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Viridiana

Calle de Juan de Mena, 14 , Madrid, 28014, Spain

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The black and white Bunuel prints on the wall remind the diner that the restaurant is named after the controversial 1961 movie Viridiana, banned by the Franco government at the behest of the Catholic Church. This restaurant serves traditional Spanish food, the main dining room upstairs with additional seating downstairs. There is a marble floor, quite small tables and banquette seating. Muzak played in the dining room, but was not too intrusive.

Chef Abraham García is a movie buff, but has also acted. He has appeared in small roles in a few films, including as a barman in a Pedro Almodovar film ("High Heels"). These days his creative skills are confined to the kitchen, though he came out to the dining room quite a lot this evening to chat to regular customers. There is an a la carte menu, but this evening we put ourselves in the hands of the chef, who produced an impromptu tasting menu. Most courses were around €30, with desserts €15, if you went a la carte. The 16 wine page wine list had plenty of excellent Spanish wines, but also some good choices from other countries, including Germany. The list ranged in price from €25 to €615, but with plenty of choice under €40. As so often in Spain, the markups were modest. Examples were Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2005 at €36 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €19, the lovely Alion 2007 at €70 for a wine that retails at €52, and the glorious Unico 2000 at €321 for a wine that will now set you back €269 in a shop.

The meal began with a simple nibble of pork jowl on toast, but this was no ordinary pork. The Iberico pork came from a pig that had been fed just acorns in the latter stage of its life and cured for two years, longer than the minimum requirement for the top "bellota" classification. The pork was from a small farmer in the north of Spain, who produces 5,000 pigs a year. I find this kind of very simple dish hard to score, but it tasted sublime.

This was followed by a pair of soup dishes, one hot and one cold: "new v old world". The gazpacho was made with tomatoes from the south of Spain and had little pieces of mackerel added, which to be honest were superfluous since the gazpacho itself was superb, the tomato flavour intense despite their not being in season, the seasoning carefully judged (17/20). By contrast the warm soup of new world vegetables (pumpkin, chestnuts) was quite ordinary, the stock not having much flavour, the vegetables decent but no more; the contrast was striking (13/20 for the hot soup).

Ham and guinea fowl croquettes were nicely made, crisp on the outside with plenty of flavour (15/20). Game pate was next, and this was lovely, the texture soft but the game flavour truly intense, balanced by a much needed salad (16/20). Mozzarella from Naples with smoked ratatouille was less successful, the smokiness just too much (13/20). An egg was served with a rich purée of porcini, with black truffles (from north of Madrid) grated at the table. This was good, the porcini flavour coming through well, but badly needed some acidity for balance (14/20). Cod tripe with chickpeas and chorizo is a traditional peasant dish, the "tripe" being the air bladder of the cod. This was yet another very rich dish, and though the chickpeas were tender and the chorizo good, by now the succession of heavy dishes was starting to take its toll. There was no relief with the final savoury dish, venison served with gnocchi and an intensely flavoured, dark sauce of the cooking juices and fortified wine. In another meal I would have enjoyed the deeply flavoured sauce more, but by this stage of the meal it felt just too much; also, the gnocchi were a little heavy (14/20). To finish, fig ice cream tasted properly of figs but was too sweet (13/20).

The meal came to €100 (£80) a head, though in this case I was accompanied by regular customers who brought their own wine, so the realistic price per head with wine from the list would be higher than this. To be fair, there were a lot of dishes in this menu and portions were distinctly generous. Service was very pleasant, and dishes arrived at a steady pace. This was an enjoyable meal, with the best dishes such as the gazpacho and the game terrine very good indeed. However the savoury dishes were consistently very rich, and the dessert course quite evidently over sweet, so the meal was far from faultless. Nonetheless it was a good example of authentic, hearty Spanish cooking. On average the cooking was between 14/20 and 15/20, but with some highs and lows outside this range.

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  • Ewan

    The irony of the old world soup, of course, being that without the new world there would be no tomatoes in it!

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