After another late night dining, I wake up late in the hotel room and only have a small amount of free time before I have to get ready for lunch. This seemingly endless cycle—wake up late, groggily shake off the last night's dinner, get ready for lunch, head to lunch, eat for three or so hours, either kill a couple of hours nearby or come back to the room and change, feel sleepy, afternoon snack, feel sleepier, get ready for dinner, head to dinner, eat for three or so hours, collapse into bed around one or two AM—has dominated my time in a few cities. I'm fuelled by the thought that there isn't that much longer to go before I'm back in Sydney and I can eat and function like a normal human being again. I can't wait to wake up, have some cereal and yoghurt for breakfast, do normal, boring things, have something small and healthy for lunch, then do more normal, boring things.
Part of me feels sorry for food writers an restaurant reviewers. It's not easy eating like this for a long period of time. Am I starting to ache?
I ponder this as I walk around what appears to be a rich area of Madrid. I'm not sure of the socioeconomic breakdown of this city—and it isn't marked on the tourist map the hotel front desk gave me—but having each corner of an intersection taken up by a high-fashion boutique (which relegates the likes of Burberry and Hugo Boss to mere observers) is a pretty good indication.
I'm on my way to Ramon Freixa, a one-starred place at the bottom of a fancy looking hotel. I arrive around ten minutes late for the 1:30 booking, trying to do the fancy European thing of being late, but I arrive to an empty dining room that's still having it's finishing touches applied before service. They seem somewhat surprised to see me there that early.
I sit on a glass of cava and nervously wait for other any diners to arrive so I don't feel so weird, with six waitstaff hovering around for... me.
The chef comes out to take orders here, which just makes sense. Why aren't more places doing this? He can answer questions around the food and begin the dialogue with the diner. It's a connection between the kitchen and diner. I like it. I order the largest of the degustations, which seems to include at least 20 dishes. Surely not.
Finally some other diners arrive. It's nearly 2PM and the dining room is still nearly empty. It will be another hour before it looks closer to full.
A stream of appetisers come out. A plate with 6 or 7 different “bites” on it. They're all really good. That wasn't part of the degustation. Oh...
There are so many different appetisers that the line is blurred between what is a welcome gift and what is actually the meal.
But the point where it gets serious is definitely the mushroom and ham soup. Some mushrooms sit on top of a bowl with holes at the bottom. The waiter pours over some ham soup and it disappears. He tells me to eat the mushrooms and he'll come back. I eat the mushrooms and my god they are so good. I have fallen for mushrooms in a BIG way on this trip. When they're done right, they are nothing short of incredible. I sigh, contentedly, and the waiter removes the part of the bowl that contained said mushrooms. Below is, surely enough, the ham consomme. And, damn, that's really good as well.
I polish that off and start on the side dishes. Yeah, that's right, side dishes for entrees. Each dish that comes out has more dishes on the side, making it impossible to keep track of how many things you've eaten.
It also makes it really hard to remember what you ate.
I remember only flashes, like the perfect razor clam served with a bean puree. And the excellent Bollinger RD I got to go with the food. That cheese course (three separate dishes) that was utter perfection in terms of flavour and texture. And the “final” dessert, that was actually six large bowls on the table all at once. And after everything, after enough dishes to feed an African village for a day, the waiter coming over and offering chocolates.
There was so much more to it than that though. So many excellent dishes. All of a fantastic standard.
Of all the other one-starred places I've been to so far, this one has to take the cake. And that cake is actually served, deconstructed, in twelve separate bowls on table at once.
Michelin star tally: 34