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Food Hotel: Senzone at Hospes Madrid

Senzone at Hospes Madrid
HOSPES MADRID, Plaza de la Independencia, Madrid, 3 28001
+34 91 432 29 11
Cuisine: International
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The creamy carpaccio de calamar, in reduced ink and served with rice, was like a Bond film: smooth, suave, and holding all the cards. In terms of raw squid and rice, it was Roger Moore. Rob Train gives Hospes Madrid’s new Senzone tapas menu the nod.

Danny de Vito once remarked that he rather liked Madrid, and would be only too happy to revisit the capital when it “found the treasure it was looking for.” The dimunitive bard was referring to the interminable propensity of the city authorities for digging up the streets, a practice that intensifies in August – as half of Madrid’s population decamps to the beach – much as the searing heat does.

So it was with some relief, with the mercury flirting quite successfully with 30ºc, that I encountered Bernardi on a stone bench - the only piece of intact stone in the post-apocalyptic chaos of Plaza de la Indepencia - and descended the gently curving slope into the Bar de Tapas Senzone at the Hospes Hotel.

Theological accuracies aside, it was like taking a short cut to heaven. A courtyard nestled behind the hotel houses enough space for 40 diners, and the temparature drops a tangible 10 degrees. Whether its location was born of necessity (the Plaza de la Indepencia, generally, backs on to brick walls or construction sites), the breeze alone was priceless. The floor is decked with wood. Crisp linen shimmies on the gentle light. A sound system pipes light opera and ‘classical’ contemporary favourites into soothing speakers while water gently trickles over the lips of wall-mounted visages; a legacy of Spain’s Arab heritage.

Once seated, Bernardi and I were soon pursing our own. The menu at Bar de Tapas Senzone is so alluring that a swift decision is impossible. Our Maitre d’ suggested we may like to try a bit of everything; counsel that Bernardi and myself acceded to in unison. Each one was described with relish by either the MD, or our splendid waiter Juan Carlos.

Arbequina olives and a mousse de foie arrived in an instant, the former the size of an elderberry and as sharp as a whip, the latter a satin blanket that covered the olive bread, and the palate, seamlessly.

The main ingredient of mass-produced Spanish pan is widely identified as sawdust, but at Senzone there was farmhouse white whose crust acquiesced with an aurally affable chip, and dense brown rye.

A gazapcho del mar followed. Initially unconvinced by the thin sheet of gelatin covering mussels, berberechos, and crisp peppers, the ensemble swiftly proved its mettle by dint of an appreciative tap on the plate from the spoon of Bernardi.

Sticking with a seafood theme, the next dish was a scallop eneveloped in young leaf shoots and served on a prawn rice cracker with a delicate seaweed foam, and wild mushroom vinaigrette. The resulting cacophony of snap, crackle and schlop was a cocktail that brought land and sea together with more success than King Canute’s ill-fated endeavour.

And then the world stopped. At this stage, it is fair to point out that I have never enjoyed eating cephalopods. Anything with eight legs and at least as much intelligence as a madrid urban planner, in my view, is best left to its own devices, under the waves. However, the creamy carpaccio de calamar, in its own reduced ink and served with rice, was like a Bond film: smooth, suave, and holding all the cards. In terms of raw squid and rice, it was Roger Moore. Chef Iván Sáez, who has been at Bar de Tapas Senzone since March, confirmed our suspicions; it was one of the most popular dishes in his armoury. “it’s a typical basque dish,” says Sáez. “One of my points of reference in cooking is the Basque Country. I stew it for four or five hours and use txakoli wine.”

Octopus was the inevitable payback, and it duly arrived. I could not quite manage it. Bernardi, though, assured me that cooked a la parrilla, with crispy green shoots and a caramelized onion consumé, it had her suckered.

A red tuna fillet, merely threatened with a hot pan, saw me back on home ground. A big fan of Japanese cuisine, this met with my fervent approval. A seaweed selection accompaniment lent to the simplicity of the tuna, which was perfectly seared and as tender as Elvis in his pomp.

And then came the denoument. Just as we thought it was high time to escape from the water, the coup de grace: quail stuffed with a crème foie gras. Mere words here failed us both. Well, words failed neither Bernardi or myself, but the ones we chose are perfectly unprintable. Divine will have to serve.

A word equally applicable to the desserts. A ginger and passion fruit coulis-covered pannacotta teased the throat enough with spice, but was offset by the thick, creamy name-bearer. Bernardi, Italian by descent, subjected it to the spoon test. Not the slightest hint of a Pisa leaning.

A caramelized brioche with goat’s cheese ice cream was the final straw.

If De Vito visited Madrid again, he would find his treasure here. And he would not have to dig hard to fund it. The tapas menu ranges from 4 to 12 euros, and there is not a main course that will relieve anyone of more than 25. In an increasingly expensive capital (despite the recession) the value for money offered by Bar de Tapas Senzone is pure gold.

“I don’t want to complicate things much,” says Sáez. “I want to make traditional food with a fresh twist. I want people to come and eat well, but without saying “damn” when the bill arrives.”

A breath of fresh air in a city hot on overpriced tin-based fare and cool on value-for-money authentic finger food.


Plaza de la Independencia

3 28001 – Madrid
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25 November 2013
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