If you have been rather overdoing the whole avocado thing in the last few years, then you will be relieved to read that in Noor, Paco Morales’ new restaurant in Cordoba – open from March 17 – they are strictly off the menu. And not just avocados: there are no tomatoes, potatoes or peppers either. Hell, there’s not even any chocolate. This all sounded a bit odd to me at first, but it all made sense after I had a chat with Paco Morales at the Madrid Fusión gastronomic conference earlier this year.
Dragging the cuisine of Al Andalus back into the light
He explained that Noor – which means ‘light’ in Arabic – is inspired by Al Andalus (the period of Muslim rule in Spain from the beginning of the eighth to the end of the 15th century). Morales is concentrating on the 10th century, the period of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba, when the city was at the height of its splendour and was one of the most advanced places in the world.
“Having 10th-century Cordoba as the linchpin of the restaurant means of course that we can’t use any produce from the New World. None at all. So we are putting a menu together in Spain without some of the basic ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine – we are using carob instead of chocolate. At a creative level, it is quite a challenge; a bit of a nightmare to start with to be honest. We are devising contemporary dishes based on the recipes of the past. This is a cultural as well as a gastronomic project and it is very complex.”
Morales, who will be 35 this year, was awarded a Michelin star when he ran the restaurant at the Hotel Ferrero in Bocairent in the province of Valencia and was also named Best Young Chef in Spain. He did several stints with Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz in the Basque Country and also spent a season with Ferran Adrià at elBulli in Catalunya. He now oversees Al Trapo, the restaurant at the De Las Letras hotel in Madrid, the Torralbenc hotel in Menorca and the Alacena restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.
It all started for Morales in the family business in Cordoba when he was a teenager
“My father sells 200 roast chickens a day in Cordoba – I started working in the shop 20 years ago. That is my taste memory and is the basis for how my palate has developed over the last two decades. We have a library of flavours in our heads and this is what gives us the ability to create dishes. Memory is very important. You have to have gastronomic memories in order to create a concept.”
Like the family’s roast chicken shop, Noor is in the Cañero neighbourhood of Cordoba, which is a quiet area around 10 minutes from the centre with simple, one-storey houses. “We don’t need to be right in the centre, where the tourists are, as our customers will come to us. I was born in Cañero and am going back my roots.”
Cañero is full of bitter orange trees, which were brought by the Arabs
“We need to give meaning and a sense of place to what we are doing. That is something absolutely fundamental for me as someone from Cordoba, from Andalucia. Noor is not just about recovering the cuisine of Al Andalus; we are also bringing back to the fore materials and crafts that had largely ceased to exist.”
Morales has been researching this rich heritage with the help of renowned gastronomic historian and consultant Rosa Tovar and other experts.
“We are creating an Al Andalus memory bank, to recover all these ingredients and artisan traditions. Not just the cuisine, but also the décor, tableware and the staff uniforms in the restaurant are the result of this research. It even informs the way we serve the food. No one has done this before but it is really interesting. We are planning to publish a few books about different aspects of the creative concept of the restaurant.”
Coriander, cumin and caraway…aubergines, artichokes… pistachios, star anise…
“In our menu, we are trying to filter Andalucian cuisine to get at the true Moorish essence which, in turn, is the legacy of the Mediterranean cultures that came before it, such as the Celts, Tartessians, Phoenicians, Romans and Visigoths. I like mixing the real and the imaginary, history with the contemporary. Noor is our version, our reality, of the magnificence of Al Andalus and all my training and experience has gone into it in some shape or form.”
The wine list – yes, there is one – features bottles from all around the Mediterranean, including some unusual choices from Egypt, Morocco and the Lebanon. There are local wines too, from Montilla-Morales in the province of Cordoba, and a range of interesting sherries, which I suspect will pair very well with some of the dishes on the menu. There are also offers quite a few intriguing non-alcoholic cocktails and teas.
Noor has three menus to choose from (€70, €90 & €130) and has only eight tables – so book well ahead if you fancy going. It’s a pretty good excuse for a jaunt to Cordoba, if you ask me, and an excellent way to slip into the exotic mood of this sensual city.
Noor Restaurant +34 957 101 319, C/ Pablo Ruiz Picasso nº 6 local, 14014 Cordoba