Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Taberneros, the father of all spanish gastrotaverns

All new concepts start up with someone wanting to do things differently. In the food&beverage world it is very important to give birth to fresh ideas to keep the industry developing, because we are not talking about a product we aquire once every decade, like a car, but about a product we consume almost daily. How many days can you force yourself not to visit your favorite café or a new pub, you have seen on your way back from work? In many other things in life, I can control myself. Not in this case.
Taberneros was in the old days a spanish tavern, also called "tasca". My description for a "tasca" would be a local bar, where you can get some small portions of food, between dirty and casual. In comparison to a bar, here we normaly get offered wine, instead of beer, Coca-Cola or coffee.
At Taberneros they wanted to have a great selection of wines and serve great quality of food. And so they did. The refurbished the restaurant, keeping the initial brick walls, painting all furniture in a sparkling red and instaling their wine cellar behind a glass wall at the back of the restaurant for everyone to see.
Nowadays they offer a great selection of catalan wines and you can trust their recommendations about some unusual spanish wines. They know what they are talking about.
The food is tasty made with localy sourced products. Nice foie terrine on fig bread, daily sourced fish dishes, slowly braised meet and a great cheese platter.
Although Spain is an important wine producer, it is not that easy to find in Madrid nice wine bars.
Well, this is my recommendation.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Mercado de la Reina: Tapas Bar, Restaurant and Gin-Bar

This is one of the maginificent facts of living in a metropolis: life never stops. Although the situation of spanish social and economic system is not at its best, now in 2012, cities like Madrid keep in constant change.
It is true that some bars and restaurants have closed down, due to the severe recession, but the good ones stay and there is always space for new ideas and creative projects. It is also true that consumption has decreased because of a general lower income, but there is luckily still enough to spend a few Euros on a full bodied Utiel-Requena red wine or on a juicy hake stake.To keep Madrileños at home for longer than 48 hours is an impossible duty.
El Mercado de la Reina is one of those places that has gotten better and better since it opened. The restaurant is located in the very center of Madrid, at Gran Via 12 , where some years ago no reasonable food could be found. "The queen's market" is devided into 3 different spaces: The Tapas Bar, the main Restaurant and the Gin Bar.

The glass door wellcomes you to the Tapas Bar, which consists of several high tables and a long marble bar, equiped with show windows to see the selection of tapas offered: different types of spanish "tortilla de patatas" ( potato omelete ) , deep fried baby shrimp and calamary, russian salad, "croquetas de jamón ibérico" ( deep fried breaded bechamel with ibérico ham ) ,...
When it comes to preparing tapas, the most important issue is the freshness of the products, more than creativity. The tuna must be oily, the braised pepper must shine,  the bread has to look crunchy and the parsley must have an intense clear green colour. To start, order a Cruzcampo, the southern beer, which is served ice-cold. You can also chose a glass of wine from a concise wine list, with references from all around Spain.

The main restaurant is in the upper floor. It is a wide room, all in wood and a large glass wall gives natural light to the whole space. You can sit on a large bench and share seat and conversation with other costumers or chose a smaller table for you and your companions. The quality of the food is excellent. Traditional dishes with a modern touch and nicely served.
In the lower floor, the Gin Bar is a perfect place to end the evening and start the night. It was one of the first specialized Gin Bars in Madrid, even before gin consumption became a successfull trend in Spain, and it was also the start up for the whole project " Mercado de la Reina" in 2006.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Madrid Food Markets

I think it’s about time that we talk about food markets in this blog; about food markets in Madrid, of course. 

It already smelled like things were changing. The Mercado de San Miguel  next to la Plaza Mayor, was covered for over 3 years by a big blanket with little holes, through which every pedestrian could follow the building works and start imagining what the final result of the iron structure  would be.
I am sure no one had imagined it would end up being one of the most visited places of this capital city. Maybe a tourist can miss the Parque del Retiro, maybe even a visit at the Museo del Prado, but to miss a quick drink and a “banderilla” ( Olive, anchovies, feta cheese ) at one of the stalls in this newly refurbished food market is almost unconceivable. It must be said that the prices have rocketed due to the flourishing demand, but I suppose this is just a consequence of the success. 

 For us madrileños, it is a little bit weird to see how these markets are changing. They used to be very conservative places, where grandma would chat with the stallholder for longer than necessary to buy 100 g of Serrano ham, where the fish man remembered your favorite football team and that didn’t have to be  100% clean, in order to keep its glamour. It used to be a place for local people to have a walk, a chat and do the daily food shopping.

Nowadays, these markets have become an open space for food tasting.The main concept is to chose different  dishes from a wide selection of tapas like choices, to buy a bottle of Cava or wine and stand around a table and enjoy you own spanish tasting menu. Shring food has always belonged to mediterranean culture and this is a magnificent and amusing chance for everyone to try it out. The pitty is that there is no possible way out to combine both, tradition and vanguard.

The other example I wanted to describe is the Mercado de San Antón, located just next to the Chueca tube station. On the one hand it has some elements that differentiate it from the  Mercado de San Miguel, but on the other hand  it has a lot of important similarities.This market has three floors, every one of them with different purposes: At the bottom we can find a chain supermarket. At the first floor fresh products, high quality fish, meat, cheese and ham are being sold, as a remake of the traditional markets. At the second floor several stalls sell ready-made tapas and small portions to consume straight away. But the real novelty is at the roof, where they have created a combined space of an indoor restaurant, an outdoor restaurant ( for smokers ) and a spendid bar with great views on the narrow streets of one of the oldest quarters of Madrid.

These changes in the food markets are due to general changes in Spanish urban society. The new markets may be modern and attractive for tourists , but they are the first sign of the extinction of a cultural base in this Mediterranean country, which is the culture of gastronomy. It  involves the culture of knowing where to buy the best tomatoes for your gazpacho, the culture of watching, touching and trying fresh products “ in situ”, the culture of comparing prices,…etc.
I hope both concepts can live friendly together, improving our lifestyle, not only making it more “easygoing”.  

C/ Conde Miranda
C/ Augusto Figueroa, 24

Friday, 23 March 2012

"The service was O.K." they say

Nowadays no one mentions the waiters any more. Critics write mainly about chefs in BIG LETTERS, but when it comes to the analisis of the front of house, they just describe it as "the service". "The service was all right, but the food was amazing" is the most often heart opinion. Well, if we stay possitive, because mainly people do not even mention "the service".

I ask myself if it is due to the fact that the puplic has no clue what good and bad service is or means. There was a time, when working as a waiter was a big deal, with the all those spectacular preparation in front of the customer: Pealing an orange with fork and knife, flames in the air when the waiter added some kind of delicious liqueur to the pan, where the caramelized cream sat waiting for the crêpe suzette, pieces of poultry were carved elegantly and placed with its buttery sauce,... I imagine those as the golden years.

I'm not trying to take the credit from the great work of a lot of chefs and kitchen crews, but I believe a large percentage of those customers, who like to give their strict point of view about taste, aromas, design of a dish, ect, do not even have the gastonomic values to do so. Maybe it is indeed better "the service" is not mentioned too often.

But I still do not agree. The waiters in Madrid are known for being daily on time ( saying this I mean time even for a coffee and a fag before start), perfectly dressed in their pullished black shoes, black socks, ironed black trousers and white shirt, bottleopener, lighter, several pencils and fresh orderpad.

Do they say sallute and say goodbye at your arrival and at your leaving? Yes.
Are they helpful and cooperative 24/7? They usually are. 
Are they overfriendly obeying to every single wish each customer may have? Not always.
Do they always have a smile on their face? No.
Do they know what they are doing? Oh yeah!
Are they professionals, having knoledge about food, spirits, aperitifs, coffees, wines, ect.? The hell yes.

I really think the clientelle expects these workers to be always smily and polite, but do not have in consideration all the rest. If you want to have a good example of this, visit BAR PEYMA ( calle embajadores, 38 MADRID ).

 Long life to real waiters!!

Friday, 24 February 2012

"The Artist" and La Gabinoteca

Yesterday I went to the movies and watched "The Artist", directed by Michel Hazanavicius, and it gave me a lot to think about. We could spend hours arguing about the correct definition of the concept "art" and about the necessary characteristics for a person to be considered an artist. 

By the same token, we could start arguing about the features that make up the goodness of a restaurant.  Well, it is definitely possible to catalogue restaurants into "good restaurants" and "bad restaurants", but I think there are a huge amount of elements involved in the evaluation of a good restaurant that it is hard to specify. Good quality food and a friendly service are a must; there is no doubt about that! But on top of the basics, do we consider a proper location to be essential for a good restaurant? What about the interior design including the furniture, cutlery, glassware, crockery? Does the visit have to differ from others in such a way to even be considered as a whole new experience? When does the restaurant experience start and when does it end? Heston Blumenthal sends a package to your own house with sweets and candies, which are supposed to remind you of your childhood, starting at that precise moment the tasting menu that will end after the 4 hour feast at his restaurant Fat Duck. 

I had my thoughts about this and other stuff analyzing my recent experience at the restaurant "La Gabinoteca".
The restaurant is located in a side road off Calle de José Abascal, that is a very busy road in a posh area of Madrid.
In my opinion the best part of this place is the facade. They got rid of the thick walls and enormous glasses were placed instead, which give everyone the chance to see from outside what is happening inside and the other way round. There must have been 3 floors before, but they have achieved  to combine them into a unique space of different levels. This design transmits you the feeling of not being discriminated against sitting at the bar or at the entrance instead of sitting at the table, because the costumes sitting at the table might feel they would prefer to sit at the bar or at the entrance. The designers have taken advantage of all available spaces, bestowing each of them with a privilege.

It was a Wednesday and the place was packed. On top of that, their reservation policy is "no reservations", that I always consider to be a signal that business works.
 Lara and me sat at the bar located in the lower level, enjoyed firstly a pretty good Mahou "caña", and we ordered 7 different dishes. The prices per dish are very reasonable so that you can make a proper selection of what you fancy that day. The main idea of their food, in my view, is to offer good quality products, that only need a quick preparation, presented in very eloquent packaging. One of the dishes is a hen's egg with soft poached potato and truffle oil, which is served in a glass with a lit, like the containers used in Spain to sell a type of yogurt called "cuajada". The monkfish burger and the pedigree hot dog are presented in their original plastic brown-grey coloured packaging.
The lady at the reception desk was welcoming and the service at the bar was professionally kind.
Our experience was great and full of surprises! Even if the food was not the Best, because it lacked some punchy elements like contrasts and stronger flavors, I can review it as a good restaurant.

Name of the restaurant : La Gabinoteca
Web page: http://lagabinoteca.es/1200.html
Head Chef: Nino Reduello
Address: Calle Fernández de la Hoz 53
Tlf : +34 399 15 00

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Better than guide books

Nowadays it is much easier and cheaper to travel than ever. Lots of low cost flights, better and more comfortable public transport systems in metropolitan cities, a wide offer of hotels and a ferocious competition among them, which makes their prices shrink , an internationalisation in the world of gastronomy, etc. These are some of the reasons why the number of travelers has increased enormously in the last decade.
Because travelers are more experienced, they have changed their criteria in most aspects. Planning a trip must be faster than before and more direct than ever. Technology has made this possible, thanks to the globalisation of internet and the development in the mobile phone industry. Travel agencies have gone through a tough time, and the ones that have survived, have been forced to change their strategy.  Everyone with an internet connection can plan a trip by him/herself. A spontaneous travel can work out perfectly well, because you have the chance to plan "on the way", even if you are already at the destination. In the past, you used to help yourself to a guide book, to have a feeling for the restaurant offer ,but nowadays you just have to  switch on your smartphone or your laptop and you can check out the opinion of others. Will you trust those sudden food-critics ? In my opinion this is a tricky situation, because no one knows, which criteria those other people are applying. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this because it's not in my interest, but it is true.
How about having the experience before you visit the restaurant? Great!!  That was my feeling when I saw Anthony Bourdain's show " No Reservation" in Madrid. I think the selection of colleagues he picks and the places he is taken to, give the audience some worthy recommendations where to go in Madrid. Here is the link to the TV serie. If you suffer of bad appetite, this is definitely a good medicine.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Restaurant DiverXo

Yesterday I went to church and I must have been a good boy lately because God presented himself  to give me  my faith back: Yesterday I went to the restaurant DiverXo.
I know it sounds exagerated. Specially nowadays where the press describes the new creators as semi-gods, who after a quick period of fame, disappear forever. In this case, I'm not refering myself to a person, DiverXo's head chef David Muñoz, but to the whole concept of modern cuisine.

Everyone has given its opinion about the origin of "nouvelle cuisine" and it's brutal development since, thanks to Ferrán Adriá and other chefs. But,  where do we stand  now ? So many youngsters working toughly in kitchens calling themselves chefs, but, what are they producing to keep the pace with this progress ? Many professionals are talking about going back to tradition and devoting their energy to choosing the best quality products.  Is there no more space for creativity in this decade ?  Is the party over ?  No more fun eating ?

I have a small collection of menus from different restaurants I really enjoyed visiting, signed by the chef, the Maître d´ or someone else of the crew. As there is no such menu at DiverXo, I asked a waiter if David Muñz could sign me a text he himself had written  about the new methodology and philosophy of his food. 
He signed :  " The power of creativity. Refine and Redefine. Mariposas en el estómago."

He nailed it. It was exactly what I was thinking while feeling astonished by the 8 dish tasting menu.
Consider essentials: Inform yourself about what is going on, check on what others have done properly in the past, select what you think is appropiate, think of what you want to develop and offer, do some feasibility  calculations, position yourself in the middle of the huracan and then, if you are still convinced that you can offer something surprisingly good day after day, please open a vanguard restaurant.
Then and only then, it will be a real pleasure to invest my money in something worthy.

David's food is global, it's international, it's creative but understandable, it's light, it's deffinitely tasty, the combination of flavours is reasonably complex and it's a lot of fun eating because it doesn't require a technical understanding to fully enjoy.

The dishes are a melting point between spanish-asian-southamerican products and flavours are very well balanced between the sour-bitter limejuice and cest, the sweet-sour tamarindo, the soft spicy ají and the neutral paste of the dim sums.

One last thing. What really made this food a revolutionary experience  for me was the perception of the after taste in food. My tasting buts got hit after each bite several times by the basic tastes in a way it shocked the senses. 

As Anthony Bourdain  says: " It's rediculously good"

Name of the restaurant : DiverXo
Web page: http://diverxo.com/
Head Chef: David Muñoz
Address: Calle Pensamiento 28, Madrid
Tlf : +34 915 700 766