Quique Dacosta Interview: "Rice is like a chameleon – it’s such a versatile ingredient"

The three Michelin-starred Valencian chef tells all about his new London opening

Updated on 20 May 2019 • Written By Eamonn Crowe

Quique Dacosta Interview:

Sitting in the grand surrounds of his debut London restaurant ArrosQD, it’s clear that Quique Dacosta has some serious star power. He’s dressed in a tailored white shirt that has his name stitched across the breast pocket and is flanked by an ever-present PR man, as well as constantly being pulled away to partake in photoshoots or cooking demonstrations. Despite his fame in his native Valencia (Dacosta’s eponymous restaurant there has garnered three Michelin stars), many Londoners probably haven’t heard of him.

That will all change when ArrosQD opens, Dacosta’s love letter to paella (‘arros’ translates from Spanish as ‘rice’). The chef hopes to change British perceptions of paella, presenting it in a fine-dining setting.  

The restaurant’s interiors are modelled after an image of paella cooking on a wood-burning stove. The space is dark and moody, yet also cosy – think black, patterned walls paired with burnt orange chairs and brass accents. The chandelier which dangles above the staircase leading up to ArrosQD’s second floor, and is designed to look like a fistful or rice thrown into the air, is particularly striking.

Dacosta will open ArrosQD in early June 2019. We sat down with him to talk Michelin, Brexit and how he plans to make Londoners fall in love with rice.

Why have you decided to open in London at this time?

The process for ArrosQD has taken three years – from initially approaching my business partner, to finding the right location and the right team. For me, opening a restaurant in London was just a matter of time – we found this location seven months ago, and ever since, we’ve been running at full speed to get it completed. Why London? Well, I love this city.

What dishes can we expect at ArrosQD?

Paella is the main thrust of the menu. We have a chef’s counter and an open kitchen so people can watch us cook and paellas are made using wood-burning stoves – we call the aroma the wood produces the ‘invisible ingredient’ of the paella. Everything will be served sharing-style too.  

What drinks go well with paella?

Each paella we make at ArrosQD is different, so we’ll have a wide range of drinks available. For example, if you were trying the version with chicken, rabbit, vegetable and artichokes, I’d recommend pairing it with a white wine.

How do you hope to change the perception of rice as a casual ingredient and show that it can be used in fine dining?

For me, rice is a fine-dining ingredient, but it’s also a popular one. There’s a chef I know that makes paella with gold, but there’s also people in the world who eat rice simply because they have nothing else to eat. Rice is like a chameleon – it’s such a versatile ingredient, and what you want from it, it will give you.

Do you hope to win a Michelin star with ArrosQD?

No, because it’s not my decision. Michelin is a very clever and well-respected guide, and if they eat here and enjoy the food and service, and believe the restaurant deserves a star, that is their decision. ArrosQD is something I want to enjoy and not overthink – it’s a place to eat great food, enjoy the atmosphere and have a nice evening. That’s what it’s all about.  

Are you concerned about how Brexit could affect London restaurants?

The Brexit process started three years ago and still nobody really knows what’s going to happen with it. Obviously, the city needs workers and Brexit won’t just impact restaurants or shops, it will have an effect on the whole country. But until we know exactly what’s happening, it’s hard to know what that impact will be.  

Do you have a favourite restaurant in London?

Every time I come to London, my team’s job is to bring me to as many different restaurants as possible, as there’s so much variety here. Every time I come, I try and visit as many places as possible and always try to go somewhere new. So far, I haven’t revisited a single one – I’m always trying new places.

Do you plan to open more restaurants in London?

I will never finish with London – there are so many things that I could do here. Four years ago, ArrosQD was just a plan and now it’s a reality. In this city, you can do almost anything, so maybe in a few years I’ll open something new, but it’s undecided for now. 

If you died tomorrow, what would be your final meal?

Hopefully I won’t die tomorrow! If that were to happen though, I’d prefer to spend it with family, rather than eating. Maybe I’d cook paella, but I’d make it myself for my family, rather than go to a restaurant.

Can you describe your cooking style in three words?

Cooking is my whole life, so to put it into just three words is difficult. If I had to though, I’d say inquisitive, creative and authentic.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

When I was younger, I never liked to think about what I would be if I wasn’t a chef, as that was always my goal. I’m a cook and I don’t see myself doing anything else. 

ArrosQD opens in early June.

Want to hear from more Michelin-starred chefs? Take a look at our interview with Atul Kochhar.