You can’t go to Madrid without experiencing a tablao flamenco. The literal translation refers to the raised platform of floorboards upon which flamenco performers dance, but it also refers to the venues where this takes place. These venues usually also serve food and drink and some, like the Corral de la Moreria, have a reputation that has over the years drawn visitors such as Marlene Dietrich, Marlon Brando, Richard Gere and Muhammed Ali.
You know immediately when you arrive that you are in for a treat. People from all over the world, as well as many Spanish nationals, are milling about outside Corral de la Moreria, even on a chilly December night, waiting to be admitted through a small entrance hall decorated with flamenco memorabilia. The owner, Blanca del Rey, is herself a celebrated flamenco dancer and recipient of the Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts, who also acts as Artistic Director for the tablao. This has resulted in many significant awards for the venue too, including a World’s Best Tablao Flamenco, a City of Madrid award and, for the restaurant, a Michelin star.
It seems rude not to wax lyrical about the cuisine at a Michelin starred establishment, but I’ve also never been to a show where the food was of Michelin standard and was STILL eclipsed by the performance. The food at Corral de la Moreria was incredible. My stand out dish was the roasted vine tomato stuffed with squid, served on a perfectly al dente squid ink risotto and topped with smoky Idiazábal cheese. Charlotte was smitten with the vegetable ravioli with lobster, little parcels of baby vegetables in a light broth, topped with a good portion of lobster chunks. The mains were similarly delightful – seabass with bacon and grapefruit emulsion, and slow cooked braised veal with mash and sautéed boletus mushrooms. Both were delicious and winter-hearty in their own way, but the Five Textures of Chocolate was, unsurprisingly, the cosy hug I needed at the end of the meal.
Back to the dancing, which occurs throughout the dinner and afterwards; Blanca Del Rey clearly retains excellent connections with the best flamenco performers; on the night we attended Corral de la Moreria, the three main dancers on the programme were all touring professionals with their own flamenco shows, namely Miguel Fernandez “El Yiyo”, Vanesa Coloma and Alfonso Losa, the latter having received a litany of awards too long to write here.
As a flamenco virgin, it was tempting to overthink it and strain my ears to try to interpret the words, or to try to find some kind of rhythm to the performance overall; not the music, which is pounded and tapped continuously by impossible footwork and strumming guitars, but the organisation of the programme. It was fascinating to watch the communication between the performers, how their eyes would make contact before a change in the music, how they shouted lively encouragement at each other. Then I let go…
In all art forms, there is a state of complete submersion, for the artist or performer and their communion with the audience or viewer. In flamenco, this has a name… flamencura. It refers to the way that all the elements of the music and the dance combine to create that perfect moment when the dancer loses themself completely.
It doesn’t really matter if you can understand the words. Even with my limited Spanish, the dancers, vocalists and musicians are expertly able to convey passion and heartache. The faces of the performers tell you everything you need to know. It whips up the emotion like whirlwind and draws you in. The crescendo builds through each song to a thundering climax which leaves the air vibrating around you as though the room is electrified. In the small, dark, crowded Corral de la Moreria, it was as though an invisible force had overtaken the dancers and made them hypnotic.
Being no aficionado, I can’t say whether there was flamencura at Corral de la Moreria that night, but if you are in search of the elusive moment of art, this is the place to start looking. What I saw was a combination of wildness, sublime control, force and finesse, the very best flamenco performers expressing something that transcended language. You would do well to choose Corral de la Moreria as the tablao flamenco you visit when you come to Madrid – the food is exceptional and the performance out of this world.
Corral de la Moreria
C/ Moreria 17