Vicky Andrews meets Mr Paella, the chef bringing authentic Spanish food to Liverpool
VALENCIA, brave and strong. Famous for its glorious sunshine, delicious paella and world-class football. Our two cities might be more than a thousand miles apart, but now one talented chef has brought the authentic flavours of his Spanish home to Liverpool.
I cooked for my brother when he played for Liverpool. And then I started to cook for Coutinho, Suárez and Pepe Reina.
“Mr Paella” - aka Andres Sanchez Diaz - might not be able to guarantee the Valencian weather, but he definitely knows his food. Andres is owner and head chef at Esto es España on Hope Street, a new restaurant in the Georgian Quarter serving traditional Spanish food in a beautiful setting.
Valencia is the original home of paella (a Valencian word that means “frying pan”) and Spanish locals have enjoyed it in one form or another for centuries. Andres’ paella is a family recipe passed down from his father and grandfather - but it wasn’t always his intention to become a professional chef.
Nearly a decade ago, Andres packed his bags and moved to Liverpool. The reason? Football. Andres’ brother is Jose Enrique, the legendary Liverpool FC player.
Starting his career with Levante, Enrique was signed by Valencia and made La Liga appearances for Celta and Villarreal. He then spent nine years in England, first with Newcastle, before joining Liverpool in 2011 where he made 99 appearances during a five-year spell.
Enrique was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2018 after retiring from football but has since made a full recovery and now appears as a pundit for various media channels.
“Liverpool number three”, says Andres proudly when asked about Enrique.
“When I came here to live, I cooked for my brother when he played for Liverpool. I cooked for him all the time. And then I started to cook for Coutinho, Suárez and Pepe Reina.
“After that they all wanted me to cook for them. They told me I was really good.
“I don’t think I’m really good, I only follow my dad and mum’s rules! All the recipes we do here are from my family. Everything is homemade.”
After establishing his own successful business in Liverpool as Mr Paella, Andres became a partner at Esto es España where he is now executive head chef.
He says that a lot of Spanish people visit his restaurant, but most of his customers are English. Spanish cooking varies from region to region, but Andres sticks to his family recipes as much as possible, sourcing the best ingredients like Spanish saffron, paprika, chicken thigh (never breast in paella), seafood, Iberian ham and chorizo. Back in his hometown, Andres won paella cook-offs with his father.
Valencians celebrate “Fallas” in spring every year, a traditional celebration in commemoration of Saint Joseph. From 1 - 19 March, the streets are filled with music, art, performance and plenty of paella.
In Valencia, everyone knows what the perfect paella should taste like and now Andres uses the same family recipe at Esto es España.
As we’re tucking into an immense pan of paella de pollo y chorizo, Andres tells us that the crispy bottom of a paella (socarrat) is one of the most important parts of the flavour - the rice at the bottom should become toasted and caramelised when it’s cooking.
Esto es España specialises in paella but also serves classic Spanish tapas dishes including pincho de tortilla, gambas pil pil, Galician style octopus and albondigas (Spanish meatballs.)
Chorizo a la sidre is slow cooked in chilli and cider, while chorizo al infierno is a spicier sausage that's flambeed in wine. Pollo al ajillo is a dish of classic Spanish garlic chicken cooked on the stove. There are five different types of croquetas, as well as empanadas and Spanish meat and cheese platters. From the drinks menu, there is sangria - naturally - as well as Spanish vermouth, cava, beers, wines and cocktails.
Everything about Esto es Espana evokes the feel of a real Spanish taberna - the food, the drink, the atmosphere. Every Friday and Saturday evening the restaurant hosts traditional flamenco accompanied by the unmistakable sound of the Spanish guitar.
It’s a sociable and laid-back way of eating together that’s great for groups and families, but a place where you can also grab a cosy booth and hide away from the world.
What does Andres’ family back home in Spain think of his life as a chef?
“They love it. My brother comes to see me here and he works with the LFC Foundation, who come to the restaurant quite a lot.”
Andres is very proud of his Spanish cooking, but what’s his favourite food?
“All of it, I’m a fat bastard, I eat everything!” he laughs.
“But for me, paella for sure. Paella is me, it’s my family. It’s my dad. He won a lot of awards in Valencia and was number one for a long, long time. I do it like him - and it’s delicious.”
Esto es España. This is Spain.
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