By Manveen Maan
Renowned chef Cristian Correa is a true blue Chilean – and wants to bring the essence of his country to every dish he prepares. Having set up Mulato earlier this year, Correa's restaurant is in a more bohemian area of Santiago, surrounded by quirky boutiques and book stores, and cobblestoned streets that take you back to another era.
|Mulato offers both indoor and outdoor seating|
The concept behind the restaurant is a simple one – to create a truly authentic meal by obtaining ingredients from the nearby markets. By creating a dynamic and inventive menu, Correa's genius in the kitchen is cemented by the number of regulars who keep returning for good food, and outstanding Chilean wines.
My love for all things spicy was common knowledge by the time we arrived at Mulato, so it was no surprise that the first dish on the table was a fiery concoction of merken (Chilean smoked chilli), olive oil, garlic and cilantro, sitting prettily in a pestle and mortar, in place of the usual pebre (a spicy Chilean salsa) found in almost all Chilean diners. We dunked soft chunks of bread into the chilli, and the Asian in me was reluctant to admit that I had begun to feel the heat from all the flavoursome spices!
Having bought all the ingredients for lunch from the Mercado Central and La Vega markets earlier that day, I had a fair idea as to what we would be eating. What I was not prepared for however, was the sheer complexity of flavours that would come out of this ingenious chef's kitchen.
We started off with a rather unique dish - sea urchin in green salsa. Sea urchin is a common dish in Chile and despite the strange sounding combination, this appetizer was out of this world. Soaked in lime, coriander, and the ever famous Chilean pisco, with chopped tomatoes and a hint of chilli, the slightly sour and sharp flavours combined perfectly for a deliciously light starter.
Next up were the grilled scallops covered with a thin layer of creamy cheese. I had never had scallops with cheese before, and found that the thin but delectable layer just across the top, struck the right balance with this fleshier sea creature.
After washing down the flavours with some delightful Cefiro Chardonnay (from the famed Casablanca Valley in the wine region of Valparaiso), I prepped myself for the much anticipated picorocos, or giant barnacle soup.
Adding a spoonful of the “pebre on crack” (my new nickname for the merken chilli mixture), the warm and spicy broth was enough to bring my winter-battered body to life again! Having the freshest Pacific shellfish in the mix was definitely an advantage, making me wish I had access to this goodness all year round. An outstanding wintry soup choice if there ever was one!
Quinoa is a staple food in Chile, and grown extensively throughout the country. As a healthier substitute for rice, it's gained a huge following around the world for its health benefits. Correa cleverly devised a quinoa risotto with a layer of organic olives (a product of Chile's Azapa Valley) and a hint of huacatay (a strong, aromatic Andean herb, sometimes called 'Peruvian black mint'), topped with a perfectly seared piece of crispy conger eel. Absolutely divine!
|Quinoa risotto with conger eel|
Just when I thought I couldn't fit anymore in, the pièce de résistance arrived. Quite possibly the best dessert I've ever had, Correa puts a modern spin on a traditional cheesecake recipe invented by his grandmother, by using goat's cheese and adding raspberries and quince. The mix of creamy, cheesy flavours and sweet, fruity tastes raised the dessert bar to unprecedented heights. My only problem now is finding a worthy substitute on this side of the world, to match the excellence of this phenomenal dish!
Immensely unique, passionately inventive, and refreshingly down-to-earth, Mulato is the perfect spot to sample Santiago’s outstanding local fare in a relaxed and refined setting. Trust me, the long flight is worth your while.
Jose Victorino Lastarria 305-307,
+56 2 2638 4931