Homage to Catalonia

PUBLISHED: 18:16 14 October 2013 | UPDATED: 18:16 14 October 2013

Upstairs at Baileys in the Suffolk town of Beccles.
Bistro and Restaurant.

Upstairs at Baileys in the Suffolk town of Beccles. Bistro and Restaurant. "Suquet de Rap" Monkfish, Langoustine, Mussels and Clams in a reduction of Prawn Stock. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2013

“Tonight I’m going to give you the keys to the kitchen,” said Xavier Esteve with a combination of pride and showmanship as he welcomed Polly Robinson to his restaurant, Upstairs at Bailey’s in Beccles

By day Upstairs at Bailey’s is a top quality delicatessen serving the usual cafe fare as well as Spanish-style bistro lunches.

But by night Xavier Esteve and his two young Catalan chefs up their game and embrace a very different style of restaurant cooking.

We were here for one of his regular degustation menus, a chance for the chefs to show off their skill and creativity – and a chance for us to sample the outstanding food that is created in this kitchen.

The delicatessen stocks excellent cheese and charcuterie, Spanish olive oil, olives and pulses and an interesting range of Spanish wines carefully selected by owner Xavier Esteve.

His father’s family ran a fonda (an inn or rustic restaurant) in Catalonia and food was always important to his family. His father’s mother was the chef and he acquired his love of food at her side from a very young age.

Xavier fondly remembers long family meals where everyone sat together enjoying the food and company – it’s this relaxed atmosphere focused on great food, wine and hospitality that you will find at Upstairs at Bailey’s. Xavier is a charming host whose enthusiasm for Spanish food would rub off on the most sceptical diner.

Before settling in the UK with his English wife, Xavier lived in central Europe where he imported and supplied Spanish food to restaurants and other food businesses. In 2001 Xavier took over Bailey’s delicatessen and moved it to its current site in 2002, opening a small cafe serving cakes, baguettes, and quiches during the day.

In 2009 he decided to open Upstairs at Bailey’s offering a Spanish lunch menu which changes daily. At £11.50 for a starter, main course and pudding it’s extremely good value for the quality of the food. On Fridays and Saturdays a more ambitious ‘fine dining’ menu is presented as well as regular special events, for example tapas or paella evenings and even a truffle celebration.

In July this year Xavier hired two new young Catalan chefs, David and Arnau.

“They’ve been here a month and they’re doing very well – the customers love the food they produce and so do I,” he smiles.

We started off with cod ‘ravioli’ filled with roasted peppers – a delicious parcel of rich vegetables wrapped in bacalao (salt cod) imported direct from Spain. This came with a memorable strawberry gazpacho with a delicious fat prawn.

“I absolutely love peasant food,” Xavier tells us. Many of the dishes that follow are a creative and modern take on traditional dishes, often using cheaper cuts of meat – beef jowl or pork belly – enabling the flavour of the ingredients to shine through. But this is proper restaurant food. It takes time and attention to detail as well as top quality ingredients to produce a menu this good.

The second course, coca de tomate with pork belly, is a Spanish version of bruschetta – bread topped with a fresh tomato sauce and in this case a tender mouthful of pork belly, a sophisticated version of something you might find in a rustic Spanish tapas bar.

Although pasta is perhaps not associated with Spain, an intensely flavoured chicken in ravioli was superb.

The fish course was monkfish in ‘suquet”. Suquet is a traditional Catalan fish stew, and this was a refined version, a beautiful piece of monkfish and a potato in a rich sauce. Xavier buys his fish from Fishmonger at No 4 in Beccles.

Beef cheeks with glacé carrots and shallots might sound like a heavy dish for a warm summer evening, especially after the preceding courses, but the meat was incredibly tender and light after many hours of slow cooking. An incredibly simple dish, it was a great contrast to some of the lighter more delicate courses that had gone before. All the meat on the menu is from Cleveleys near Halesworth.

Crema Catalona is another well known Spanish dessert. Similar to French creme caramel it’s made with milk rather than cream and set by chilling rather than baking. It cleansed our palates perfectly before a complex celebration cake, Sant Jordi -– delicious layers of sponge between chocolate mousse, Chantilly cream and topped with burnt sugar and traditionally made in Catalonia on April 23 – Sant Jordi is our Saint George.

Simple but elegant wine was included with the special degustation menu and our glasses were generously refilled with every course. At £30 a head for six courses the evening was exceptionally good value.

“You’ve got a scoop here,” said one of the other diners when he guessed by my notebook I was here to write a review. Though the restaurant was packed, I did have a sense that I’d stumbled across a gem which locals of this corner of Suffolk might prefer to keep for themselves.

So apologies to the residents of Beccles if by shouting about our fantastic evening at Upstairs at Bailey’s it makes it a little busier, but I think that Xavier, his professional team and their outstanding food deserve putting the map – and perhaps between us we can persuade Xavier to open a few more nights a week.

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