8 Apr 2008

Blood and Tobacco

I WENT to Madrid yesterday with a clutch of fellow corkscrew twirlers. What I saw impressed me, straight from Richard Rogers’ lullingly airy, wavily woody, unintimidatingly enormous airport, to the clean, active streets of the capital, where elegantly historic and fluently modern edifices not so much jostle as embrace one another.
Back in ’99, I spent a couple of months living with families in other magnificent Spanish cities, Seville and Salamanca. During my attempt to learn the lingo, I soon became a fan, relishing the country’s overall warmth, the nervy traditions, some startling, the long, oil and wine soaked lunches followed by blissful siestas, and the even longer evenings spent in jamón hung bars. And going back to Iberia, albeit briefly, recaptured a little of that magic.
Our reason to be there was to present gastronomic delights to guests of a client at the Hotel Urban, a nervy, incisively designed venue which also acts as an African art gallery. We brought a Japanese sushi expert with us. Amongst his beautifully fresh treats was Otoro, a type of fatty tuna equivalent perhaps to tenderloin of beef. Stroked with wasabi and a flirtation of soy, this exotic, erotic entity was sublime, melting entirely after a moment on warm tongue.
After the event (that is, after midnight) we unwound at ‘Asador Fronton’, Plaza Tirso de Molina, a ‘Basque bastion of hearty fare’. Highlights included tapas of honey cured pimientos del piquillo, which tasted naughtily greasily good, and bleeding steak chops. In fact when the three large platters landed, we actually applauded. A colleague joked that the beef must have ambled past the oven rather then actually spend any time within, so deliciously undercooked was this moist meat.Incidentally venues still seem to support smoking in Spain. It was odd to see a tabletop ashtray and smell wisps of burning tobacco. I am told that whilst it is technically illegal to allow smoking in restaurants, staff may designate a smoking room for themselves (which, ironically, may include the dining room)...
Asador Fronton - Tirso de Molna, T. +34 91 369 23 25