Isidro MarquésPropietario y director
Isidro Marqués is passionate about restaurants, and not only from the business point of view. He also loves its heart: the kitchen. He first came into contact with gastronomy at the Hofmann, where he studied everything he needed to become a chef. After various adventures in the kitchens of several restaurants, he opened Tantarantana more than 15 years ago (2001), which is the first restaurant in the series that makes up the San Telmo Group today: Café San Telmo (2006), El Canalla (2011), Palosanto ( 2014), Kokka (2015) and Big Kokka (2017) – the latter three in a partnership with the Derby Hotels group.
Q: A lot of people are surprised to discover that your first contact with hostelry was when you learnt to cook at the Hofmann. Tell us about the kitchens where you trained after you have finished those studies.
A: I spent a lot of time in the kitchen at Ra and with the Tragaluz Group, as well as in the Hacienda Benazuza, where I worked with Rafa Morales and Pepe García from the team at el Bullí.
Q: But your innovative spirit and your instinct are also reflected in other adventures, aren’t they?
A: Yes, in fact I was one of the founders of Café Kafka, a place that was a benchmark for years in the Born, where I picked up my training in the kitchen. Later, I opened Rica, the first juice stand in the Boqueria market, but it didn’t work out because at that time people didn’t understand that you could sell juices in the same place where you could buy fruit. I also opened Kitchen, a well-known restaurant where Igueldo is today. In recent years, I have also opened Figaro and Santa Anna, which are now closed, the legendary 5º Pino, and Cèntric.
Q: Your adventures have always made you seem like a visionary. For example, when you opened Tantarantana nobody would have dared to predict that years later it would be a very fashionable area…
A: Yes, when I opened Tantarantana in 2001 the area was almost a ghetto. Today it’s a neighbourhood with a lot of atmosphere and some very interesting places to eat. I can say that the San Telmo Group opened the first one there. When we opened El Canalla in Sarrià there weren’t many other places to go in the area, and in just a few years it has become a classic in the neighbourhood. I like finding unusual places with character to be able to serve a high quality menu in an incomparable but unpretentious setting. I think that places must be honest, like the food they serve.
Q: What are your rules when you are creating a menu for a restaurant?
A: The cuisine, based on Mediterranean cuisine, must be simple, honest and high quality. If a dish is to work, the product has to be the real star. I like working with small producers, local ones whenever possible, and they are selected carefully. Furthermore, in the Group we try to ensure that all the products we offer have been cultivated or marketed based on respect.
Q: What is your favourite dish in each of the San Telmo Group restaurants?
A: At the Cafe San Telmo, the Cuban style rice because it reminds me of my grandmother; the escalivada at El Canalla, which is cooked over charcoal, and has an old style flavour, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find something like that; at Tantarantana, the scrambled eggs with foie paté and Pedro Ximénez wine, because they are legendary and we’ve been making them for 15 years, they’re a total classic! At Palosanto. the pork cheek is cooked for 36 hours at a low temperature… which makes it simply delicious and unique; At Big Kokka the chaufa fried rice – this Nikkei version of the Chinese classic is very good; and at Kokka, the chicken maki and the butterfish nigiri with anticucho – pure fusion!
Q: When you’re not in any of the group’s restaurants, where can we find you?
A: My favourite restaurants in Barcelona are Estimar (Sant Antoni dels Sombrerers, 3), Els Pescadors (Plaça de Prim, 1), Shanghai (C/Bisbe Sivilla, 48) and Yamadori (C/Aribau, 68). At breakfast time you can find me at Las Pirenaicas (C/Muntaner, 460) or at Dole (C/Manuel de Falla, 16).