Melvin Valentine & David Mulero, owners and head chef
You used to be a pop up - what made you make the move to something more permanent?
Melvin: We really wanted a restaurant to begin with, but it's quite expensive to set up. So at that time the only option we had was to hire a cheap church hall – St Mark's in Dalston – and started like that. We're partners here and boyfriends and we always liked to cook dinner or barbecues for our friends and I worked in events and I just thought “let's do a big dinner party for friends” so I thought of the name and started up the nights.
Where does the name come from?
M: It actually comes from this picture here [points to a picture of, obviously, a black pig wearing white pearls]. We got it from India, when we were travelling over there.
I thought it might be some sort of Spanish proverb or old wives' tale.
David: Well it actually fits in with the pig that we use in the restaurant, a black Iberico pig from Extremadura, where most of the food for here comes from. It's funny, Iberico pig used to be the one that no-one ate and now it's the most popular sort of meat.
Did it used to be a peasant food?
D: Yes, and it only used to be used for hams. Then they realised the other cuts like fillets and other things were delicious too.
You seemed to come along at just the right time with some great Spanish cooking – tapas can get a bit of a bad rap in England as it's sometimes it's a pretty shoddy comparison to what you actually find in Spain.
D: Yeah, our pop-up was very traditional, but sometimes we wouldn't have the quantity of the specialist food we wanted, but we'd still serve it. Like the Iberico pork cheeks, we'd receive just a little bit exclusively for us and it was only enough for 70 people and we didn't get to try a lot of it. Now you can see with the recession in Spain and because now it's very trendy to eat well in London, people have knowledge and now you see suppliers coming here to offer better quality ingredients. We actually import all our meats – including the baby lamb, which you can't really find here, from Northern Spain – and the Iberico and cheeses – all from a beautiful small, family factory where they milk the cows and sheep for the cheese – from Extremadura.
Did you grow up there with all of this around you?
D: Yes, all from where I grew up all around the region.
Were you always in to cooking?
D: Yes, my whole family is in the industry. They own restaurants and bars in Badajoz.
Were they keen for you to follow in their footsteps?
D: It was just something that happened.
M: We've been together for eight years and ever since I've known him, he just wants to cook. For friends coming round...
And before you opened the restaurant did you get to make a food odyssey back home?
D: Yes, I drove miles and miles in the car. From Monday to Friday we drove through small villages because they produce more authentic and better food. Everything there is the most traditional way to make it.
That's the thing that really shines through in your food here, it's really authentic.
D: The first time we went to the place where we get the Iberico from, they are a small place where they do everything – from growing the pigs to killing them. They send the meat to us every two weeks. That's how we started – we're going to keep going in that way. The feedback from the customer sometimes is that we're slightly highly priced, but that's because of the quality of the ingredients, it's worth it. Plus we're importing it all for just this one restaurant, we're not a chain.
What about the recipes you use here, are they all family recipes?
D: They're normally family recipes, but here in our kitchen we actually don't use that many spices, we only use a few herbs.
Spanish food doesn't have that many herbs and spices in it though anyway – it's like the flavours of the ingredients should shine through, right?
D: Yes, they don't use that much apart from maybe marinating the meat. We keep things simple. We're more about the flavour of the meat, rather than other things you're putting in.
So it seems fairly obvious that the signature dish of the restaurant is the Iberico pork?
M: Yes, but also the lamb too. Whenever anyone orders it in the restaurant and it's taken to their table, it sets a trend off and everyone wants it. It's something we have on the menu every day.
D: Customers might not always have a picture of what they will be eating from the menu when they order, if you're hungry, you're probably going to go with what you recognise. But if you can see it before, you're more likely to try it.
Are there any traditional Spanish dishes that haven't worked?
D: No, most things have worked well here.
M: I wondered how the morcilla [black pudding] would go down when we put it on the menu, but people love it. It surprises me.
D: We had a spicy black pudding, the typical morcilla comes from the north and it's really spicy, properly chilli and we served it with almonds and like a sweet pepper marmalade. We change it all the time. We're very lucky with the customers here, they want to try new things.
M: They always want to try the specials.
Where do you like to eat when you're not here?
D: Melvin goes out more than me. When I'm not cooking in the kitchen I like to eat something very simple like soup.
M: Jones & Sons we always have a really nice meal at. I go back quite a bit there.
D: I like Dishoom right by Shoreditch House.
M: Oh and Casa Negra too.
D: I don't think I have a favourite restaurant in London. I do in Barcelona, though. It's called La Brasserie and the chef used to work in El Bulli. It's a Catalan and French and it's shockingly good. It's a tasting menu, 12 dishes where you don't know what you're getting. It's very small, only six tables.
Who cooks when you're at home?
But he's been in the kitchen all day!
M: He's made me that way! I used to love cooking but he's always watching over me like “oh you're not doing that right.”
A backseat chef?
M: I do enjoy cooking, just not when David's around. I'll cook for my friends, but not when he's there because he critiques it!
D: But he is a really good cook. But it's hard not to stand there and be like “I think you need a litle more salt...”
Last meal on earth?
D: I don't know – I love everything! I think pork cheek and pulpo. Oh and lamb!
M: I'd have pulpo and lamb.