Ana Cortes Garcia has over 20 years of culinary experience, working at hotels, fine dining restaurants and events with thousands of guests. She spent eight years of her gastronomic career in her motherland, Spain, before living in London for five years to further her skills, learning different business models and cooking styles.
Today, she’s the head chef at Beso, a Spanish tapas restaurant that opened in September. Located on the corner of Spencer Street and Flinders Lane in Melbourne, it features floor-to-ceiling windows, leather banquettes and an illuminated marble bar.
Cortes Garcia, who is the former head chef of two-hatted Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne, says she took on the gig at Beso because it allowed her to express her take on Spanish food and cooking style.
“At Beso, we represent the gastronomy and vivacious lifestyle of Spanish tapas culture,” says Cortes Garcias. “We recently changed our floor plan layout, creating a Spanish-style bar right in front of our open kitchen. It’s a pretty and unusual spot to enjoy a drink with some tapas, overlooking our open kitchen.”
Beso’s menu and wine list work closely with local producers, sourcing Spanish produce and pairing Victorian and Spanish wines to match the meals. Much inspiration was found in traditional Andalusian cuisine, which Cortes Garcia grew up eating and is the type of cuisine she loves the most.
“I’m pretty lucky to say that what’s on the menu is literally what I like to eat and how I like to eat it,” she says.
If she were pressed to pick her favourite dish on the menu, though, she says it would be the grilled mandarin and radicchio with ajoblanco. The bread is toasted and rubbed with a clove of garlic. It’s then drizzled with olive oil and presented with a mandarin. This flavour combination is Cortes Garcias’ usual late-night snack and sometimes even her breakfast.
“At Best, we grill the mandarins whole, unpeeled straight on the flames, which make it plump with extremely juicy segments that we carve by order, and warm up with slow-grilled radicchio dressed with olive oil and oloroso or cava vinegar,” she says. “This is all dress with ajoblanco, an ice-cold almond and garlic soup.”
For dessert, she’d recommend the tocino the cielo and orange blossoms caramel, which she says is a silky treat with its origin the resulting byproduct of clarifying sherry wine.
As for when to visit Beso, Cortes Garcia says peak hour is usually at 7:30 pm daily when the room is filled with first diners having their dessert and new orders are coming in. She recommends you start with grilled sourdough and charred aioli, as well as pork jowl chicarrones, a cold cut rolled in homemade picos – crispy breadsticks – with a kick of desert lime togarashi.
Cortes Garcia also recommends trying the grilled golden kiwi with thinly sliced paleta Iberica, which is the shoulder of cured and air-dried Iberian pigs, and the creamy ensaladilla with regana and Olasagasti anchovy, a simple, yet tasty creamy potato salad served with house-made bread crackers with sesame and fennel seeds and Mount Zero olive oil that matches well with the anchovies.
To drink, try the Beso Bask cocktail, inspired by a traditional highball called Vargas and made with red wine lemon syrup and red Vermouth. Wine-wise, a glass of Priorat works well with the grilled mandarin dish. And if you’re having the grilled hangar steak, order a tempranillo.