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Where to Eat in Madrid

David Nicolas The restaurant's diminutive gift shop, stocked with Spanish goods.

Photo: David Nicolas

Having made Madrid a virtual home away from home for the last 15 years, I’m still figuring out how I feel about the Spanish capital’s recent transformation—from the endearingly dowdy rival of cosmopolitan Barcelona to a sleek, worldly quasi-metropolis. While I might be mourning the closing of a favorite tattered old bakery or button shop, the upside of the city’s thrust into the limelight has been the dramatic makeover of its restaurant scene. Even as culinary innovations swept through Catalonia and the Basque country, Madrileños continued to eat soufflé potatoes at comically old-fashioned places and gulp down jamón at folkloric tapas bars. Suddenly, all that has changed. The local beau monde still adores Casa Lucio, a blue-chip taberna where members of the royal family order french fries with fried eggs. But these days the scramble is on for a taste of Nuevo Latino cuisine at Astrid y Gastón Madrid, or for Iberian-Japanese maki rolls at Kabuki Wellington. In the last couple of years more restaurants seem to have opened in town than in the entire decade before. Young molecular-gastronomers are flash-freezing and foaming at small intimate places; global celebrity designers and chefs are landing in the city to open outposts; and classic cuisine is being updated in stylish surroundings. Here, T+L’s list of 10 notable newcomers worth a visit.

New Guard

David Muñoz—Madrid’s answer to New York’s cult chef David Chang—had to sell his apartment and move in with his parents to open Diverxo, and just weeks after the launch, adventurous epicures were flocking to the drab Tetuán neighborhood to eat at his 20-seat spot, where pink runners on tables are the only visible stab at “décor.” Influenced both by his apprenticeship at London’s Hakkasan and by Ferran Adrià’s deconstructive cuisine, Muñoz juggles Iberian, Asian, and Latin American flavors, throwing improbable curveballs that beguile the palate despite the odds. What would happen if a tapa were cross-pollinated with dim sum?A potato tortilla recast as a mini potato filled with a quail egg and onion confit, then given an Asian twist with chile-and–red-bean emulsion and a chaser of Chinese white tea?Giddy diners can’t wait for what the 28-year-old wunderkind will come up with next. Scoring a reservation?Suerte! (Good luck!)

The current insider favorite among Madrid’s food and wine elite, Senzone, at the new Hospes hotel in Barrio de Salamanca, brings together the unique talents of 27-year-old chef Francisco Morales—a protégé of avant-garde guru Andoni Aduriz, of San Sebastián’s Mugaritz—and his wife, Rut Cotroneo, the country’s brightest young sommelier. The restaurant’s muted minimalism—taupe hues; metallic scrims on windows—is in perfect sync with the understatement of Morales’s short menu. Each dish is a meditation on nature. A thin layer of sea urchin broth dotted with black charcoal oil veils a silken kohlrabi custard. A dusting of macadamias lends nuttiness to the squid, which is shaved into pearlescent, pastalike strands atop a pile of the world’s sweetest green beans. Cotroneo’s connections assure rare sherries and big-ticket, small-release Priorats.

Fernando P. Arellano and Itziar Rodríguez—he cooks, she does the rest—have been anointed by the press as Madrid’s other young “it” restaurant couple. At Zaranda, an intimate, Michelin-starred nook with wood columns and big murals on the walls, Arellano applies the refinement he learned at the Amalfi Coast’s two-starred Don Alfonso to his voluptuous modern-Mediterranean menu: an al dente rice studded with morels and nuggets of cockscomb might precede a neat little slab of crispy-skinned suckling pig served over a caramelized Chinese-cabbage choucroute. The cloudlike goat-cheese mousse dessert with red berry and Rioja sorbet has earned such a following, Arellano had to swear that it would grace his menu forever.

Buzz Central

Madrid’s bona fides as a glitzy international capital were confirmed by the recent opening of Ramses Life & Food right next door to Senzone. A multilevel, multifunctional Philippe Starck–designed fun house—it’s really two restaurants, a basement dance club, and a throbbing scene around the black etched-glass bar. If you’ve seen any of the latest Starck oeuvre, you know what to expect: walls scrawled with apocalyptic graffiti, a design museum’s worth of mix ’n’ match chairs, cryptic unisex bathrooms, and a general sense of dislocation produced by one too many cultural references. More successful than the upstairs dining room is the casual neo-Gothic Petit café. Here, the jeunesse dorée share bowls of mussels in skillfully spiced Thai coconut curry; one of the creamiest pumpkin risottos this side of Mantua; and hamburguesas featuring a succulent chicken patty in a saffrony almond sauce—the chef’s sly take on a folksy Castilian chicken dish called gallina en pepitoria.

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