72 Hours in Madrid – Part Three: La Gabinoteca

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.

Patatas bravas & octopus

Patatas bravas & octopus

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72 Hours in Madrid – Part One: Tapas

ESTADO PURO

What does one do with 72 hours in Madrid? There is of course a wealth of art to feast your eyes on (think Prado) and the fixtures at the Bernabeu would probably tempt many sports fans. But with the likes of Ferran Adria as one of the forefathers of modern Spanish cooking, I was most excited by the prospect of exploring some of the food options that the Spanish capital had to offer. That and the likelihood of warm and sunny weather had the makings of a very good time indeed.

In the first of a three part series, I will talk about Spain’s national institution, tapas, with the first tapas bar on my hit list being Estado Puro. The chef patron is Paco Roncero, the head chef of the two Michelin-starred La Terraza del Casino restaurant in Madrid. Roncero is not only considered to be one of the best chefs in Spain, he was also one of Ferran Adria’s star disciples and this modern touch showed in his take on the famous Spanish tortilla.

Named on the menu as a ‘21st Century Spanish omelette’ (€4.50), the waiter described the omelette as “like eating soup”, and the comparison rang true with the omelette appearing in a glass and consisting of beautifully caramelised onions covered with two foams, one of which was egg and the other of potato. Each individual component was delicious, but this 21st Century version had no texture. And for this reason the traditional versions, when done right, are in my opinion far more satisfying.

21st Century Spanish Omelette

21st Century Spanish Omelette

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Pizarro

Pizarro has been receiving all the same rave reviews that its sister restaurant José also collected when it first opened. But one of the things that make Pizarro more appealing than José is that it is bigger, a huge bonus when both restaurants do not have a booking policy and happen to be two of the most sort after tables in London at the moment. I still imagine there could be long waits, but we turned up around 6.30pm on a Saturday night and managed to nab a spot straight away.

The dining room spells T-R-E-N-D-Y. It feels more formal and less raw than José, but it still follows the bar-seating-around-the-open-kitchen formula of its sister. We sat right near the pass during our visit which meant we got to see José at work. The menu is small, and it has less of a tapas-focus than at José and more main course selections (five).

As we decided on what to order, we were presented with some veggie nibbles of radish and cauliflower dressed with olive oil and cava vinegar. These are worth a mention as they were lovely with a hint of delicate acidic sweetness.

Veg dressed with olive oil & cava vinegar

Veg dressed with olive oil & cava vinegar

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Copita

Copita Restaurant takes over from the site that was once Bar Chocolate on D’arblay Street. This is another tapas offering to hit London with a no reservations policy, but luckily we had no problems securing a spot for two on a Friday night. The vibe is chilled, relaxed and very Soho.

We kicked off with ajo blanco and beetroot (£3.95) which was lovely. A creamy dish, the sweetness of the beetroot pieces provided a lovely contrast to the runny garlic sauce.

Ajo blanco and beetroot

Ajo blanco and beetroot

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Jose

Jose on Bermondsey Street is the first solo restaurant from critically acclaimed chef Jose Pizarro who was previously the driving force behind the Brindisa Group. .

The restaurant exudes a warm cosy feeling, but is so tiny that it’s basically standing room only with a smattering of stools. We spent our first hour and a half at Jose on our feet, squeezed into a tiny corner with plates and glasses being handed to us over the heads of other diners. We eventually found more space, but (alas) with only one stool even though there was two of us. This was not a comfortable dining experience, especially as Jose has a no bookings policy.

Nevertheless, the food was outstanding and very reasonably priced. Tortilla (£4) filled with chorizo was scrumptious, and the meaty flavour of the chorizo gave the dish a fantastic lift. The accompanying aioli oozed lots of garlic-y goodness and worked a magic on the tortilla.

Tortilla

Tortilla

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Spuntino

Spuntino, another ‘tapas’ style small eats restaurant (gosh they are popping up everywhere in London), is the third offering by Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the people behind the ever-so-popular ‘tapas’ small eat places Polpo and Polpetto. Venture number three has every reason to be as successful as its predecessors. This place, with its New York East Village speakeasy feel simply oozes cool. Its distress-tiled walls, low dangling lights and bar stool seating give it a raw, grungy feel. The frontage is non-descript as well with the restaurant’s name display being barely discernible. From the décor to the staff, this place is so cool it does not take reservations, have a phone number or a menu on their website.

As the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, one needs to queue. The layout is similar to Barrafina in the sense that you line up alongside the wall, during which time you can order snacks and drinks.

Our meal kicked off with some complimentary spicy popcorn made with chili. These were fantastic if a little greasy.

Spicy popcorn

Spicy popcorn

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Opera Tavern

I recently went to a bloggers dinner with Greedy Diva and Gourmet Chick, and Gourmet Chick’s MR who was an honourable blogger for the evening. We went to Opera Tavern, not as guests of the restaurant, but as Aussies who love food and who just wanted to have a fun night out.

Opera Tavern is located in the heart of Covent Garden and has a prime spot close to the Opera House. The restaurant is relaxed and inviting with a light airy feel and specialises in Italian and Spanish influenced tapas. There is also a charcoal grill and headlining the grilled selection is the mini Ibérico pork and foie gras burger (£5.95) which was beautifully satisfying with its rich, fatty goodness. The bun was also enjoyable as it was light and airy. Overall this was a resounding success if a little salty.

Iberico pork & foie gras burger

Iberico pork & foie gras burger

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El Cantara

El Cantara is a newly opened Spanish and Moroccan restaurant on Frith Street. Much care was taken in decorating the restaurant. Moroccan interior designer Nadine Rovass spent months trawling through the markets of Southern Spain and Morocco searching for unique pieces that would bring the Spanish and Moroccan theme together. To this effect, you will see the nicest of finishings in the restaurant including hand-painted floor and wall tiles, beautifully hand-stitched cushions and pillows, Moroccan lanterns and hand-engraved brass tables. The bathroom in the basement is special too, and houses the finest organic Moroccan hand soap. There’s also a terrace on the first floor with lounge seats where you can sit comfortably, smoke shisha and simply chill. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are also belly and Flamenco dancers available for your entertainment pleasure.

I went to a bloggers dinner at El Cantara a couple of weeks ago as a guest of the restaurant. The menu is divided roughly into tapas to share, tangines, seafood dishes, cous cous, paellas and grills. We started with a number of tapas dishes, including gambas al ajillo (£5.45) which was crunchy and firm, although they could have done with a touch more garlic.

Gambas al ajillo

Gambas al ajillo

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