Madrid Musings: El Club Allard
El Club Allard
Calle Ferraz 2
28008, Madrid, Spain
Click here for their website
Everyone has a story but I find the story of a chef to be particularly interesting. After reading several articles on El Club Allard, I knew I had to meet Chef Maria Marte. Her display of tenacity and perseverance is one for all to admire.
In 2003, Marte packed up her belongings and moved from the Dominican Republic to Madrid in an effort to be closer to her oldest child. Settling into her new Spanish home, she decided that her main goal was to find a job. Deciding that no job was too menial, she took a dishwashing job at El Club Allard, despite the fact that she was a highly skilled pastry chef. The more time she spent in the kitchen, the deeper her admiration grew for fine cuisine. Inspired by these gorgeous dishes night after night, she applied for a food prep position within El Club Allard and was quickly turned down.
But her story does not end there. Shortly thereafter, another job opened in the kitchen. Not letting rejection get the best of her, she applied again. The restaurant took a chance on Marte and offered her the job on one condition, that she continued to work as a dishwasher. So excited to have this opportunity, she quickly agreed. After three grueling months, she was relieved of her dishwashing duties and focused on food full time.
Fast forward to 2013. Head chef Diego Guerrero, who led El Club Allard to its two Michelin star rating, decided to leave the restaurant. Chef Marte, second in command at the time, stepped up and took the reins. She was more than capable of leading the restaurant to greatness, however, she would soon be faced with the daunting task of maintaining the two Michelin star rating. That was four years ago. Did she retain her two star Michelin rating? Of course, this girl boss has it covered. What did I tell you, she's a rock star!
Now on to the good stuff...the food!
Having arrived in Madrid only a few hours earlier, I was exhausted from my day of travel. But NEVER too exhausted to eat! El Club Allard offers two different tasting menus: The Rendez-vous, which offers guests 10 courses and the Seduction, which offers guests 14 courses. Taking the conservative approach, I chose the Rendez-vous menu which was more than enough food.
Presented first was Smoked Eel with Rocoto and Coconut. I was a little apprehensive about this dish as I am not an admirer of eel. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The eel was smoked to perfection and it paired quite well with the sweetness of the coconut milk. The bits of rocoto pepper provided just enough spice and complimented the other flavors of the dish quite well.
Out next was one of the more interesting dishes of the evening, a shot of Butterfish and White Asparagus. Chef Marte prepared a butterfish broth, which was quite rich and topped it with white asparagus foam. Placed on the side of the shot was a small piece of toast topped with salmon roe and olive oil. Marte used a spherification technique so that the olive oil mimicked the look and feel of the fish roe. As expected, the shot was buttery and rich. I could easily sip this during the winter months without any problem. While I enjoyed the toast, I found the fish roe to be a bit overpowering, but still enjoyable.
The next dish or bite, in this case, was a Quail Egg with Truffle Cupcake. Never in a million years would I have paired these two items together. This bite was served with a Riesling that was relatively young and highly acidic, which was a perfect way to finish. The staff advises you to carefully pick it up and place the entire thing in your mouth and to close your lips and chew. Hearing that, I was totally transported back to my first meal at Alinea where I received those very same instructions when partaking in the Black Truffle Explosion. I popped the cupcake in my mouth and experienced a rush of flavors and textures. Being the truffle enthusiast that I am, I expected a stronger presence in the bite but instead, it was rather muted.
Confession: I am a total cheese nerd and the next course was one of the top contenders of the evening. Under the lovely cloche was Comte Cheese Soup served with a Walnut Rock. Each bite magically transported me back in time reminding me of autumn, the crispness in the air and the brightly covered leaves that had fallen to the ground. When a dish can evoke such memories, you know the chef has knocked it out of the park. Far from being a basic cheese soup, you could taste an essence of frankincense and grapes creating an overall earthy flavor. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing serving piece used to present the soup. Simply stunning!
Making its way to the table was the signature dish of El Club Allard, the Grilled Duck with Corn. Served on a rock style grill the dish was lightly torched before it was presented at the table. Appearances are often deceiving. As I went to cut a bite of corn, I noticed that my fork literally went right through it. Um, excuse me? Yes, rather than the baby corn that I thought I was to devour, it had more of a cheesy grit consistency. This was by far my favorite of the savory courses.
Relishing every last crumb of the last dish, the server approached the table with this stunning black serving piece. Plated was Sea-bream with Beetroot Crumble and Mexican Husk Tomato Marinade. How gorgeous is the vibrant red beetroot again that black? Remarkable! Unfamiliar with Sea-bream, I was excited to be exposed to a new variety of fish. While the fish was mild and flaky, the tomato marinade resembled a tomatillo salsa adding depth and spiciness to the dish.
Finishing out our savory portion of the meal was Wagyu Picanha. First of all, you can't go wrong with Wagyu. The meat was cooked to perfection, each bite soft, tender and flavor-filled. I loved that the dish was topped with slivers of chanterelles. It added a different dimension of texture to the dish. And isn't the presentation simply gorgeous?
As I concluded my savory courses, I was then presented the most delicate and interesting palate cleanser: Hibiscus Flower and Pisco Sour. Of course, this is one of those dishes that's almost too pretty to eat, but clearly, that did not stop me. While the hibiscus flower was quite fragile, the texture was reminiscent of a fruit roll up ( I know... sounds silly). The pisco sour filling was both tart and sweet complimenting the hibiscus. Definitely, a crowd pleaser.
Next out of the kitchen was the Creamed Chocolate. Not only was there a chocolate brownie that was crumbled and basically melted in your mouth but there were two types of ice cream: chocolate and almond coconut. Each bite was out of this world. By far my favorite dessert of the evening and that's not just because I like chocolate :)
It was at this point in the meal, where I was escorted upstairs to the gorgeous kitchen and had the chance to meet Chef Maria Marte. While she doesn't speak much English and I clearly don't speak Spanish (epic fail, I know), I was able to convey my appreciation and admiration for her work. After all, she may not be considered an artist who uses paint and canvas, but she is truly artistic in the fact that the plates are her canvas and each dish is a masterpiece. I really enjoyed seeing all of the notes written as well as the action in the kitchen.
As I was brought back to the table, a Blackboard was placed in front of me. Doesn't this remind you of the magnetic letters we had when we were kids? It was the only thing I could think of while enjoying this dish. I loved Chef Marte playful approach towards dessert and thoroughly enjoyed my experience.
If you make your way to Madrid, I would highly recommend stopping by El Club Allard. Not only is it one of the few two Michelin star restaurants in the area, but the tasting menu is creative, playful and approachable.
Until next time!