Santceloni, in the basement of the Hisperia Madrid hotel, opened in 2001. It was established as the little sister of (now closed) three star Michelin Can Fabes, which was in the sleepy village of Sant Celoni near Barcelona. The restaurant Santceloni gained a Michelin star in its first year, and a second in 2005. Its kitchen is headed up by Oscar Velasco, who worked for many years at Can Fabes but did not grace the restaurant with his presence this evening (he was apparently in Mexico).
The dining room has smart, modern decor, with a slightly raised section on one side of the room. The floor is tiled, and there is a central display of hanging copper pots and pans. Tables are large and generously spaced, with 42 covers the normal capacity level, though there is also a private dining room. In the kitchen there were a dozen chefs. There was an a la carte menu, but we went for the tasting menu at €142.
The wine list arrived in two hardback tomes, and had deep coverage of Spanish and French producers, with a reasonable selection of wines from other countries as well. The mark-up levels were fair by London standards, but significantly higher than the other two Michelin star restaurants in Madrid that I tried on the same trip as this. Examples were Remelluri Reserva 2006 at €56 for a wine that you can pick up in a shop for €20, Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 1998 at €90 compared to a retail price of €29, up to prestige wines like Mouton Rothschild 2003 at €901 for a wine that will set you back around €421 in the high street (albeit a very smart high street). We drank the excellent Torres Milmanda 2007, and the 1998 vintage of the lovely Rioja Alta 904.
Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen, and had a selection of four large loaves that were presented at the start of the meal before being sliced. The bread was pleasant rather than anything to quicken the pulse, the cereal bread the best of the ones I tried (16/20). Initial nibbles were a clam from Cadiz, a nice fried veal sweetbread, and octopus with pear cream on a little crisp. These were around 16/20 level, but there was one better nibble, a quail egg with paprika served in a little pastry case, which was delicate and delicious (18/20).
Blini with broccoli cream and caviar of flying fish had a nice blini, but was otherwise uninspiring (14/20). A chickpea salad with oxtail had tender enough chickpeas but less oxtail flavour than it might have done (15/20). Next was pasta stuffed with cod, cooked with red pepper and garlic oil, which I found rather bland (15/20). Better was a very good leek and potato soup with aubergine caviar, which was accurately seasoned and had deep flavour, with a piece of tender pork dewlap (neck) that had been cooked sous vide (17/20).
This was followed by a ravioli of smoked ricotta with Petrossian caviar, a dish that was surprisingly lacking in flavour (barely 15/20). Better was smoked cuttlefish with vine shoots, served with roast tomatoes and pepper oil, with the cuttlefish having good flavour and the smokiness not dominant (16/20). Next was gilt head bream served with glazed carrots and mustard yoghurt, which worked quite well (16/20). The main course was a success, roe deer loin with endive confit, the deer cooked rare and having good flavour (just about 17/20).
A vast cheese board had a dizzying array of choices, the cheeses I tried being in good condition. For dessert there was quince tartar roasted with pepper cream, which was pleasant enough (16/20) as was soft cheese ice cream with nuts, brandy and honey (16/20). Coffee was of high quality and served with a large selection of petit fours.
Service was friendly and largely efficient, with a particularly nice sommelier. The bill came to €240 (£205) per person, which included some good wines, but was still pretty hefty. Overall this was a pleasant meal, but for me was not of two star level other than the price. This was actually my second meal here (I ate here five years ago) and my recollections that the earlier meal was a notch or two higher in standard than the meal tonight. I am not sure whether this a symptom of a general decline, an off night or something to do with the absence of the chef, but I was a little disappointed with the meal overall tonight. There were no really bad dishes, but only one or two dishes came near to what I would hope for in a two Michelin star meal.