One of London’s most hotly anticipated restaurants opened just off Regent Street in central London, in February. Nieves Barragan Mohacho, among the most talented of Spanish chefs cooking in the city, made her solo debut together with business partner José Etura and JKS Restaurants. Sabor — a restaurant that wants to showcase Spain’s regional culinary diversity — marks Barragan Mohacho’s return to the London restaurant industry; her first project since leaving Spanish city favourite Barrafina at the start of 2017, and, now, her second Michelin-starred restaurant.
Eater London caught up with the chef and was given a first look around the new restaurant, situated on a cut-through to Heddon Street, a quiet nook on the edge of the city’s busiest shopping district.
This project took Barragan Mohacho and Etura just under twelve months to plan, and has included a number of trips to different regions in Spain. In essence, it is a combination of the Spanish north and north west, south east and central region — Galicia, the Basque country, Andalusia and Madrid “We wanted to try and bring Spain to London,” Barragan Mohacho says. “It’s a dream come true.”
Although Spanish cuisine is arguably one of London’s strongest culinary suits, the duo felt that there was space in the city for a bar and restaurant that worked harder to show Spanish food above and beyond tapas; a restaurant that did not necessarily just one locale. “We always wanted to open something in London, so we would go to Spain, see the places and think ‘one restaurant’ [that showcased the cuisine] from all of the different regions — it has always been a dream.”
This restaurant is not about translating Spanish cuisine according to its London context; it is about cooking and presenting the food in precisely the style it is enjoyed in Spain. And so to Galicia — “Our octopus is presented the way it should be” in vast copper pots which — like much of the equipment and decor at Sabor — have been imported from Spain.
The Heddon Street site is perhaps the only question mark hanging over the new restaurant. Although it is in close proximity to major footfall, it is set back from the main drag. Asked why they selected it, Barragan Mohacho says there was never any doubt. “It was first site we saw. It wasn’t too big, not too small and that was very important in allowing us to look after customers We never wanted to have a huge restaurant.” But everything about the site — from the split levels, open brick and columns down the middle — drew a reaction that signalled it was right. “We were like ‘wow,’ we got goosebumps. We said ‘that’s it, that’s what we’re looking for.’”
At the bar, there are proper, Basque coupes of gin and tonic. Vermouth on tap is just one variety on a list curated by Etura, plus a wide selection of sherries, inspired by Barragan Mohacho’s love of Cadiz and Jerez, in the far south of Spain.
Upstairs, in the asador, there is a custom built stone convection oven, for suckling pigs and lamb, in line with the specific preparation in the central region of Spain. It is these, together with the octopus, that are the restaurant’s showpiece. “We believe in what we’re doing and we believe London is ready to understand more about Spanish food. It is so diverse, from the north, south, west to east it is so different,” she said, confidently.
The restaurant is exclusively open plan and a big part of the experience at Sabor is the interaction of the chefs and the customers, as it always was for Barragan Mohacho and her chefs at Barrafina. She said, “We’ve got nothing to hide. Everything is visible. This will be a very friendly place.
She then went to on to emphasise what it means to her and Etura. “We have put so much effort and love in this place. I hope people understand what we’ve done.” Ultimately, “what we’re looking for is for people come to Sabor have fun and a good time. This place is based on many of the team’s favourite places in Spain.
“We are bringing those to Sabor, we want to bring that to London.”