Saturday, 26 April 2014

Madrid: A Molecular Gastronomy Lunch at Sergi Arola Gastro

Location:  Sergi Arola Gastro
                 Calle Zurbano, 31 Madrid
                 Nearest Metro Station: Alonso Martinez

Accolades: 2 Michelin Stars

The Chef/Owner :  Sergi Arola worked for eight years in El Bulli before opening his own restaurant.  El Bulli is of course the famed restaurant in Rosas, Spain which  started the revolution on food cooking techinques and began what is now known as  modernist cuisine.  Chef Sergi is considered as one of the most popular disciples of  the cooking god  Ferran Adria.

                                             The chef and his wife.

The Restaurant

Reservations are absolutely required.  You can make reservations online through
When you arrive at the restaurant, they  will graciously  check your name against the reservation list.

The interiors are subdued, classic yet not too formal.  There is a calmness that´s both reassuring and approachable.  Orders are whispered, explanations about the dishes are given in hushed tones.

                                           Simple, classic table setting that isn´t intimidating

Act 1:  The Menu

Once we are seated, a small booklet is given with the choices of Menu.  A Sergi Arola Menu which is an eight course tasting menu  (prohibitive at 130€ per person).  A Discovery Menu is a six course meal  ( 95€ per person).  The Lunch Menu, which is available only on weekdays, is the most reasonably priced at 49€ per person.  All three prices  are without drinks, so an additional 10 -20€ for wine/coffee/ tea/water should be factored in your expected bill.

Act 2:  Amuse Bouche 

Bite-sized creations to prep our palates for the meal ahead.  These are not part of the menu and are given as a courtesy by the chef.

                              Savoury ice cream  with an olive sphere embedded in the middle.

                             Left:  Tortilla Espanola  ( a sphere of liquid egg on top of a tasty cube of potato)
                         Right: A one bite sandwich of cheese and herbs.  I don´t really recall the exact composition of this one. I guess it did not register well enough.

                          Patatas Brava reinvented:  Small cylinders of mashed yet somewhat crispy potatoes topped with aioli

Act 3:  The Bread Basket

                 A trio of olive, spelt and sunflower seed breads baked inhouse; pretzels sticks also                                  made inhouse; butter,  flavored salt,  some sort of herb seasoning, and a sweet honey sauce

Act 4:  The First Course

                       My first course:  King Prawn "Nigiri" with  fake caviar (the red spheres),  discs of  seaweed essence.  The prawns are brought to the table raw,  then a hot soup of dashi is poured to partially cooked the prawns.  I loved this dish!  It´s  ebi nigiri without the carbs and starch!

My friend´s first course:  Penne ala creme with  Cod Belly and Sea Urchin.  According to him, it was delicious.   The pasta dish was a tad too traditional for me, so I didn´t try. 

Act 5: The Main Dish

My main course:  Perfectly cooked tuna cubes with a white sauce blanquette and 
     vegetables in season (baby carrot, endives, beet, leeks).   The tuna is delicious but what made the dish was the complex white sauce. It wasn´t creamy per se but there is a hint of milky umami.

                         M´s main course:  Pigeon cooked two ways, stuffed with foie gras and blood sausage.  Served with marinated beet roots.

I got to try M´s main and was (un)lucky enough to fork through a cube of foie gras.  Foie gras on its own is never really my thing. Liver in all its reincarnation is something I don´t particularly for so this dish isn´t something I´d love.  I  was happy enough with my relatively straightforward dish of tuna in delicious white sauce.

Act 6:  The Desserts

My chosen dessert is a faux souffle of tonka bean and honey ice cream.  The souffle is infused with the vanilla-like flavor of tonka, is feather light in texture, and is utterly devoid of sweetness.  A little scoop of  the sweet honey ice cream on the mouth, followed by a spoonful of tonka beans, and the dessert comes together.

My friend´s dessert,  a crispy kiwi mousee with lavender  cotton encased with a crystal clear sugar veloute gets  A+ for  visual presentation.  It was as delicous as it looked. A+ indeed.

The last sweet bite:  a complementary  platter of  Chef Arola´s interpretation of Tiramisu in bite size.  There is none of the heavy sweetness I have come to dislike in  the tiramisus I´ve tried.  These has only the heady flavor of coffee, the springy texture of soaked cake and a dollop of cream to break the strong flavors.  

The Bill:
For our meal, including two cups of  tea, both steeped from leaves, a litre of Mineral Water,  it came to 67€ per person.  Certainly not an every day ( or even every month) kind of  eating out,  Nevertheless,   it was an indulgence that was well worth the price.

My Recommendation and a Caveat:
Sergi Arola is a restaurant  run by someone on top of his game.  Food lovers  would do well to come to his restaurant if they find themselves in Madrid.   Though not within everyday lunch prices,  the pricing at Sergi Arola is pretty good and quite lower than other restaurants of the same persuasion.

Do not worry, the  food is delicious.  The use of  flavor spheres and disks,  of  featherlight souffle not made with flour,  or the burst of intense olive flavor on my mouth,  these elements of modernist cuisine  made my mouth and mind run from being puzzled to being  happily surprised with the unusual texture/flavor combinations.  But if I rate it, out of 10 stars,  I´d give Sergi Arola a solid eight.  Delicious food,  impeccable service and a beautifully minimalist restaurant,  but I think in my heart, there is still that one restaurant that can surpass even this experience.  I hope I get to find it soon.

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