Thursday, 11 February 2016

St. Valentine's at Ibérica.

I'm generally not a huge fan of eating in restaurants on Valentine's Day but some places like Ibérica are not having a closed menu as such, they're just adding a few special tapas for the occasion. You can choose to eat them or just their usual menu if you want which is rather a good idea. We got a sneak preview of what they have in store on Sunday and I got to use my new camera too.
Seared Wild Red King Prawns (£11).
Absolutely divine, product as good as you will find in Spain. In our opinion these should be on the menu permanently. If there are better giant prawns in Manchester I've not had them.
There is also Hake with Cockles & Potato Cream. (£10). Very good.

Textures of Chocolate. (£5.50) is another winner with us.
There is a Special Deli Hamper (£35). We didn't get to taste what was in these but there are chocolate lips in there made by the famous Patisserie Escribá from Barcelona.
I normally try not to pass comment on previews such as this but forgive me on this occasion, those prawns were too good not to mention it.
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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

La Terraza del Casino de Madrid.

La Terraza del Casino is in a grand and opulent old hotel in the heart of Madrid. It used to be an outpost of the Ferran Adriá empire but now it's run by Paco Roncero a celebrity chef also with a reputation as one of the most respected in Spain. (He won the National Gastronomy Award in 2006). We had an enjoyable lunch there on a sunny winter lunchtime.
We begin with a refreshing frozen Pisco-Sour Cocktail.
Then some beautiful snacks... Anchovies in vinegar, potato with ali-oli and olives. Olive oil frozen toast, olive oil soufflé and olive oil cheese. 
It was wonderful to have an El Bulli favourite again, (see our review from 2004 here). The liquid olive that we enjoyed at both Tickets and The 41º Degrees Experience is always a great pleasure to eat. Next shrimp omelette like Tortillas de Camarones, you can also find a version of this at Aponiente.
All the snacks are superb. This initial part of a meal is often our favourite as it is here. I wish in a way that the whole afternoon could be spent eating small plates like this. We must continue... Poached egg and wild mushrooms. (Bread below. I had to try all three types for research purposes).
Hake with codium seaweed pil-pil.
Pigeon with apple-cru and truffle purée.
We notice some oysters going out to another table and request this as an additional course, they are as fresh as you can imagine. Oyster with pickled carrot. I love the way the taste of the sea lingers on your lips.
I could not really fault La Terraza del Casino. The food is beautiful and the service is as efficient as you'd expect in a two Michelin star restaurant. The snacks part of the meal is especially is marvellous fun and the elegant dining room (created by prestigious designer Jaime Hayon) is such a pleasure to eat in. There are not many better ways of enjoying a long lazy lunch in the heart of Madrid.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Grey's Fine Foods.

The backbone of any good restaurant is quality produce. I bumped into one of these suppliers a few months ago at the opening of Baratxuri in Ramsbottom. Javier of Grey's Fine Foods works with Fiona & Joe at Levanter as well as Michael O'Hare at The Man Behind the Curtain.
When a man I've never met before asks if he can send me some meat in the post who am I to refuse? Sure enough a parcel arrived the following week with some Secreto Ibérico, a bottle of wine and some Montanegra Ibérico Jamon.
Twenty years ago much to my embarrassment I just didn't 'get' jamón, it tasted to me like raw bacon. In time my palate matured and I understand it as one of the finest things in life. From Extremadura and fed on acorns, this was seriously good too, some of the very best I've eaten. 
I was a little more nervous about cooking the Secreto Ibérico. This cut between the pig's shoulder blade is literally translated as the 'Iberian secret'. I didn't want to bugger this prized piece of meat up. I think I just about did it justice, Essentially I treated it like a piece of steak. This is the produce used in this signature dish at The Man Behind The Curtain; Secreto Ibérico, ajo blanco and BBQ cinders below.
Above, my attempt sizzling in the pan.
Then because it's not all about the freebies, I bought a box of Carabinero Prawns for £45. They arrived promptly next day. The box said they were from Sanlucar de Barrameda on the south west coast of Spain, a place very close to our hearts. 
I experimented with cooking times of the prawns and found that one and a half minutes each side on a hot wok or pan is perfect. Levanter are also now selling these, they cook them on the plancha. Javier tells me he can also source Denia Prawns, these are even more prized (we had them recently at Sacha in Madrid) and so are much more expensive. I'm saving up to buy a box of them.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Restaurante Alabaster, Madrid.

Imagine a restaurant in Britain having the confidence to place a single sardine on a plate and just serve you that? Certain in the knowledge that this is all that this is likely to be the finest sardine you've ever eaten. One of those restaurants in Madrid is Alabaster. Like so many other Spanish places that we love, they have an obsession with 'productos' here, in this case primarily Galician. In London, I could imagine somewhere like Hedone being so self assured in their product, a restaurant that is popular for this reason with my Spanish pals on twitter.
We were determined to get a reservation but it's incredibly popular here for all the right reasons. We finally got a last minute booking on a very busy Friday lunchtime.
It's an impressive, elegant restaurant with service to match. The wine list is extensive, I've never seen such a list with at least a dozen Albariños and more Godellos. I always ask for help in these cases and we end up with a small tasting menu with wines to match. (They will make one up for customers although there is no official taster menu as such).
We begin with some home made pork scratchings and a creamy dip.
Then those sardines, virtually unadorned. These are easily equal to those we had in Etxebarri, these are so perfect and fresh, served on a cracker. You really don't need much else when the produce is as good as this. Sardina ahumada en tosta con queso de Arzúa, tomate y cebolleta.
Snacks; croquetas etc.
A lovely comforting dish of egg, mushroom and truffle, we had a few versions of this on our Madrid weekend trip. Huevo Mollet empanado, con Setas de temporada.
The Spanish adore Hake and so do we, this was a magnificent piece of fish with a creamy sauce. Merluza de Burela al vapor con pil-pil de lima limón.
A great chunk of solid foie-gras is always a pleasure as it is here.
Finally a very agreeable square of juicy, crisp pork belly and a couple of beautiful desserts finish us off nicely.
There is no secret to Alabaster. They just source the best product they can (as good as anywhere we've been if not better) and treat it with the respect it deserves. Francisco Ramírez (one of the managers) tells us proudly that you won't find better produce in Madrid even in the starred places and I can't see any reason to disagree.
We were so impressed, there a fewer restaurants than make me happier than this place. In fact it kind of spoilt a few places we've visited after it (over here), because they weren't quite as good in comparison. It's one of those restaurants that you think about weeks after you ate there. Put it right at the top of your list when you visit Madrid and why wouldn't you?