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Sergi Arola in Madrid - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 91.
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Spanish celebrity chef and restaurateur Sergi Arola's eponymous restaurant is located in the Chamberi district in Madrid. Sergi Arola (b. 1968) received his training in the 90s from iconic three-star chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria, among others. In 1997 he became executive chef at La Broche restaurant in Madrid. The restaurant won its first Michelin star the next year and a second star followed in 2000. In 2007 Sergio left La Broche and the next year he opened his own restaurant, simply called Sergi Arola. Michelin again awarded the restaurant 2 Michelin stars in their 2009 guide.

Sergi Arola is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday. There's an a la carte menu but you can also put together your own tasting menu with dishes from the a la carte menu. There are two tasting menu options: Sergi Arola tasting menu (canapes, amuse bouche, two starters, fish, meat, pre-dessert and dessert for €135) and the Discovery tasting menu (canapes, amuse bouche, starter, fish, meat and dessert for €105). I had dinner with my husband at Sergi Arola on Saturday 5 April 2014 and we both opted for the Discovery tasting menu.

The meal started with a refreshing orange (caviar), red vermouth (foam) and green olive (sphere) cocktail, accompanied by the first two canapes: Spanish omelette  (potato cube with egg yolk) and a green olive sandwich. This was followed by a serving of 5 more canapes:  'Patatas Bravas', fried salty potato cylinders, topped with salsa and served with a spicy garlic cream - Tortilla cornetto with a soft shrimp filling and garnished with crisp baby prawns - Crisp squid ink toast squares with a lemony squid filling - Potato and meat croquetas - Gazpacho sphere. A wonderful start of this meal, I realy liked Sergi Arola's orginal take on Patatas Bravas and the squid ink sandwich was delicious.

Spanish omelette and olive sandwich

Croquettas and gazpacho sphere

Squid ink sandwich

Subsequently there was an amuse bouche served in a small Kilner jar (no photograph). At the bottom of the jar was a white asparagus puree, followed by a light asparagus foam with an 'al dente' green asparagus tip on top. Lovely intense asparagus flavours from the puree, that had a nice smooth texture.

A selection of homemade breads, served with butter, olive paste and two types of salt (herb and warm spices).

Sardines were next. Terrific, grilled sardines on top of a deep-fried egg yolk ravioli (with a liquid yolk inside) and garnished with a generous amount of chopped chives. Also on the plate was a salad of black trompette mushrooms and thinly sliced onions, served with a wonderfully umami-rich dressing made with the sardine bones and charcoal olive oil. The sardines had been briefly grilled on one side, delivering a wonderful combination of textures and flavours, literally nice and oily on the one side and more fresh on the other. Great texture from the crisp ravioli and the egg yolk gave the dish a nice creamy touch.

My fish course was 'White Tuna Blanquette'. Cubes of tuna (seared on one side) and a selection of grilled vegetables like fennel, beetroot, carrot, corn and baby leek, served with a velvety blanquette sauce that had been flavoured with bonito flakes. The sauce was wonderfully creamy and the flavours of the bonito flakes came through beautifully, adding a elegant smoky touch. Nice caramelisation on the grilled vegetables, which added extra flavour. A well-executed dish with warm, lovely flavours and a nice contrast of textures.

Even better was the next course called "Fricandó 2014". First a plate arrived with toasted almond 'sawdust', sliced fried pink garlic, deep-fried parsley, mushrooms, onion rings and carrot, around which a generous portion of thinly carved, meltingly tender beef was arranged. Next a seriously delicious onion and mushroom sauce was spooned over the meat. A great marriage of hearty and very satisfying flavours. The caramelised bitters from the garlic helped cut through the richness nicely and the quality of the beef was superb. An elegant and modern take on this usually rustic Spanish classic.

For dessert I had cheese. Three slices of terrific 36-month Comté accompanied by a mini copper fondue pot with Canari potatoes in a buttery cream, chive and white wine sauce. An unusual style of dessert, but who can say no the combination of cheese, potatoes and cream?

This was a nicely coherent meal, where all the dishes had a common theme running through them. Sergi Arola takes authentic Spanish ingredients and recipes and incorporates them in a personal style of cooking that plays tradition against modernism and the occasional hint of rusticity against elegance. Modern Michelin-starred food can be quite anonymous, but not here. However, this is not a cuisine that aims for the ultimate in finesse or precision. The cooking is quite complex but not overdone and the occasionally off-piste flavour combinations add tension. Where the start of the meal was quite dynamic and inventive, the fish and meat courses were more comforting but provided interesting flavour combinations. The dining room is modern and welcoming and the tables are (slightly unusually) adorned with leather tablecloths. Sergi Arola's wife and restaurant manager Sara Fort has created a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant, where service is excellent. If you are looking for quintessentially Spanish fine dining, Sergi Arola is definitely a place to go to.

Posted 11-07-2014


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