Five times he played in a Valencia side that put four past Barcelona, and he scored when Los Che inflicted a historic 6-0 defeat on Real Madrid. Throw in a handful of world-class goals, notably in the 1999 Copa del Rey final against Atlético Madrid, and it’s clear why Valencia’s own website lauds Gaizka’s “iconic status”, celebrating his “dishevelled hair, exquisite touch and charismatic leadership”.
Try to pigeonhole him now and you’ll find the Basque as elusive as did any of the players who tried to contain his footballing effervescence for Castellón, Valencia, Lazio, Barcelona, Middlesbrough and Spain. His lifelong passion for music has made him an in-demand DJ, keeping audiences dancing in Ibiza’s summer clubs and the world-renowned Benicàssim International Festival. He’s a Liga ambassador, incisive TV football analyst, regular for the Barça Legends team and a fanatical cyclist. Now, however, he’s reinvented himself again. In style.
Mendieta, with friends and fellow investors, has opened Arros QD – a beautiful restaurant in the heart of London’s West End, dedicated to creating – and educating about – the best paella in Europe. Having sampled, I can promise you it’s exceptional.
Moreover, the new venture is powered by the skills, vision and excellence of multiple-Michelin-starred Spanish chef Quique Dacosta. It’s his award-winning brain behind the conception of just about everything at Arros QD – tastes, aesthetics, the cocktail list, the architecture, the cutlery and the space-age kitchen. Gaizka has been involved, in painstaking detail, across the near four years needed to bring this idea to the boil. So let’s allow him to explain things his way.
“Particularly in the UK, the whole concept of how we understand paella is wrong,” he grimaces. “Sadly, that often stems from what people have experienced in Spain itself, where a bar-restaurant simply emphasises the word ‘paella’ on their menu rather than respecting the original concept of the dish or striving for excellence of taste and texture. Many people are settling for something that’s just rice with added ingredients.”
Most aficionados would consider Valencia the spiritual home of paella, which, by the way, actually refers to the skillet in which the dish is made. Given that some of Dacosta’s Michelin stars are from the same south-eastern region of Spain, and Mendieta spent the most glorious years of his football career there, it’s little wonder the two men preach the gospel evangelically.