World-leading chef opens in Madrid. We eat among the first.
by Jo Lamiri - Saturday January 26, 2019 3:01 pm
Arguably Spain’s best chef, Martin Berasategui, opens his first restaurant in Madrid. Jo get’s to be among the first to eat there
Martín Berasategui’s food weaves a sensory tapestry of perfect balance and some pretty inventive flavour combinations. No surprise, then, that he holds a dazzling ten Michelin stars and is Spain’s most acclaimed chef.
Bless Hotel Madrid had opened just a few days before my visit yet it was already a temple to slick service and droolworthy (and Instaworthy) interiors: think acres of marble, hand-laid mosaic flooring, blond wood and chrome bathrooms with claw-footed baths. The public areas are stylishly sexy with huge velvet sofas, subdued lighting and chill music setting the scene.
The Bless Hotel Madrid’s flagship restaurant, Etxeko (it means ‘home’ in Basque) will be followed later this year by one in Ibiza, also with Berasategiu at the pass).
It’s all about ‘experiences’ coupled with ‘hedonistic luxury’: a so-called clandestine bar; bowling alley; dimly lit room for pole-dancing (yes, really) and a bar called Fetén, Madridleño dialect for perfect.
Apparently, the aim is to ‘touch the senses’, “whether a guest is in search of life, love, rest or exquisite food”.
Enticing Martín Berasategui to head up the pass at Etxeko is something of a coup. With his clutch of eight stars, and food that the Michelin inspectors describe as ‘art’.
His first Michelin star came at the tender age of 25 for the eponymous Restaurante Martín Berasategui, which now has three stars, as does Lasarte in Barcelona. M.B at The Ritz Carlton Abama in Tenerife is playing catch-up with two.
Martín is the antithesis of cheffy ego, warmly shaking hands and seemingly genuinely concerned that our meal had been good (something of an understatement).
Like many legends, he is humble and sincere (“What I achieve is as much about my team as it is about Martín Berasategui. Every member of the time brings something unique”).
Now 58, he has been cooking for 44 years, starting with a helping hand in his parents’ restaurant business in San Sebastian. His father, “a character in world gastronomy", has been a lifelong influence.
Even now, Martín strives to continually change and improve how he deals with ingredients: even as a young man, he’d work six days in the restaurant and, on his day off, go into France for formal patisserie training. That’s dedication for you.
“My parents’ restaurant was just 50 metres from one of the best food markets in San Sebastian, so it was easy to find out what the fishermen had caught, or the butcher had slaughtered, what was in season, at its best on that day.”
Befriending these growers and producers gave him a lifelong respect for the origins of our food and those who work so hard to produce it.
He also describes the market with its fish, meat and vegetables as his first sensorial experience of flavours and tastes. “A restaurant isn’t just about chefs and pâtissiers: local food producers have always played a major part."
Surprisingly, Etxeko at Bless is Martín’s first solo venture in the Spanish capital, although he did work in a Madrid restaurant 26 years ago.
Taking him back to his roots, it’s an exciting chance to showcase his passions, igniting emotion in the clients in the process. “Madrid has an amazing gastronomic culture and I hope to pay homage to this – there are so many students of gastronomy here that my batteries are being recharged!”
When asked about his extraordinary success, Martín shrugs and smiles. “I have a non-conformist attitude to food. The world of food is constantly evolving, so it’s a continual learning process.
“Both personally and professionally, I want to project happiness through my cooking. When I started it was difficult, not an amazing career, cooking over coals in hot kitchens!
But I’ve dedicated my life to gastronomy. My goal is to bring colour and authenticity, drawing on my experience of the market all those years ago – and the people who worked there – to this restaurant in Madrid.”
Many chefs 20 years younger than Martín are content to hang their toques up at three Michelin stars. So what drives him? He laughs. “There was an orchard in my hometown and my family would say the more apples it produced, the healthier the land. It’s the same with Michelin stars. When you have one star, you don’t want to lose that star, but you also think about the next one.”
With that ambitious salvo, he’s off to the pass to supervise our lunch. And what a lunch it was, using classic Spanish ingredients throughout – anchovies, gazpacho, pork belly, hake, pigs’ trotters, pimentón, almonds, tuna.
Although every course referenced Martín’s roots, there were added touches of brilliance: cucumber foam alongside the signature steak tartare to offset the richness of the meat (possibly inspired by the wonderful foie gras and green apple amuse bouche from Lasarte).
Sprinkles of charcoal and pimentón added elements of fire reminiscent of Martín’s early days of cooking over coals.
Fish was to the fore. The popular Spanish hake was wrapped in bacon alongside a false curry fennel risotto, adding aniseed and spicy hints; a ‘lasaña’ with the more familiar pasta and caponata components given an injection of flavour with gorgeous plump anchovies and a splash of Basque gazpacho.
A refreshing and light pickled parsley salad with tuna was like spring on a plate and there was a dessert of sublime brilliance: cold essence of basil, lime sorbet, juniper granita and touches of almond.
It is honest Spanish gastronomy at its best. No muddled flavours, no digestive overload; no palate-confusing combinations. Go while you can and before you have to book months ahead – we reckon his ninth star can’t be far away.