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Posts tagged ‘Spanish food’

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!

My Easter Day Spanish Feast Spectacular

Easter day is over, but the Spring has only just begun, and now is as good a time as any to think succulent chicken, sweet wine imbued ice cream and cute little marzipans, just in case your summer beach body needed to endure any further damage! On Easter Sunday I followed my pro-Spanish theme of the previous week by cooking a Spanish feast of which Goya himself would have been proud. And it was so tasty, I feel compelled to share all the ideas with my faithful Daily Norm readers so that you too can go all España this Spring.

First however I should express my gratitude to Claudia Roden who, in her fantastic new book, The Food of Spain, gave me much of the inspiration for the feast.

The table

My table was all trussed up for Easter, with a spray of fresh chrysanthemums displayed alongside slender branches of pussy willow in a group of bottles, to contemporary effect. Amongst the flowers sat the must-have fluffy chicks of Easter, while at each person’s place, a damask-style napkin was topped with little paper hens.

To start…

I had to restrain myself from cooking a full-on starter because I knew that otherwise this Spring-like luncheon would become more akin to a Christmas day gorge-fest. Instead I provided some simple tapas, olives, nibbles and delicious mature manchego cheese from the land of Don Quixote, which I’ve discovered is best served sliced and drizzled with honey and sprinkled with thyme – a divine combination which would probably work well with similar hard sheep’s cheeses.

The chicken

The star of the dish was a roast chicken, but with added Spanish flavour. In a simple twist on the humble roast chicken, the chicken is at first basted in grape juice before being roasted, breasts down, for 45 minutes. Once flipped over, the breasts are again drizzled in grape juice. Meanwhile, the chicken cavity is stuffed with chunks of apple giving it a fruity aroma, while the dish is served with caramalised apples and grapes which can be either sautéd or oven cooked alongside the chicken. For the grape juice, you need to blend around 500g of grapes in a food processor and then press the pulp through a sieve to collect the juice. You should get around 250ml of juice. I was worried that the chicken, exposed as it was to the oven (I usually bake it partially wrapped in foil) would be dry, but with regular basting with the grape juices, the chicken was succulent and fruity, while the skin was ravishingly caramalised.

I served the chicken with some oven baked parsnips glazed in honey and wholegrain mustard and a generous portion of cute little Jersey Royal potatoes, straight from this year’s first harvest.


Desserts don’t get much more Spanish than a brandy and walnut cake served with a raisin and sweet wine ice cream (helado de pasas y vino dulce). The cake on its own is fairly dry, so certainly benefits from the ice cream accompaniment. Following the Asturian recipe cited by Claudia Roden, I whisked 4 eggs and 200g caster sugar into a thick pale cream, adding 75g melted butter and 3 tablespoons of brandy into the mix. I then grinded up 500g of walnuts in the food processor which were folded into the cream mixture. It was poured into a greased spring-form cake tin and baked for around 45 minutes. The key to this recipe is the syrup which you then pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven. For this dissolve 100g sugar in 250ml water and simmer for around 5-10 minutes until syrupy. Then add a tablespoon of brandy for that alcoholic touch and pour it over the hot cake. Leave the cake for at least an hour to “drink” the syrup. The result is coarse but gooey, perfect with a raisin and wine ice cream – mine was made with a Spanish moscatel wine, but the syrupy sweet Malaga wine would be even better (let me know if you want the recipe – it’s a little to complex to set out here!)

Afternoon tea

What better way to end the day than with that Toledo favourite which I absolutely fell in love with in Spain than little marzipans. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to make! Simply take 200g ground almonds and 200g icing sugar and mix well. Then in a food processor add a few drops of almond extract (not too many or the flavour will overpower) and 2-3 tablespoons of water (you don’t need much as the almond oil makes the paste moist). And that’s it – once you have your paste, you can roll it into balls or make all sorts of imaginative shapes like I did. Once your creative side has been satiated, lay the creations on a baking tray and leave for around 12-24 hours. The marzipans will harden slightly on the outside and remain soft and moist on the inside. The best thing is that they will last for ages!

My Semana Santa nazareños

You can, by the way, glaze the marzipans for added luxor, but I tried this with Claudia Roden’s suggestion of whipped egg whites and icing sugar and it made my marzipans look as though they had been buried under a snow storm. Next time I’ll  stick to a simple egg-white glaze – and just 1-2 minutes under the grill.

¡Buen provecho!