Posted on Friday, 13th April 2012
Following on from Part Two…
La Gabinoteca serves food in a tapas style but is far removed from your traditional tapas restaurants. I know I covered tapas places in Part one of my ’72 Hours in Madrid’ blog post, but La Gabinoteca deserves a mention all on its own. It was just that good. Anthony Bourdain featured it in his Madrid episode of No Reservations, but independent research on various food forums reveal that some suggest that it is worthy of the best tapas title in Madrid. I can’t possibly judge that, not having eaten at every tapas place in Madrid, but one does walk away with a feeling of being wowed by an experience that is so inventive, so complex and yet so simple at the same time.
The restaurant is the younger and less formal sibling of Las Tortillas de Gabino, a restaurant which has received a lot of critical acclaim. It is the brainchild of brothers Nino and Santi Redruello whose family of restaurateurs are responsible for La Ancha, a well known restaurant in Madrid.
The décor at La Gabinoteca was interesting to say the least. The restaurant is split into two levels with the more casual-bar dining area being downstairs. There is an eclectic mix of furniture including high chairs; low chairs as well as a ski lift (yes a ski lift). It was fun, quirky and arresting, and gave you lots of interesting décor points to talk about.
The menu is split into four sections: appetisers, meat, fish and desserts and the restaurant recommends you choose at least one from each section.
A dish of patatas bravas with octopus and a spicy salsa (€5.15) was tasty and comforting. The hint of spiciness in the sauce added a kick to the dish.
Foie gras crema catalan (€6.95) had a creamy unctuous quality and was delicious with a crusty caramelised pineapple topping.
Salmorejo (€4.35), a tomato cream with garlic and olive oil was delicious. It boasted of a rich, deep flavour of tomato. The soup was lovely and sweet with the right hint of acidity.
The signature at La Gabinoteca is the huevo patata y trufa (€5.85), a dish of egg, potato and truffle. This comes out in concealed glass and when you open it the glorious aroma of truffle kisses your face. The egg is runny, and sits on top of some diced and mashed potatoes. This was a yummy dish, and the more that ate of it, the more you came to realise how special it was as its wonderful flavour continued to linger on your palate.
La Gabinoteca’s modern and very interesting take on gambas al ajillo ‘’en plan fino’ (€7.40) consisted off a layer of gambas carpaccio on a bed of sweet garlic purée. The gambas were beautifully fresh, and the strength of the garlic in the purée was well judged so as to not overpower the gambas. However, the purée was a touch too sweet.
A dish of foie gras ravioli (6.50) was decadently glorious. Topped with foie gras, the ravioli contained pig’s trotters and a beautifully reduced sauce with mushrooms and onions.
Salt baked sea bass (€7.85) was fantastically fresh and perfectly cooked. There was a delicacy to the fish which was heavenly. It was served with a sweet, tangy salsa that worked well with it.
The dessert of ‘Crema de queso’ (€4.15) was inspired by kitchen of Arzak, a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian. This dish wasn’t much to look at, but boy did it taste good. Deliciously creamy, there was a dainty airiness that permeated the dish to show off an elegant touch, and which in my opinion made the dish star worthy. This was class all the way.
‘Juan Palomo’ (€7.95) is the signature dessert at La Gabinoteca, a make/plate your own dessert. It came on a tray with a chocolate brownie, piping cream, chocolate sauce and a rosemary sorbet, and from these options you had free reign to create your own artwork. Conceptually this was fun, but the brownie was a little dry and the sorbet a slightly overpowering against the brownie.
Our waiter was charming and thankfully spoke English. Helpful throughout, we were however slightly neglected towards the end of our service. A menu is not available in English.
There were so many high points in this meal that I can only summarise La Gabinoteca as simply fantastic. The cooking and the quality of the produce were superb, and the food was incredibly affordable. Our meal worked out to be about €30 a head (excluding drinks). But these factors alone do not explain its unique and clever charm. You get desserts like the ‘crema de queso’ and it makes you think you should be sitting in a Michelin starred restaurant. Except you’re not. Instead, you’re perched somewhere really fun, funky and quirky, and the food that has been presented to you hasn’t been fancifully plated, and you haven’t had to pay Michelin level prices.
So its cleverness seems to lie in its simplicity and yet not-so simple cooking that looks and is accessible to all. I couldn’t help but walk away from La Gabinoteca feeling enthralled by its philosophy. It is one of the most exciting and innovative restaurants that I have eaten at of late and it is a dining experience that will linger with me for a very long time.
Food rating: 4.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
Price: About €30 a head. Excludes drinks and service.
In Madrid we stayed at the Santa Mauro. It was very nice and beautifully decorated. But the hotel felt a little bit stiff. It’s the kind of hotel where you feel like you have to walk around whispering.