[Pink Pig Time Machine by Wilfrid: July 8, 2013]
So finally I was into Don Quixote, a book I'd meant to read for years, and finally on my way to Madrid for the first time, after staying loyal to Barcelona for so long. I had a nice mix of traditional tapas and Michelin swank lined up.
But first, I was still in London.
They've dabbled occasionally in slightly more casual ventures--Le Poulbot, for example--and Brasserie Roux was a yearling when we visited. It was good eating; a predictable compromise of luxury and comfort. The meal began with gulls eggs au gratin. I followed that with a stolidly bourgeois andouillette, pommes purées. Cheeses helped us finish a 1994 Corton Grand Cru (why did I never note producers in my diary?).
Next day, I filled the morning with my first visit to the Saatchi galleries at the former County Hall, viewing Maurizio Cattelan's bizarre "La Nona Ora" (or Pope struck by meteor), and paintings by John Bratby. I crossed the bridge back into the West End for lunch at Gaby's Continental, a salt beef sandwich (corned beef to Americans).
In the evening, after another tour of the pubs of Fitzrovia, I dropped into my standby French bistro, Le Pigalle on Charlotte Street, but my journal is silent on what I ate.
Morning: to Madrid, and the Hotel Arosa near the Puerta del Sol.Proceedings began with tapear, and I soon found out that--unlike Barcelona--tapas in Madrid really do come free each time you order a drink. Of course, if you want to choose several dishes, you need to pay.
I started at old El Abuelo, one of those tapas bars which really does specialize in one dish. In this case, juicy gambas a la plancha, traditionally washed down, for some reason, with sweet red wine. Then La Venencia, surely one of the world's great bars (I've returned several times). It's a simple bar room, some tables on a raised platform at one end. It serves excellent sherry from the bottle. The bartenders are anarchists, won't take tips, and note your spending by scrawling in chalk on the bar in fron of you.
With flutes of Manzanilla, I ate olives, and mojama--dried salt tuna--with almonds. They believe in strong, briny flavors to complement the sherries.
Next, La Solera, which became a peaceful standby. They serve slabs of tuna pie, lifted from a big, flat dish. For a change of pace, at the Taberna de San Isidro, I switched to local cider with a plate of cecina de cerdo--dried pork loin; think meat toffee.
Wandering down Plaza Mayor, I came across the Madrid idea of fast food: 100 Montaditos. That's a choice of around one hundred little sandwiches, some with premium fillings. I ordered morcilla de Jabugo--as good a blood sausage as you can eat--with queso viejo.
I walked some of this off the next morning, prowling the older parts of the city, and strolling from the royal palace to the Prado, then down to Tirso de Molina. Red vermouth served Spanish style, over ice in a tall glass, makes for good refreshment on a sunny day. Indeed, it looks like I had vermut and tortilla (Spanish omelette, not a wrap) for breakfast. Lunch, at El Soportal, was vermut and rice with mussels, followed by gazpacho, and a dish of tiny eels fried with garlic, at the bullfighter bar in Plaza Mayor Torre De Oro.
I filled the afternoon window-shopping in Salamanca before the gourmet highlight of the trip, dinner at Serge Arola's Michelin two-star La Broche. The cool, pale dining room reminded me of Tetsuya's in Sydney. The meal--I ordered a long tasting--was like nothing else. Arola paid due tribute to Adrià in the inventiveness of his cuisine; but the experimental elements were restrained. Taste trumped novelty, in the best possible way. I'll just reproduce the notes I made at the time--the diversity of flavors, textures, and even temperatures should be evident:Crisped bread with unsalted butter and oil; chips with bravas, aioli, and pesto salsas, pan de mais; wholemeal bread with chocolate.
Warm potato purée, root vegetable sorbet.
Oyster, crunchy toffee, veal reduction.
Lentil risotto, bacon broth.
Carpaccio of scallop, shrimp, and foie gras, with pumpkin sauce and green apple purée.
Sardine en escabeche stuffed with a julienne of vegetables, fresh tarragon, wine jelly.
Buey de mar (crab) in an unidentified broth.
Sea bass, green pepper purée.
Cod in aspic with caviar, mirepoix of vegetables.
Loin of lamb in a basket of crisped bread with spicy noodles and cilantro, a chilled cucumber sauce.
Nuts with curry sauce, tangerine chocolate.
Chocolate sorbet, toffee jelly.
Cava Llopart; Vino Bagus, 2000; Moscatel; Pedro Ximenes.
Next up, the big galleries.