In my previous visits to Madrid, I have always had this impression that this city had such a deep and long-standing history with food. In fact, many of the well known restaurants in Madrid (such as Lhardy, Casa Botin & La Bola) have been around for over a hundred years. It feels like you are stepping back in time when you have a meal as the owners have made every effort to preserve the atmosphere of these restaurants as they were generations ago. In such a city that is in love with preserving the old, and its traditions, particularly in food – is there a place for the new as well?
One big “Claro que si!” I’d say.
Think Ferran Adria, Juan Mari Arzak and Paco Torreblanca to name a few. And then of course, in Madrid one only needs to look no further than restaurants such as Sergi Arola’s Gastro to see how the Madrid cuisine scene is evolving. Sergi Arola worked with Ferran Adria for eight years at El Bulli before moving to Madrid and heading La Broche (he is no longer connected there) and garnering two Michelin stars under his guidance. In 2008 he opened Sergi Arola Gastro in Madrid which has also attained two Michelin stars.
And did I mention that he was a former rock star? In fact, he started working in a restaurant so that he could pay for a guitar!
My hands down favourite dining experience in Madrid was at 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Sergi Arola’s Gastro. His cuisine was definitely cutting edge but at the same time managed to stay respectful to traditional Spanish cuisine. Take for example Sergi’s rendition of the Tortilla Espanola (first picture above), an egg yolk sandwiched between two crisp potato chips and underneath this morsel, a little bit of onion confit jam. Or one of Sergi’s most famous dishes, his patatas bravas. Confit potatoes topped with a spicy tomato and garlic sauce (alioli). They served this along with a very generous portion of banana chips, croquetas, olives and a vegetarian pizza as an amuse bouche.
The dishes at Gastro are inventive, and fun and he isn’t afraid to use ingredients such as mochi for the turbot with baby octopus or borrow techniques from other great chefs. From my conversation with Sara Fort, Sergi’s wife, I found out that one of the restaurant’s dishes was inspired by Tetsuya when they cooked together for a function in Switzerland.
The service, was fantastic as well. All the waitstaff is fluent in English and attentive without being intrusive. I had the pleasure of meeting Sara, the restaurant manager and Sergi’s wife who took us on a tour around the kitchen, the wine cellar, private dining room and bar and at the end of the night gave me one of Sergi’s cookbooks called Cooking is Fun!
There are several degustation menus to choose from at Gastro. You can go all out and get the “Gastro” menu which has 14 dishes and costs EUR 160 (without wine) or go for the Basics menu which costs EUR 105 where you are able to choose several courses from the Gastro menu.
Coming a close second was La Broche Restaurant which has one Michelin star under its belt.
The restaurant is run by Angel Palacios, a native of Barcelona who also worked with Ferran Adria. At La Broche the menu ranges from a la carte to various degustation type menus. The splurge would be the Grand Festival menu consisting of 16 dishes and costs EUR 100 (without wine and does not include bread or drinks). The Grand Festival menu starts with a selection of tapas, the moves on to entrees, fish, meats and finally desserts. However, there are also other options like the regular degustation which costs EUR 70 and consists of 2 tapas, 2 entrees, half a fish course, half a meat course and 2 desserts.
The highlight dishes for us were the Bacalao with peas and consomme as well as the rabbit with an onion sauce. And at the end of the meal, I felt like a child in a candy store because, as you order coffee (or tea), the waiter rolls out a whole candy cart and asks you whether you would like anything from the selection. You can choose a few like the pate de fruit, or the almost with stracciatella or you can be like me and ask for a little bit of everything!
I had a great time in Madrid and am thankful I was able to go back to my old haunts but at the same time experience the cooking of chefs who are changing the face of Spanish cuisine. Both will continue to thrive together because, very good food is always just that – very good food!
Sergi Arola Gastro – Calle de Zurbano 31, Madrid
La Broche – Calle de Miguel Angel 29-31, Madrid