Meet the owners
Inspired by Spain’s historic markets and restaurants, Mercado Central in Cambridge offers top quality seasonal produce cooked with authentic Iberian flavours, as owner Mark Hughes explains
What inspired you to launch Mercado Central in 2019?
I lived in Madrid for 20 years, where I owned various bars, so learnt a lot about authentic Spanish food. The other owners are my twin brother Lee, who lives in Cambridge, Dani Duran and Gaizka Mendieta. Dani is from Galicia and owns Pata Negra Spanish Food, supplying amazing produce to top restaurants in London. He wanted somewhere in Cambridge to enjoy his produce, as we are very much produce-driven. So, Dani had the food, I’ve got the experience of setting up businesses and then Lee came in to invest alongside Gaizka, who used to play football for Valencia and Barcelona and has invested in London restaurants as well.
Tell us about the ethos of Mercado Central?
The idea is that Mercado Central, which means Central Market, is all about fantastic produce. We do buy British, but also Spanish produce that doesn’t exist in the UK. So, all our fish comes daily from Cornwall and is served super fresh, whatever the catch is. We get Cornish monkfish, lemon sole, and wild seabass, which tastes unbelievable. Our beef is British or Irish and grassfed so will come in from areas like Ayrshire, Yorkshire, Wexford or Norfolk. Our beef is hung in a Himalayan salt chamber which helps to dry the meat and enhances the flavour. The important point is we only source from smallholdings, where the animals are really looked after properly.
Which produce do you source from Spain?
Our Iberico pork comes from Spain; Dani has suppliers in Salamanca and we actually choose our own pigs so we know the quality. The Iberico pigs forage in the wild and are acorn-fed.
The octopus we use is from Galicia – from the Rias Altas – and it’s known to be the best octopus in the world because of the climate out there. We also get razor clams and queen scallops from saltwater estuaries in Galicia, where they feast on great plant life, making for really sweet flavoured seafood.
We buy British fruit and vegetables when in season but will import from Spain where that isn’t possible. So, for example we always have a tomato salad dish on the menu; it’s really simple – just tomatoes, fantastic Arbequina olive oil and salt. In January we start that with blue tomatoes from the South of Spain from around Granada, then as the year goes on, we move along the coast to Provence, as that’s where the sun will move, so we follow the sun to get the best quality produce.
What are your signature dishes?
We eat in more of a Northern Spanish way so our restaurant has a lot of sharing plates as opposed to tapas dishes, followed by main courses. Of the starters people really like the Galician octopus which is cooked in a copper pot to make it tender and then crisped up on our Basque charcoal grill and served alongside our Spanish potatoes with Mojo Rojo sauce.
We have a lovely main course of whole Cornish monkfish tails, also cooked on the charcoal grill, which comes with Piperrada, which is confit onion, peppers and fennel.
Another popular dish is our Presa Iberica, the acorn-fed organic Iberico Pork I mentioned, which is served medium rare to best enjoy the scrumptious acorn-infused flavour. Black rice is also popular, created from squid ink.
What kind of customer do you attract?
We are here to cater to people who really understand and appreciate good food. It’s very authentic, top quality produce, served in an informal way. The wine list is unique too and we bring many of our wines over from Spain. It’s been a tricky start as we launched in December 2019, were open for just over three months then closed with the lockdown, before reopening in May 2021. The good news is that from September, we’re open six days a week, for evenings, and will be offering a fantastic set lunch menu on those days too.
Mercado Central is at 24 Green Street, Cambridge. Visit mercadocentral.co.uk
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