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Madrid – Restaurant focus: Va de Baco and Ølsen

As far as gastronomic finesse goes, Madrid is not as renowned as some of its neighbouring Spanish cities. However the buzz word around Madrid is inevitably tapas, and an innovative approach to tapas is what Madrid does best. Upon arriving in Madrid, late on a Friday night, we knew that many of the most popular tapas bars would already be heaving with the hip young Madrillanean crowd.

Aperitif, croquetas and ensaladilla rusa

One of my favourite tapas bars is Lateral in the Plaza de Santa Ana, a trendy restaurant which offers a fresh and unpretentious approach to tapas classics and innovations alike. The problem is, its prices are so reasonable, and its flavourful offerings so delicious that the place is always packed. And cashing in on their popularity, the restaurant does pack you in into ridiculously tight spaces – generally four people will be crammed in around a corner table the size of a large computer monitor… there is barely room for your knees to squeeze under, let alone for the various tapas dishes to sit upon the table in unison. They also tend to rush you through the meal so that they can more swiftly eat into the lengthening queue which forms outside the restaurant each evening.

Spider crab and albondigas

Finding Lateral to be, predictably, pack out with queues stretching well into the buzzing Plaza de Santa Ana, we headed a few blocks down the road along the Calle del Prado, where we stumbled upon Va de Baco at 4 Calle del Prado 28013. The restaurant is seemingly quite new, decked out with chic lighting and cabinets brimming full of wine.  But the real star was the food. To start we were given a free aperitif which comprised a consommé style soup in which well-seasoned chickpeas bobbed gracefully, while on the side a super-creamy jamon croquette added some texture to the dish. Moving on to the tapas we ordered: simple, traditional favourites such as Ensaladilla Rusa (a mayonnaise-based potato salad with tuna a crunchy vegetables) and albondigas (meatballs) were served with contemporary twists such as the creamy curry sauce of the albondigas. More adventurous was a tapas of spider crab, delicately served with a potent wasabi mayonnaise, while the real star of the night was a ginger cream dessert with slices of mandarin and a passionfruit sorbet accompanying – exquisite. And best of all, the final bill, including a large carafe of Rioja plus two glasses extra at the end of the meal, was a mere €45 for the two of us.

Ginger cream

Bread stick...

On our second night in Madrid, we ditched the tapas trail for a hispanic-scandinavian fusion in the form of trendy new restaurant, Ølsen (15, Calle del Prado). The recently opened restaurant is already a firm favourite of the Madrid cool-crowd, with minimalist woods, low lighting and a chilled lounge soundtrack (I distinctly recognised Hotel Costes Volume 15 while we were dining) creating a very atmospheric dining ambience. As for the food, which for the most part pulls on Scandinavian influences, we were constantly thrilled by attention to detail and imaginative flavour fusions.

Sweet corn cakes with various fishy treats

To start we shared a fish sharing platter comprising sweet corn cakes and a selection of smoked salmon, smoked trout, caviar and a delicious taramasalata-styled smoked fish roe accompaniment. The combination of sweet, soft cakes and smokey fish was divine. On the side, bread was served in the form of various bagel-shaped creations, ranging from a sweeter glazed brioche to flat seeded cracker. For mains, we both chose a smoked lean brazed pork, with a red fruit and beer sauce and horseradish mashed potatoes. The meat was so tender and caramelised that along with the acidity of the red fruits and creaminess of the mashed potatoes, this dish took comfort to another level. A comfort which was then cranked up to a level of ridiculous self-indulgence when I had my dessert – a giant, soft and unctuous Oreo cookie with red fruits icecream. Oh god, I would return to Madrid just to have another one of those. Warmly recommended, if not stipulated as a necessary experience of the good life.

Giant Oreo!

But all this was just the start. Salamanca’s gastronomic offerings proved to be an altogether new level of culinary brilliance. Check out The Daily Norm tomorrow when I will try to put those incredible flavours into words!

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