On the third circuit round the block with both of us craning our necks to find our destination, a mere fifteen minute drive from the Westin Palace Hotel, I asked the driver to stop. We tottered along the pavement in search of the elusive entrance to Gaytán, the second Javier Aranda restaurant in Madrid at which the young chef holds a Michelin star. Billed as ‘like a surprise, something which inevitably makes you feel good’, the restaurant offers only a tasting menu of seasonally inspired, gastronomic style dishes, unless you go for the lunch time à la carte. The most interesting – it’s hardly surprising, if you’ve even glanced at Gaytán’s website – is the oval kitchen directly in front of the diners, where you can see all your food being prepared and begin salivating the moment it pops onto the pass.
The décor at Gaytán is hip and eclectic, with wide, wooden-slatted columns to break up the space, the odd bronze ram’s head and a couple of leather Chesterfield sofas where early arrivals (those who didn’t get lost) can wait comfortably with a cocktail. We were welcomed at the door by Angel, the jefe de sala, who showed us to our table, then served mostly by Andrea from Lake Maggiore in Italy, who had the perfect amount of cheeky charm. Tables for two are a curious crescent shape, immediately directing the eyes of diners towards the kitchen area; you will not be allowed to forget the food while gazing lovingly at your date here! Also, the music emphasises the upbeat and is rather more beach club than decadent banquet, which actually makes you eat a little faster…
We were positioned perfectly to see the dishes being prepared in Gaytán’s kitchen and it was exciting to try to anticipate which dish would be the next to arrive. Our first was a ‘sandwich’ of two thin layers of crisp partridge skin around a smooth wedge of partridge foie gras (Chef only knows how many partridges are required to produce all this foie!), served with a cloud-like mushroom stew fritter with a Menorcan cheese sauce. Instead of the usual aperitifs, this was accompanied by a red vermouth cocktail with celery juice; at once light and a little sweet to complement the foie, it was a drink I will definitely try to emulate at home!
Dinner at Gaytán
The first wine was a Protocolo 2018 organic wine, made from Bobal grapes, with a orangey blush colour and a mineraly lightness. To be eaten in one bite, served on a smooth basalt disc, this course was a delicate courgette flower bite stuffed with risotto and chive, the sort of dish that makes you wonder how best to disguise yourself as another diner to see if you can wangle a few more… This little morsel was followed by another, a strongly flavoured cuttlefish and basil stew, in which appeared the rather unique combination of fennel and crunchy dried mango. The next course was a beautifully presented disc of pastry upon which was a layer of thinly sliced smaller discs of salsify root, with cream, horseradish and lime zest. One of our favourite courses, this was very fresh and light, even zingy! The wine was swapped for a Sauvignon Blanc Kπ 2018 from Daniel Ramos, which was so rich with apple flavours that it was almost like cider!
I should stop here to give the rosemary brioche spiral croissant that arrived with Gaytán’s bread tray its due. Flaky, buttery and salty, this is bread heaven. Don’t be tempted, however, to gobble them all up – there are still plenty of mystery courses that await your attention! The one that had to live up to this bread was the Alicante squid, with onion velouté and a milk skin veil (the milk skin didn’t add much in terms of flavour and I can’t think of a better way to describe it, than to say that it looked as though the crime scene investigators were trying to protect the dead squid to avoid evidence being compromised…). While the various other elements – some caramelised shredded parsnip, yuzu glaze and dill sauce – were all delicious, the chargrilled squid had retained a little grittiness.
A 2018 Petit Chablis, with a smooth tropical fruit flavour, was paired with the squid and also with the next dish, a fillet of Galician red snapper – one of my favourite fish. This is a recipe clearly close to Chef Aranda’s heart as it features a rich tomato sauce to his mother’s recipe. Additionally, there was a pil pil sauce that was strongly flavoured with saffron and made with the liver of the snapper. I really enjoyed this dish, not least because it felt as though the menu was beginning to ramp up a little towards an epic climax.
A little swerve on the wine choices led us to a Piñero sherry of 75% Palomino and 25% Pedro Ximinez, to accompany a quirky looking ball of foie gras covered egg yolk, on top of a little heap of mushroom stew. The stew was rich with port and a hint of truffle, definitely an indicator that the more robust flavours were on their way. This was borne out by the arrival of a strong red Tinta di Toro, served with a finger of 45 day aged beef with kale, enoki mushrooms and a demi-glace. The beef was well cooked, but I was still waiting for the showstopper! This arrived in the form of pigeon breast – another one of my favourites – as rare as it should be (bordering on raw) with a sweetish vegetable jus and a cannolo with pigeon thigh. The dish was quite salty, deliciously balanced with the jus and perfectly paired with a 2015 Vigna S. Caterina Barolo, made from 100% Nebbiolo, which had been aged for three years in oak and had a lovely russet amber colour.
A pre-dessert arrived, presented as a flower on a white pottery block featuring the word ‘Gaytán’, and we were very intrigued by its contents which were indistinguishable simply by looking at it. It turned out to be petals of freeze dried guava with sauces of tangy tamarind and basil; the consistency made it a little difficult to eat without any kind of cutlery but it was quite an interesting concept. Fortunately, the gods of Gaytán had heart my prayer and the final dish was a heap of chocolate crumb (this stuff is like crack to me), chocolate ganache, amaretto sauce and ice cream flavoured like torrone (nougat). It came with a Monastrell 2016, sweet from late harvest grapes, which added a fruity note to the 85% Valrhona chocolate in the dish.
The only disappointing thing about the end of the evening was that the open kitchen, which we had enjoyed watching all evening, had begin to be cleaned, and we ate our desserts while also conscious of the strong odour of cleaning products. Overall though, this was not a dealbreaker… Due to the tasting menu format of the evening service, one has to be early to experience the ‘surprise’ of Gaytán. As the fourth or fifth table beginning the journey, one can see the next course appearing from the kitchen, only to see it swept off to a nearby table, while you sit salivating in anticipation. It’s worth it though. Having each dish remain a mystery until it is in front of you is a concept that doesn’t always work – some diners are more fussy than others – but Gaytán manages to live up to all the hype. Make sure you visit next time you’re in Madrid, but make sure you know exactly how to get there.
C/ Príncipe de Vergara, 205 (Right side)
28002 – Madrid