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Best New European Restaurants 2005

MADRID

Twenty-two-year-old chef Jaime Renedo had a hard time convincing his mother to let him open a restaurant inside her Asian antiques store. How lucky that she relented: Asiana (4 Travesía de San Mateo; 34/91-310-0965; tasting menu for two $195; by reservation only) is one of Madrid's most exciting discoveries. Ring the bell and you'll be whisked down to one of seven candlelit tables in a subterranean space crammed with Ming vases and gilded Buddhas. From the first amuse-bouche—a black olive–and-Parmesan mini "Oreo"—the plated objets command center stage. Renedo has lived all over the world, and he and his Japanese partner are El Bulli veterans. Together, they dream up multicourse feasts that marry Spanish ingredients to their cosmopolitan sensibilities. Tender seared Galician squid is paired with porcini petals and ­macadamia-oil aioli; pasta handkerchiefs arrive dressed with nuggets of lobster, dusky jamón slivers, and a frothy black pepper infusion. Mom, of course, is thrilled with her son's rave reviews.

Want a crash course in Spain's cocina conceptual?Order the degustation at Dassa Bassa (7 Calle  Villalar; 34/91-576-7397; tasting menu for two $100), a mod white-on-white boîte run by the dashing chef Darío Barrio and his wife, Itziar, the most gracious of maître d's. A spoonful of dry martini is "spherified" into an ephemeral bubble with the aid of calcium chloride—a technique borrowed from Ferran Adrià. Next, a chilled almond soup is poured around ginger-ale gelée, the sweetness of which is balanced by bacalao and trout eggs. Dessert brings together carrot cake, beet foam made in a soda siphon, and a flan of reduced mango cream. Distilling the latest innovations from Spain's modern masters into playful personal statements, Barrio has a knack for making avant-garde dishes taste as enjoyable as a plate of Joselito ham at a tapas bar.

Scene-y London-style spots are a relative novelty in Madrid, so the capital is abuzz over Hotel Urban and its Glass Bar packed with pijos (the smart set) grooving over champagne cocktails and sushi. The restaurant, Europa Decó (34 Carrera de San Jerónimo; 34/91-787-7770; dinner for two $120), is more impressive still: golden Venetian mosaic columns, black Brazilian granite floors, Papuan totems. Not expecting great food from a menu presented in faux snakeskin?Por favor, this is Spain! Joaquín de Felipe, one of the city's most accomplished chefs, will woo you with raw fish preparations; turn you on to new-wave gazpachos, like the silky Kamone-tomato purée with fava beans; and reassure you with soulful meat dishes. His skirt steak of Ibérico pig is pure comfort food.

LONDON

The quest for food that combines Spain's progressive technique with Gallic voluptuousness and a dash of British wit ends at Maze (10–13 Grosvenor Square; 44-207/ 107-0000; lunch for two $120), with Gordon Ramsay's gifted protégé, Jason Atherton, at the stoves. The David Rockwell–designed, split-level room is vaguely Deco, a little sixties, and entirely urbane—while prices are gentle, especially by London standards. When the waiter, eager to please (if a bit frazzled), recommends that you try six tapas-sized plates plus desserts—listen to him. It would be tragic to miss out on something as ingenious as Cornish crab mayonnaise with corn sorbet and a flourish of caviar, or as sophisticated as chanterelles scattered atop a cauliflower emulsion. Paul Smith–clad barristers rave about the chocolate fondant with a molten caramel core and savory almond-and–sea salt ice cream. The verdict is in: Maze is the city's hottest newcomer.

There are more modern Indian restaurants in London than there are lip-synching lovers in Bollywood, so it takes brilliance to re­ignite the city's curry-numbed palate. Amaya (Halkin Arcade, Motcomb St.; 44-207/ 823-1166; dinner for two $150), from the owners of Chutney Mary, has done just that. Leather chairs arranged around rosewood tables, flickering votives, and a bar that glows from within contribute to the sexy vibe. In the open kitchen, grill wallahs tend to their tandoors and tawas (iron griddles), exploring new dimensions of texture and flavor in cardamom-spiked, Hyderabad-style grilled chicken patties with an oozy center of raita; masala-smothered, pandanus-wrapped lamb shanks that put osso buco to shame; or a gutsy fish tikka that vibrates in the key of fenugreek. Madonna may have just walked in, but spicy spinach cakes stuffed with fresh fig are the star of the evening.

Around the corner from Sir Terence Conran's noisy Bluebird gastrodome, a discreet sign announces: the club is now open to the public. Welcome to Bluebird Dining Rooms (350 Kings Rd.; 44-207/559-1129; dinner for two $120), a former members-only dining club that Conran's son, Tom, has turned into a temple of British cuisine (yes, oggies, skuets, and potted goose are on offer). Chef Michael Broadbent's menu lovingly lists the provenance of each morsel: Dorset Blue lobsters, Welsh salt-marsh lamb, Tobermory scallops. Vanilla-sweet crabis presented with the kind of deadpan simplicity only Brits can pull off. A slab of organic Middle White pork belly under a crackling layer of skin needs no other accoutrement than horseradish sauce. The sherry-soaked trifle is a doting tribute to Granny.

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