I firmly believe that you learn something new every day. The day, several years ago, when our friend Pepe Monfort invited us for a gin and tonic at The Ginger Loft was no exception. It was a lovely evening and we chose an outside table. We were soon approached by Santi Noce, waiter and mixologist extraordinare. I ordered a Tanqueray and Tonic. Santi very kindly informed me that they only had very exceptional gins, some sixty brands, and simple Tanqueray was not one of them. I am a big fan of gin and tonics but had no idea of the range of choices that existed. Santi then asked if I liked my gin dry, floral, botanical or with a hint of citrus. I settled on a Tanqueray Rangpur and was soon served the best gin and tonic I had ever had. This was the first of many wonderful cocktails I was to enjoy over the next few years. As we headed home, Pepe mentioned that it was also a great place to eat. We returned a few days later and were not disappointed. We have been eating there nearly every week since then.
So, it only seemed right that I should learn a bit more about Santi Nose, from Peru and Mike Gray, from Scotland and how they ended up with a delightful restaurant with an Asian flair in Valencia Spain
I met Mike at the restaurant as he arrived from the Mercado Central with the day’s meat and vegetables. We chatted as he set up the work area and checked all his equipment. The “kitchen,” if you could call it that, is a very small workspace behind the bar with a convection oven, induction plate and two small burners. It amazes me what Mike can produce with such limited equipment.
Mike, who grew up in the kitchens of restaurants where his mom worked as a waitress, says he knew he wanted to cook from early age. In spite of his parents’ attempt to convince him to follow other career paths, Mike was clear about what he wanted to do. He took a year of general culinary training at Aberdeen Technical College. This was followed by 2 years of more intensive classical culinary training with a emphasis on French cooking. He also took additional courses in the business side of running a restaurant. He began his career cooking for a small privately owned hotel group, working in the smaller of the 3 that had a fine dining restaurant. When they opened a small Country House Hotel, Mike moved there, later working in various restaurants throughout the UK. He spent 3 years a the famous London French restaurant, L’Escargot .
For Mike, things had gotten a bit repetitive and he decided to go back to school and go into food manufacturing. He spent 2 years as a development chef and 2 more year in processing for a large multi-national company. Mike described food processing as “attempting to make massive quantities of food that taste like it came out of your grandmother’s little sauce pan. “
A friend ,working in Japan at an English Garden in Nagano, encouraged Mike to come to Japan . A Modern British Café featuring “restaurant style” plated pastry was opened next to a department store carrying a line of English design clothing . Mike had just the skill set they needed and he soon found himself in Japan. After a one and a half years, Mike took a position at an American Restaurant in Tokyo where he remained for two and a half years.
Santi, with a Peruvian mother and Japanese father, followed a different route. His studies were in fashion design. A family move to Japan did not offer him an opportunity to continue in fashion and he found himself working in a car factory in Nagoya. It was in Nagoya where Mike and Santi crossed paths. It was at Mike’s suggestion that Santi applied for work at the Aichi Expo 2005 as they were looking for someone who spoke English, Spanish and Japanese. Santi was fluent in all three. After an initial rejection, Santi was offered a job where he continued until he moved to Tokyo.
In Tokyo, Santi took a job at a Latin restaurant that he describes as “the worst job of my life.” He later accepted a position at the restaurant where Mike worked, beginning as a busser, then server and then host. Always curious and asking questions, Santi spent time “shadowing” the bartender. When the restaurant needed a bartender, Santi was asked to step in. Never one to pass up a new opportunity, Santi said “yes.”
One evening a regular customer who worked in PR at the Four Seasons Hotel gave him his card and suggested he come work for the hotel. He was offered the job. When he told his boss at the restaurant, she made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – more money, more hours and a promotion to Assistant Manager. While working in the restaurant, Santi began to work at Ralph Lauren as a personal shopper and sales assistant. This eventually led to a full time job at Ralph Lauren.
After several years in Japan both Mike and Santi felt it was time for a change. They settled on Spain because at least one of them spoke the language of the country. A friend at the Spanish Embassy encouraged them to consider Valencia. After three visits the decision was made and The Ginger Loft was born.
The food is fresh, well seasoned and the tastes are authentic. Mike even makes his own English Muffins for the Eggs Benedict for Sunday Brunch – a treat you shouldn’t miss if you are in Valencia.The soups vary according to the season and are always a wonderful way to start your meal.
When I asked Mike how they had arrived at this concept, he said, “The stuff we do here is what we like. We love Asian décor, good cocktails and Asian flavors and spices.¨ The good news is that their customers love it too.
As Mike and I finished the interview, my husband and I decided to stay for lunch. I asked for the apple, carrot and garbanzo soup I had watched Mike make.
Both were perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of heat and absolutely delicious. We lingered over coffee and dessert and then left, feeling, once again, that we’d enjoyed a great meal with old friends.
¡Aquí se come bien!
the ginger loft
Calle Vitoria #4, by c/san vicente martir and c/moratin, 46002
Valencia, Spain (34) 963 523 243