Review: Álbora

11 April 2015

Had a somewhat frustrating day in Madrid, as my aforementioned bad luck with Spain has not changed, despite last night’s fine Viridiana dinner. I had a good but simple lunch (to be chronicled later). My foot was still bruised and swollen, so it was annoying to walk too much. Nevertheless I walked quite a lot all afternoon, stupidly you may say…

I rested in my hotel a bit before heading out to dinner. I have read many great things about Álbora and its cooking. The downstairs is a tapas bar, but the upstairs is a 1-Michelin dining room. I had booked a table in advance an was really looking forward to this dinner from everything I’ve heard.

I got there at the restaurant’s opening hour of 20:30 (8:30pm) like most places in Madrid. But it was total chaos. They had no idea when they could seat me because they were not ready — on a Saturday night. I almost walked out after waiting for 15 minutes. It’s not like they were waiting for other people to finish. It was opening time!

I wasn’t seated until half hour later — in an empty dining room. Utterly ridiculous. I was so turned off I almost chose a quicker option to leave, but I heard so much about the food here, and the big tasting menu looked fantastic, so I went for it.

I asked if they did a wine pairing and they said not really but they will figure something out for me. Hmmm, that’s odd. Maybe I should have just gotten a bottle…but it’s hard with an 11-course tasting menu… I relaxed as some more diners showed up, but it was still only half full when the first dish arrived.

01-truffle_broth

The first small tasting was a black truffle broth. Very nice tasting, a fine start to this dinner. I can see the kitchen’s talents at work already.

02-smoked_sardine

The second dish was centred on smoked sardine, which boasted a distinct and nice taste that went along with a tinge of coconut, ginger and beets. Interesting, brought the fish out nicely.

I relaxed a bit over the excellent food, but was getting annoyed at the “improvised” wine “pairing” when the servers all disappear for 10 minutes at a time. There seems to be major miscommunication among staff members… I tried to focus on the food as the third item came out.

03-morcilla_lamb_puff

This was a very nice crispy bread wrap of morcilla and lamb’s feet. Nice, though the crispy bread kind of took away the full flavour of the interesting filling. Good nevertheless.

04-cuttlefish_pasta

The fourth dish was something that I’ve had in a few different places, including London’s much loved Hedone — cuttlefish pasta (cuttlefish cut into pasta). This version had it in a delicious squid broth with a touch of spiciness. Very good, I like the flavours used here, not trying to mesh too many different ideas into one dish. Excellent dish!

So far I am loving the food, but the service is messy. One of the junior servers had the most dour-looking expression I’ve seen since Moscow 1992, totally off-putting; it’s like she rather be anywhere but here. The main server kept disappearing for lengthy periods, returning somewhat confused to figure out my wine situation. That was getting annoying.

05-monkfish_liver_razor

Then the next dish arrived, and it was a wonder. This dish focused on monkfish liver and razor clam, with a touch of licorice. Fantastic dish, excellent combination of flavours. A strong dish, the star of the night so far. This kitchen is damn good, I tell you.

After this the next dish came out quicker than anticipated, and I asked them for wine — and the next dish really needed wine. The dour-faced server just shrugged and walked away…huh? What just happened there? I asked in both Castillian and English so no excuses…

06-cod_tripe

This was a fabulous cod tripe dish. I love this dish, and this was done very well. Tangy and heavy. But it really, really, REALLY, REALLY needed wine. I was livid and no one bothered as much as I signalled to them. The main server had disappeared again… I ended up finishing the dish and gave the servers an angry look. This is ridiculous for any restaurant, nevermind somewhere with a Michelin star and not very busy… This poor service is taking away from the fabulous food…

07-monkfish_ink

The next dish is a fabulous-looking dish, monkfish glazed with ink. The ink gave the monkfish a wonderful additional flavour. Excellent! The main server had returned and seemed confused which course I was on as he had to take one of the bottles he was gonna pour back… This is just laziness… Fabulous food, absolutely crap service…

I think he got the message as he came back with the next wine quickly here before the next dish appeared…

08-veal_sweetbreads

Wow… Now these were some of the very best veal sweetbreads I’ve ever had. I’m not usually a sweetbread fan, but these were just absolutely gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth stuff. I’d eat sweetbreads every day if I had these. Wow… Goodness the food was fabulous, but what is with the FoH?

09-cabezada_iberica

The final savoury dish was another beauty, the cabezada (head of the loin) from an Iberico pig. This was tasty and rich, but once again the wine was missing until I was about half way done. I was really sick of this place despite how amazing the food was…

10-violet_cubes

I barely took notice of the “cubos de violeta” dessert as I was just ticked off at this stage. It takes quite a lot of grief to make me annoyed with this amazing display of food and cooking, but this FoH has done it. It’s really made this a terrible evening.

11-pistachio_coffee

The food closed with a pistachio cream in coffee. I asked for the bill once this arrived, not wanting to wait forever afterwards and get more worked up. I left quickly and walked out of this place for the first and last time.

To be honest, this was one of the best tasting menus I’ve had. The cooking was utterly fantastic, the ingredients wonderful; this is an amazing kitchen! But I have rarely been so infuriated by the incompetence of the FoH, it just isn’t worth the grief. Sad. Seems like a curse with Madrid — blessed with ingredients and talent, but the attitude just works against everything. I was starting to tire of Madrid…

If there was an evening that just summed up Madrid for me, it’s this one. Oh, what an incredible shame…

Álbora
Calle de Jorge Juan 33
Madrid, España

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5 thoughts on “Review: Álbora

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