Gonzalo and Macarena at their restaurant JAPO y algo mas.

04-02-2017Humphrey Carter

Born in Madrid, Macarena and her brother Gonzalo were whisked off at an early age to Mexico. This is where Gonzalo fell in love with Mexican food, but it would not be until many years later that he would be cooking it for a paying public.

Both returned to Madrid and landed at the outbreak of the famous La Movida Madrileña - a counter-cultural movement that took place mainly in Madrid during the Spanish transition after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. It represented the resurrection of the economy in Spain and the emergence of a new Spanish identity.

This hedonistic cultural wave was born in Madrid, then appeared in other Spanish cities, such as Barcelona, Bilbao and Vigo. It was characterised by freedom of expression, transgression of the taboos imposed by the Franco regime, use of recreational drugs, the "coming out" of the Madrilenian cheli and the "pasota" dialect and a new spirit of freedom on the streets.

They both began working in some of the best and most famous bars and clubs learning from the "old school." "We were both very lucky, we learnt how to tend bars and look after clients from the very best, and the old way; every detail was taken care of . We were constantly looking out for the welfare and comfort of our clients," Macarena says. "But it was a manic era and eventually we both felt like a change of air."

Gonzalo came to Majorca, where he worked at many of the top bars and restaurants while combining that with his profession as a therapeutic masseur. Macarena headed to London in 1990, aged 25, and immediately landed on her feet working for Nick Jones, the founder of the Soho House Group.

"I was with him for the best part of ten years and he was my mentor. At first I would spend half the year in London and the other half in Madrid, but as I worked my way up the chain for Nick, I never had the time off; I was so busy for the Soho House Group.

"I began at the Café Boheme and was very much front of house, so much so I eventually became manager and was sent to head up a new Café Bohome in Oxford before becoming Nick’s right-hand man (woman) and roaming the country filling in for senior managers at his establishments whenever there were problems or a shortage of staff. But it was extremely hard work and I felt life a change, so I decided to study IT with the aim of taking less front-of-house and managerial work for Nick. Working in the central office, I was able to mix the two, while also perfecting my English."

After a decade with the Soho House Group, she left to work as head of operations and administrations for a new modern Japanese/Korean restaurant Roka in Charlotte Street, before moving to the famous Japanese restaurant Zuma in Knightsbridge where she was operations manager and spent five happy years.

Then she ended up working as general manager with the award-winning Korean chef Judi Joo who opened her first restaurant, Junju, in London. "I loved it. It was a great six years, but more importantly I had obviously become fascinated with and a disciple of Asian food. While I was front of house most of the time, I had been spending a lot of time in the kitchens, watching and learning from these great Asian chefs, in particular Judi Joo, so Gonzalo and I began talking about setting up on our own.

"The experience we had gained over the years was second to none and we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do here in Palma. By the time I came to Palma some 18 months ago, sushi and Asian food was my specialty while Gonzalo brought in a Mexican and Latino touch to our fusion plan."

"First thing we noticed was that many of the fusion outlets and restaurants, even those in the markets, were not honouring the true essence of Asian food, which is to be tasty, fresh and made to order while the client waits," Gonzalo notes.

"We were also surprised by the prices. On many occasions it was cheaper back in London, where the array of different foods from around the world was so diverse; I think more diverse than in any other city in the world. Moreover, the standards back and front of house were much higher, the quality of service better and the level of training and professionalism much higher. And one important thing I learnt from Nick Jones and others was that the client is always right, something which is still rather alien here in Majorca. Plus, apart from the climate, I miss the energy of London." Macarena says.

However, they decided to open an izakaya, a type of informal Japanese gastropub in the centre of Palma in calle Joan de Cremona, just off Jaime III. Called JAPO y Algo Mas, it has been well received.

"Another difference between here and London is that when a new establishment opens, it’s full for the first few weeks or months and then trade may tail off. Here it’s the opposite. Things start slowly and you have to gradually build up your client base," Gonzalo points out.

"Also, unlike London and other major European cities to a certain extent, many people’s knowledge of Asian food is limited. Yes, more and more fusion restaurants are opening up, but we found that many of the people coming into the bar didn’t really understand the food. They presumed all sushi was raw fish, for example.

"They had no idea about the great soups and other dishes which come out of Asia, so at first we would make the rolls and dishes using ingredients they liked, but we’ve since changed the menu to make it easier for people to understand. And over the past few months, our clientele has grown and people are beginning to understand the food we serve.

We’re not fancy, we don’t worry too much about presentation. It’s all about the flavour, the taste and, of course, being fresh and made to order. I am doing a Mexican day every Wednesday and we’ve added our own take on many dishes using various influences from all over Asia, South America and even Majorca. We’re still experimenting and people are enjoying what we provide."

"OK, the premises are not huge - we’re testing the market before we expand. But we provide food and drink in the bar, we do takeaways and dishes to order which people can collect, be they for a few people or a dinner party. We will be opening a delivery service and opening longer hours soon because such is the demand in the local neighbourhood from residents and offices that Gonzalo often ends up delivering the food himself," Macarena explains.

"All the produce is fresh and everything is homemade and we think we provide good quality at a fair price. And we are on hand to explain what the dishes are and are able to tailor them to what people like or dislike."

And overlooking the interior of the bar is a mural designed by Victor Monigote, a Spanish animator, currently working in China, who was nominated for a Goya (a Bafta) for his work.

Comments

To be able to write a comment, you have to be registered and be logged in.

* Mandatory fields

Lorraine Ure / Hace over 4 years

Sounds wonderful! A great combination of cuisines. Please will you open a branch in Menorca? We are up and coming on the culinary front!! Muy bien venida en nuestra isla.....

+1-

Alfredo García Lora / Hace over 4 years

Congratulations! Interesting story. I hope to have the opportunity to enjoy your food I wish you the best gays. Recive regards from Aguascalientes, Mexico Love you

+2-

Olga / Hace over 4 years

What a great story of entrepreneurship! Macarena and Gonzalo have combined their vast experience with asian and mexican gastronomy into a unique concept with Japo y algo más... something else. Great place to eat in Palma de Mallorca, congratulations!

+2-

Simon Tow / Hace over 4 years

Good luck.

+3-