Rose Dykins embarks on a VIP Chef’s Table tour of Madrid – a luxury foodie adventure that includes a shopping trip to San Anton food market, a cookery course and Michelin-star fine dining
In the past, my impressions of Spanish cuisine have been marred by mediocre British high street tapas bars, and erroneous menu choices while in Spain.
In Sitges, I’ve tucked into bland, tourist-trap paella peppered with chunks of chorizo (an English addition that nobody asked for, especially Spanish chefs). I have forced down tepid gazpacho in Malaga, and dusty dry huevas in Seville (which my companions and I learnt was roe squashed into the the shape of a sausage, and not in fact, fried eggs).
Ten years after my first visit to Madrid, I’m here on a mission to finally taste Spain the right way. I want to encounter flavours and regional specialities I’d never find on my own, and to learn from the people who create them.
And I want to experience the creativity of one of the capital’s seven Michelin-star restaurants – the likes of where I could only dream of getting a table if left to my own powers of persuasion.
So, Luxury Travel Advisors’ four-day VIP Chef’s Table tour of Madrid seems like the right opportunity to reacquaint myself with Madrid. A luxury ‘foodie adventure’ that promises to be exclusive and hands-on, with a definite decadent streak (everything is taken care of for you). Sounds like the perfect antidote to my Spanish culinary missteps so far.
After waking up amid the decadence of the five-star Villa Magna Hotel, our Chef’s Table tour begins in Madrid’s central Chueca district, where gay pride flags flutter from spindly black balconies, and at 11 o’clock on a sunny wintery Saturday morning, most residents are yet to emerge from their post-party slumber, so it’s an ideal time for a guided tour of San Anton food market to shop for the ingredients before our cooking workshop.
With a gastronomy expert as our guide, and a large wheelie shopping bag in tow, we pass from counter to counter, sampling as we go, and gathering one superlative piece of produce after another: plump langoustines, glistening squid, succulent tomatoes the size of mini pumpkins…
The three-floor San Anton market feels local and compact, and is infused with a millennial vibe – established in the 19th century, it reopened in 2011 with free wifi, colourful bunting, cooking demo areas, and a rooftop restaurant with a terrace.
At 11 o’clock on a sunny wintery Saturday morning, most residents are yet to emerge from their post-party slumber, so it’s an ideal time for a guided tour of San Anton food market
With each stop we make at the food counters, the incredible stories keep coming, each one adding a different regional stamp, and it’s clear that Mercado San Anton is a microcosm of artisanal Spain.
The cheese section of the market, for example, is particularly fascinating. We taste an award-winning Cabrales cheese, a potent, crumbly blue concoction, which we’re told is produced by a man who lives alone in the Asturias mountains, and who packs donkeys with the cheese to carry it to a cave.
Here it is stored at 95% humidity, treated by salt carried by the sea breeze, and washed every three days with water from the cave’s stalactites. And, from Galicia, we sample some soft, creamy (and aptly named) Tetilla cheese from Don Crisanto (shaped like a boob, this cheese was originally created as a subtle protest to occupiers of a Galician village during the Spanish Civil War).
Time to cook. Within easy walking distance from San Anton market, via charming narrow streets, is A Punto cooking school, where chef Rudolfo Debernardi puts us to work.
‘Yeah, squid does that!’ he jokes, as a fleshy white ring springs up in the air a couple of inches with a pop from the sizzling hot pan. Rudolfo is my kind of teacher. He joshes with us, tops up our sherry glasses when they run low, and his passion for each ingredient is naturally infectious. All in all, this cookery workshop feels like learning from a friend.
Rudolfo is my kind of teacher. He joshes with us, tops up our sherry glasses when they run low, and his passion for each ingredient is naturally infectious
I learn that sofrito is a sauce used as a base for Spanish homecooking, comprising onions, peppers, tomato, garlic and paprika. The kitchen smells divine as its components sizzle and mingle together, forming the foundation for both the Alicante-style paella we are making and the Fideuà.
Originating from Valencia, the latter is similar to a seafood paella, only with pieces of vermicelli-style noodles instead of rice. Once we’ve all chipped in, and the bronze mixture has set, the magnificent langoustines positioned on top, Rudolfo swiftly grinds garlic into a pestle and mortar, adds lashings of olive oil, and whips up an aioli sauce, before we tuck in to our lunch.
Throughout the Madrid Chef’s Table Tour with Luxury Travel Advisors, there are plenty of surprises. During an exclusive tapas tour of the city, one of our stops is Lhardy’s (frequented by of none other than Queen Elizabeth II) where a reviving meat and vegetable broth laced with Tio Pepe sherry is served in tea cups – warming us from the inside within seconds – along with tender chicken liver pastries and moreish croquettes.
Steeped in history (established in 1832) Lhardy’s is famous for being Spain’s first haute cuisine restaurant, and we climb a winding staircase to discover its first-floor museum, where the original dining rooms, with gold chandeliers and intricate leather wallpaper, are beautifully preserved.
During an exclusive tapas tour of the city, one of our stops is Lhardy’s, frequented by of none other than Queen Elizabeth II
Another firm highlight of the itinerary is wine tasting at contemporary Mediterranean restaurant Paradis Madrid, where the signatures of its famous visitors upon the wall set a strong precedent (if it’s good enough for Shakira…).
White sherry is served with thin slices of flavoursome bull meat, while a fatty slice of salmon topped with roe pops perfectly against a cava. We slurp our way through just under ten different wines, each one complex, interesting and perfectly paired with an exciting tasting plate.
As high as my expectations were for Luxury Travel Advisors’ Chef’s Table Tour (and the finery the name suggests), I could not have anticipated how special my Madrid Michelin dining experience would be.
We are treated to a multi-course dinner at the two-Michelin-star Ramon Freixa, with its focus on seasonal produce and authentic flavours. Catalan chef Ramon Freixa has a highly individual approach to food – even the bread served throughout is handmade by his father’s bakery.
As the first course is served with a flourish, I feel goosebumps. Actual goosebumps. Before me, a oyster sits in its shell, complete with a pearl nestled amid pickled seaweed, upon a bowl that swirls with steam like a witch’s cauldron.
Elsewhere on the table are what appear to be pebbles, but turn out to be manchego cheese. Tree stumps, eggs and flowers and exquisite butterfly-themed crockery nod to the natural world, and each course is choreographed to surprise, delight and tell a story.
And, needless to say, the flavour combinations are inventive, original and satisfying. We sit down to dinner at 9pm, and stay there until our coffee cups are cleared well after midnight (though time seems to fly).
I came to Madrid to find food that made me feel something. Mission accomplished.
Luxury Travel Advisors’ Chef’s Table Tour of Madrid includes five-star accommodation, luxury airport transfers, a visit to Mercado San Antón with a gastronomic expert, a cookery workshop, a private walking tapas tour, a wine tasting experience with paired artisanal produce and all meals, including a tasting menu at one of the following Michelin-star restaurants: DiverXO***, Ramón Freixa** or Club Allard** . Priced from £2,800 per person. See luxurytraveladvisors.co.uk