Sergi Arola is one of the modernist school of chefs, having trained in Barcelona after leaving culinary school, and in 1995 joining Ferran Adria's culinary research centre in Barcelona. In 1997 he moved to Madrid, and in 2000 opened his own restaurant there. The restaurant is up a flight of stairs as you enter the building, with a bar downstairs. The dining room is long and narrow, with a low ceiling, tiled floor and quite low lighting. Tables are a good size, though in the limited space they are quite close together; it is a small restaurant, with ten tables set on the evening of my visit. The format is of a tasting menu, but you can choose how many courses to try, from four courses at €105 up to a full tasting menu at €160.
The wine list extended over 85 pages, and as might be expected had an excellent selection of Spanish wines. There was also good coverage of France, with more limited selections from other countries. I noticed one wine at €32, and there was plenty of choice below €50. Example wines of listed were Sandrone Barbera d’Alba 2006 at €41 compared to a retail price of €25, Ramonet Boudriotte Chassagne Montrachet 2008 at €92 for a wine that costs €42 in the shops, up to grander wines such as Chateau Margaux 1999 at €637 for a wine that will set you back €422 in the shops, and Vega Sicilia Unico 1996 at €348 compared to a shop price of €261. I drank Alion 2007, which was priced at €86 for a wine that you can find for around €51 if you look hard enough.
An initial nibble was an example of the chef's interest in modern kitchen techniques: a Caesar salad foam. This really did taste of Caesar salad, and while this is all very clever was this really preferably to actually serving a little Caesar salad? (15/20). An array of further tapas then appeared. Patatas bravas was a modern take on the classic potato dish, here with four miniature ones, very similar indeed to those served at Cambio de Tercio in London (another kitchen with a chef that spent time with Ferran Adria). These were delicious (17/20). A squid "sandwich", between two delicate crisps, was also good and non-chewy (16/20), a "bomb" of potato, cream, garlic and tomato was pleasant though could have done with more flavour intensity (15/20), a crisp ham roll was nicely made (16/20). The only slightly false note was a wasabi ice cream, which firstly did not use real wasabi root but just wasabi purée i.e. coloured horseradish, and seemed out of place with these other Spanish dishes, though it was competently made (14/20).
There was one further nibble, and this turned out to be the highlight of the meal. An intense mousse of chanterelles was topped with "rocks" made from olive oil, parsley and garlic powder, garnished with a couple of shimeji mushrooms. The mousse had superb flavour, and was boldly seasoned but not over-salty (18/20). Breads were made from scratch and tonight comprised slices of white, white with rosemary and a dark brown bread with malt and cereal. These were capable rather than exciting (16/20).
My starter was sardines cooked with a deep fried crispy egg (still with a liquid centre), with a chanterelle salad and a little red wine sauce. This was enjoyable, a hearty dish with a combination of flavours that worked well (17/20). A pair of prawns were of good quality and capably cooked, served with a creamy sauce made from a stock that was based on cooking the heads and shells of the prawns, served with a little garlic mayonnaise and miniature salted beets. This was another well made, enjoyable dish whose flavours worked well together (17/20).
My initial choice of wood pigeon was remarkably chewy, hard to cut even with a sharp steak knife, but the staff dealt with this problem well and swapped this for a very pleasant monkfish dish, the fish baked and served with its own liver with a ring of stewed pochas beans (a type of string bean from Navarra). The monkfish dish was 16/20 standard.
A red berry dessert had several elements: toffee cream, strawberry and vamilla soup, a strawberry ice cream; this was nicely made, with good, smooth ice cream (16/20). The meal concluded with a little soufflé of Oreo biscuit , which could have been a little lighter in texture but was still good, served with cocoa ice cream (15/20). The bill came to €215 (£184) for one, but this included a bottle of classy wine. It would be feasible to eat quite well here, with a simpler wine, for around €150 per person. Service was very good; if I am being picky then the wine topping up was not flawless, but was still generally good, and the waiters were friendly and efficient. Overall this was an enjoyable if not especially cheap experience, with the kitchen showing good technique and a reasonable amount of restraint in the use of the Thermomix and other modern kitchen toys.