect for the variety with their salt and mineral content but not good for other types of rice!
Back at the restaurant we enjoyed a Vermut from the nearby Xaló cooperative, in the bar where diners can enjoy many different aperitifs and some craft ales as well.
Then we sat down to a plate of embutidos. A Salcichon, a Butiffara, a Sobrasada and a dried Morcilla de Cebolla were accompanied by bread to a traditional recipe cooked freshly and ecologic olive oil also from Planes which sits 600m above sea level amidst the almond groves with a climate perfect for air-drying these quality sausages, full of flavour. It was one of the last villages abandoned by the moors and the sausages are quite different to those from Requena, testament to the variation of recipes in Valencia. Our next visit to Oliva will have to include a pilgrimage to the butcher responsible which has been added to our list of favourite producers!
Next was an off menu extra, a plate of Ventresca de Atun, served over a mousse of avocado with pearls of olive oil and tomato with balsamic vinegar. This was line caught and was full of flavours and tender, outstanding!
The salad followed, again fresh and the cod and orange contrasting very well. Then the pastissets, served in a frying basket, light, crispy with pastry with salty shrimp and chard was fragrant and light.
The baby red mullet which was the last of our sharing plates, also finger food were crisp with plenty of tender, moist flesh.
The paella has a rich stock made from moralla, small fish caught of the coast such as mantis prawns, flying squid, red mullet, two different types of bream, red gurnard and conger eel.
Rubén uses the Totena ( flying squid) in both the stock – made freshly every day – and the paella dish. When cleaned they have the liver and egg roes left intact as these add superb flavour. The Red prawn, or Gamba Roja (Aristeus) is natural to the Mediterranean but to be called after Denia have to be caught at a depth of around 600m in the trench that lies between St Anthony´s head and Ibiza where they predate on molluscs and other small prey and live in rich salty water.
The International Concurso de Cocina Creativa de la Gamba Roja de Denia is one of the newer cookery competitions for professionals and the latest edition is due to be held in Denia at the end of this week.
The subsequent paella was to die for! Absolutely full of concentrated flavour, just a layer and a half of Bomba rice covering the pan with perfect soccorat. This is another dish which will shortly appearing at one of our working lunches!
For the record we drank Angosto Tinto, (DO Valencia -Ontinyent) the red fruits and acidity countering the richness of the sausages and Dominio de La Vega (DO Cava Requena) Reserva Especial with the remaining starters and Paella. An impressive marriage on all counts!
The Arnadi of pumpkin was perfect, a light textured tart with a rich dark chocolate, accompanied by a yellow Herbero, a local distillation with herbs and roots made in the nearby Sierra de Mariola and with its own DO. It must have at least four botanicals and is between 22-40%ABV but it works perfectly with this dessert!
Kiko Port is a restaurant which we highly recommend, not just during the Jornadas which continue until 5 March with different menus each day, but at any time. The menu and wine list can be consulted on-line and English is spoken. Service is friendly, attentive and Vicent and Rubén clearly have a team who are dedicated to producing a quality dining experience. This will not be our last visit.
@Kikoport http://www.kikoport.com 962856152 and in Facebook