Hablas Espanol? No? Me neither, but I wished I did. No really, I used one of my precious birthday wishes on it, but I think perhaps the cake and candles weren’t big enough as sadly I didn’t magically wake up with the ability to rattle off a conversation in Spanish. So until the language gods bless me, I must rely on the handful of words I know, all the essentials like ‘please, thank you, wine, anchovies’ and a certain someone’s slightly more advanced vocabulary which also includes asking for a table for two and the bill.
While our conversation skills aren’t particularly advanced, our menu-deciphering abilities have definitely improved… just goes to show what the focus of our trips are! This was our third visit to Spain; we loved the food in Barcelona, we loved the food in San Sebastian, and Madrid did not disappoint. We went a little more upmarket on this trip, visiting not one, but two fancy pantsy Michelin star restaurants, bringing our 2015 total to eleven!
Sergi Arola Gastro **
The only way to describe our first taste of Madrid is sleek and chic; Sergi Arola’s eponymous restaurant in Madrid is impossibly tasteful, and tasty as we were to discover. Something of a celebrity chef in Spain, Sergi Arola Gastro is one of several restaurants he has around the world but the only one with two Michelin stars. Once you get passed the doorman and saunter up the stairs, the door automatically slides open to reveal a swish dining room… large tables, cushy seats, lush leather tablecloths, this is somewhere you want to settle in and relax.
Having just touched down a couple of hours earlier, we hadn’t quite settled into the Madrileno norm of dining out late so at 9pm neither of us felt we could stomach the eight course Sergi Arola menu so went for the much more manageable five course Discovery option which was simply fantastic. After a glass of birthday bubbles, the dining festivities began with a range of delightful snacks which were bite sized morsels of some Spanish, and more specifically Madrid favourites, such as vermouth, fried squid sandwich, and the crunchiest mini cornets of baby prawns.
From here, the dishes rolled in thick and fast, sometimes a touch too fast for our liking but perhaps that’s how the Spanish like it? The courses showcased an exceptional range of flavour combinations, cooking techniques and the kitchen’s precise execution. We enjoyed some light and ethereal dishes such as the ‘false baby scallops’ and king prawn ravioli in dashi consomme before moving onto some richer, bolder dishes like the penne sauteed with parmesan, black trompettes and duck liver cream, red sea bream with stewed mussels and chablis, and the far from traditional ‘Vindaloo’ Iberian pork fillet!
All that food and I haven’t even got to the sweet treats yet… the most beautiful strawberry parfait with cream and champagne, followed by a brazo de gitano, an almond swiss roll cake, which literally translates to mean ‘gypsy’s arm’. Both were more than enough to sate my sweet tooth but wait, there’s more… a beautiful raspberry tart complete with a candle and birthday wishes, as well as the most intricate petit fours I’ve ever had. If you look closely, you’ll notice that these are a dessert version of the snacks we had at the start of the meal… such a clever way to end! Full marks to a certain someone for nabbing a table here; one of the best meals we’ve had and definitely a fitting place to celebrate turning twenty-nine!
If Sergi Arola is the famous stalwart of the Madrid fine dining scene, then Albora is definitely the enthusiastic newcomer having just received their Michelin star in 2015. Split into two sections, the downstairs is a bustling tapas bar serving the world’s best ham apparently, while the more plush and relaxed upstairs dining room is where we enjoyed a tasting menu and paired wines for lunch.
A glass of obligatory bubbles and a tasty amuse bouche later, we sat back and awaited the arrival of our dishes and mystery wines… no formal pairing menu here, just whatever the mood struck on the day with generous pours at a very reasonable price, so there were no complaints from us!
The first course of artichokes with crab and red onion broth was pleasant but didn’t immediately wow us, luckily the dishes only got better and better from here. The second dish of crawfish was served in a luxuriously rich and silky chickpea and cuttlefish broth, while the lone razor clam we had next was leaning on an unusual roll of toasted seafood and marrow rice. Both were perfectly cooked and bursting with flavour.
Our fish main of monkfish with a tomato and almond emulsion was impeccably delicate, a stark contrast to the robust flavours of the hare, partridge and rabbit stew. I like that they didn’t feel the need to pretty-up this stew and let the dish speak for itself; the meat was tender and plentiful, and the gravy was the kind you want to keep dipping into. A certain someone, who names stew as his favourite food, was rather happy… the wines helped the situation too!
Finally my sweet tooth was rewarded; the stout sponge with pumpkin and vanilla ice cream was interesting to say the least, both the stout and pumpkin flavours were quite pronounced but complimentary while the sponge was definitely more marshmallow-like than the traditional sponge cake I was expecting. We also enjoyed the ‘chocolate walnut’ with yoghurt and cinnamon ice cream, before finishing with a little Spanish fortified wine, petit fours, and before leaving incredible full, slightly tipsy, and very happy with our decision to dine out 2015 in style!
So Make a Move
It’s well known that Madrid has a number of Michelin star restaurants ranging from the traditional to the conceptual, but if you’re looking for that perfect combination of well executed dishes, inviting atmosphere, and impeccable service, I wholeheartedly recommend both Sergi Arola Gastro and Albora!