New Restaurant Review: La Maruja

By Sophie Steiner, October 29, 2019

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The Place

La Maruja, like taitai in Chinese, has a connotation far beyond ‘housewife.’ She is a powerful, influential, glamorous badass that can move mountains with the snap of a perfectly manicured fingernail. Women want to be her, and men want to be with her, making her the perfect entertainer and host. Helmed by Pol Garcia (formerly of El Patio), this restaurant embodies that sentiment. Imported products are the hero of this sexy Spanish hot spot that pays homage to gastronomic market concepts like Mercado San Miguel in Madrid and Mercado La Boqueria in Barcelona.

The Food

There’s a range of tapas starting in the north of Spain from Garcia’s Basque country hometown, San Sebastián. Madrid and Malaga style nibbles represent the central and southern regions. In addition to traditional style tapas, there are also some more whimsical in presentation and flavor. From an appetite-whetting set of cubed Manchego cheese, aged to varying degrees in aromatic olive oil to the last lick of souffle-like savory cheesecake dessert, the meal was full of excitement.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

It is appropriate to start with the Pintxo Gilda (RMB48), which helped put San Sebastián on the culinary map. La Maruja adds their own spin on the briny combination of anchovies threaded through green olives and paired with pickled hot peppers by serving it in a creamy anchovy mayo that we’d totally bottle and carry everywhere if it was socially acceptable.

The refreshingly light El Gazpachito (RMB38), featuring glistening spheres of watermelon for sweetness, serves as an ideal palette cleanser for the richer food to come. Next up, the presentation of the Tortilla de Pulpo a la Gallega (RMB68) is exquisite, but we can’t say the addition of chewy octopus is welcome.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

In contrast, Las Bombas de la Barceloneta (RMB58) lives up to its flavor bomb name in both appearance and taste. There’s nothing to dislike about crispy globes of fried creamy potato and Iberico ham. Tangy tomato sauce and more of that addictive garlic mayo make this next-level delicious.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Take a good dish and make it better by ordering the Huevos Estrellados (RMB58) with Iberico Ham (RMB20). The result is a layered plate of gluttony starting with sweet, earthy, nutty Jamon Iberico with fat that melts like butter piled onto crispy, thin French fries and a perfectly fried egg with crisp edges and runny yolk. At the very bottom, sweet onion jam serves to balance the saltiness of the other components.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The textural contrast between the deep-fried squid legs and pan-fried squid heads in the Txipirones Pelayo (RMB78), together with the color juxtaposition of the black squid ink aioli and white mayonnaise, makes this eye-catching dish noteworthy.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Spain isn’t known for overly sugary desserts, so the slightly savory La Tarta de Queso de la Maruja (RMB48) makes sense. Sharp buttery Mahon mixed with cream cheese produces a fluffy, light cheesecake that matches the accompanying scoop of raisin and Malaga-infused ice cream with a hint of honey. 

Food Verdict: 2.5/3

The Vibe

The most famous Maruja of all time, the late ebullient Spanish actress Marujita Díaz, presides over the restaurant from a full wall display. Her vivacious smile and an eclectic mix of popular songs redone in retro jazzy style a la Postmodern Jukebox encouraged us to order up Lolea sparkling sangrias before we even sat down. The bar and patio are often busy in the evenings, as exploding laughter alternates with rapid-fire Spanish chitchat, rivaling the volume of the music. If Spanish had a similar word for renao, it would perfectly describe the lively atmosphere of La Maruja. 

Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2

Total Verdict: 4/5

Price: RMB200-400 per person
Who’s going: Spaniards, curious locals and other tapas lovers
Good for: Spanish food cravings, casual cocktails, patio catch-up sessions

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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See a listing for La Maruja. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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