Arahy: Rajoy, magic and tuna

- Chefs

A logbook by Sensei Hiroshi Umi.

For a mere observer and man of measured words like me, with my Japanese minimalism, for someone to speak in torrents to express themselves, to tear open their apron or shirt, verbalise their enthusiasm and leave (almost) nothing within, is a journalistic blessing. And so my encounter with José Mundi Ynglada proved doubly delicious.

The visceral way he views life blends with an all-consuming vocation and a gleam in his eye which sparkles as he bustles around the kitchen. All of which is further heightened if he has brought our beloved tuna to the restaurant. His totem. His cornerstone. His monolith.

Passion for bluefin tuna

At Arahy –in the shadow of, ‘look, look, the Puerta de Alcalá’, I always channel Ana Belén between Serrano and Cibeles– Mundy has created a refuge and workshop where this great exponent of the Scombridae is honoured. And sublimed. With respect.

Fuentes delivers it daily. Perfectly fresh. With its blushing appearance, always smiling and crowned with a look the colour of a big kid’s paddling pool. The tuna that arrives is left open for 8 hours in a cold store at 4 degrees, to oxygenate, stripped of the darkest flesh of the tuna’s musculature, so as not to stain it. The miracle occurs. The dark meat turns from brown to black; the flesh from brown to red. Eureka.

Tuna flows through my veins. This restaurant was set up to study it. We have an R&D department and work with the Complutense University on research, maturation, how the animal behaves, perfecting the produce… All for its meat. Wonderful,” he unfolds as he orders a coffee and privately deals with a call for a “table-for-four-on-Saturday-right-that’s-fine-perfect-madam”.

Arahy and celebrities

According to the Internet reviews, Arahy now unexpectedly boasts a recommendation from, shall we say, a political tour guide. It turns out that the former Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, braced himself here for the trials of the vote of no confidence, the to and fro of those tense days of betrayals, ayes and noes. “They locked themselves away in that private room. They came every Wednesday“, comes the interjection. Apparently they normally ordered tuna. I can think of no better way to give up the blue benches for the red seats of opposition than by polishing off a blue fish… that is red inside.

Rajoy’s culinary preferences are today followed by other dignitaries. The venue is frequented by members of the old guard of the PSOE party, the Supreme Court, the highest-ranking police officers, celebrities of all tiers… They order peas from El Maresme, anchovies from Santander, terrines of foie gras, creamy croquettes, pale sirloins or perfumed artichokes. And above all else, diced, spicy bluefin tuna, with wakame and chipotle (hugely intense, a well-served ornament), strips of the same fish, served raw with truffle, soya and arbequina olive oil (charter a whole boat for me, Mr Ynglada), tatakis with truffle mayonnaise, or bluefin tuna simply caramelised on the griddle like a chewy sweet. Every day 55 kilos of Fuentes tuna passes through this door, formerly the gateway to the legendary Club 31. Quite some produce, you might say.

When I left Cuba

Following on from that political interregnum, there is no end to the frenzy. It has been channelled. And transformed. With tuna always orbiting the chef’s head. One can almost see the ideas simmering away in the grey matter of this Cuban of Spanish parentage (the mother from Asturias, the father from Catalonia), who left for the Caribbean when Fidel was still scheming his revolution.

Just as tourism was booming on the island, Mundi made the journey back to his roots. It was back in 93. He landed in Barajas airport, hand-in-hand with another Cuban, also of Spanish parentage, who lived two blocks from his home in Havana. Arahy by name, she was Mundi’s witness and crutch on his journey via the restaurant Lúculo and another legendary venue, El Mentidero de la Villa. Arahy has given him both two daughters, now of student age, and the name and raison d’être of the restaurant where her husband’s dreams find a home.

Magic Proyect

She is the boss. She keeps my feet on the ground. Because I like thinking up big projects. Like the Magic Project that we are about to launch. I’ll explain. Arahy was founded to study tuna. Simple as that. Everyone knows that from Rajoy to the very last of our customers. You come here to eat tuna. The rest is superfluous. And so the Magic project started out that way. I went off to Fuentes and saw a tuna being butchered on board a freezer ship. I left the restaurant and headed for Cartagena. And there the project came to me, crystal-clear. I said to them: I need a reliable supplier who won’t ever let me down on quality, because I will be producing trays of tiradito and picante (a really, really red meat, closer to the spine of the tuna), heat-sealed at three degrees, and that can be sold worldwide with a shelf-life of 72 hours. And at no more than seven euros per 100 grammes. Whether you open the packet here or in Singapore, when you taste it you will be in heaven. We will be jumping off a 200 kilometre high cliff. But that is the only way to see God“.

To this distinctive divinity which will soon see the commercial light of day, Mundi adds a sauce with 17 ingredients in secret doses. Soy, kimchi, olive oil, wasabe, lime, chipotle, sesame seeds… It is not for me to wish luck to someone who works so hard and who has forged a hugely personal path, as independent as it is thankful.

There is a proverb in my country that “you cannot get clams from a field”. But with Mundi you can imagine Havana’s Malecón seafront alongside the lake of El Retiro in Madrid. And that from the gateway of the Puerta de Alcalá, trays of celestial bluefin tuna will head in procession all the way to Timbuktu.

Hiroshi Umi