A THREE Michelin-star Navarran chef, a Spanish architect and an Australian design team have united to create the most exciting hotel opening in Madrid this winter.
Sprinkle in an Italian mixologist, an English art firm and an American sense of individualism, and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for a magical stay in the capital.
Welcome to the five-star Rosewood Villa Magna, which has just been through a stunning 15-month refurbishment, befitting the famous hotel that first opened in 1972 out of a 19th century palace.
But forget the pomp and grandeur of its more famous five-star neighbours up the road, the Villa Magna is a celebration of style coupled with the very best of Iberian substance.
Cool lines, contemporary interventions and a duet of colour and light, you know you are in for something different as you ascend the sweeping stone staircase from the tree-lined Paseo Castellana, which gets even more dramatic at night.
A stylemeisters dream, Spanish architect Ramon de Arana has combined perfectly with local landscape designer Gregorio Marañon to create a harmonious arrival, with a pair of angular pools accentuating its century-old cedar pine and carob trees.
The high bar is maintained through the reception with its beautiful backdrop inspired by Basque fashion designer Balenciaga, while the other half dozen curated spaces of the ground floor add to the magic.
Each communicating cleverly, via a series of openings and passageways, they include a pair of restaurants, a central outdoor atrium and a vanguard bar, while a spa and gym take up the basement.
Lighting is key, in particular a collection of hanging pendants, while two giant Art Deco lamps luminate the dining area. All thanks to Australian team BAR Studio, who recently set up in Madrid.
Luxury meanwhile, is very much the tenet of its 154 rooms and suites, which have slept numerous royals and celebrities in the past, including Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake and Madonna.
Well appointed with a contemporary feel, each has a series of upholstered chairs and sofas, plus, in some, desks and two widescreen TVs.
Our fifth-floor suite was particularly spacious, helped by a series of distressed mirrors and wall to wall windows looking out onto the treetops and skyline.
It also featured a Marshall amp radio, a coffee machine and a legion of teas, plus fresh milk handily at the ready. Among other original touches was a gin and tonic table, set up ready to go. Tempting and dangerous in equal measures, as many attempt ‘Dry January’.
I particularly liked the scattering of hardbacks, including one on architecture and another, an excellent biography on Madrid’s very own artistic genius Francisco de Goya.
The attention to detail also stretched to the staff, one of whom left a bookmark for my Christmas tome on publisher Robert Maxwell as they turned down the bed. Meanwhile, putting out our hotel slippers on both sides of the bed, while the contents of our washkits had been carefully laid out on a cloth.
But, as is so often the case with five star hotels, it was the staff that made our stay.
Friendly and knowledgeable, they were discreet when wanted and immediately on hand with information and advice when needed.
Peaky Blinders of Las Brasas
Their smart, casual uniforms stretch to Peaky Blinder hats for the kitchen staff, who are visible at all times, particularly in the excellent main restaurant, Las Brasas de Castellana, which also doubled as our breakfast venue.
A lovely dining room with three large divisions, it skillfully uses mirrors and shiny olive marble partitions to create both space and intimacy. In warm weather the main doors lead out onto a terrace that sits in the shade of the gardens.
I loved watching the legion of chefs at work, their frequent flashes of flame and trio of roaring ovens, their copper pans making up the scene.
The menu was comprehensive and Spanish in flavour starting with a decent tapas section with the likes of razor clams and Russian salad, as well as a spicy Galician beef tartare, with pickles and capers and served with whole grain toast. As well as a real kick, it also came with a generous serving of excellent French fries.
My favourite starter was in the ‘Rice & Pasta’ section, comprising orecchiette pasta with a rich Cantabrian lobster ragout, replete with big chunks of lobster.
Mains included a big grilled section, where my wife found a wonderful morillo – or neck of blue fin tuna – perfectly grilled, alongside a confit of tomato and aubergines.
I went for roasted rack of lamb, which came with ratatouille, perfect for winter and, crucially, selected from the highly-respected Fisterra farm in La Coruña, where good animal husbandry is its main ethos.
The fact that the provenance of the restaurant’s partners are displayed clearly on the menu is important to note. The butter from Cantabria and the eggs from Avicola Redondo, in Avila, stood out for their quality, in particular.
While the puddings were disappointing as they so often are in Spain, a good value three course set lunch at €38 euros will inevitably bring in the locals from around the barrio, particularly when it features such great specials as confit duck risotto.
A side entrance to Corte Ingles and the coup of signing Spain’s most recent three Michelin star, Jesus Sanchez, for his first Madrid restaurant will definitely help… along with the excellent prices for Amos, as it is called, mirroring his Cantabrian temple of gourmet Cenador de Amos.
A nine-course menu degustation comes in at just €87, while a three-course lunch is €67. Make the most of it, as it certainly won’t be long before Sanchez’ team of talented chefs win their first star going on the quality at play after only six weeks.
Very much part of the Sense of Place philosophy of the Rosewood brand, their food is 100% from Cantabria and brilliant mastery at work.
Forget chemistry and food fads, Amos is about beautiful ingredients treated with respect.
Hence we ate a wonderful oxtail stew inside a tempura stalk of chard and a clever deconstructed tortilla Espanola.
The famous Cantabrian anchovy got a showing, of course, while another highlight was the appropriately-named ‘Perfecto de Pato’, basically the creamiest mouse of foie gras imaginable on a black olive sponge cake base.
Naturally, the Santander hake dish, with cockles, was as good as it gets, while a sirloin steak in a Picon Bejes-Tresviso cheese sauce was mountain marvellous.
As with any five star hotels, you’d expect there to be a cocktail bar… but not a mixologist perhaps, like Carlo Proverbio.
Not just a great name, this former Chemistry graduate from northern Italy (Alba to be exact, the home of truffles and Barolo wine) could be a better signing for Madrid than Paolo Dybala (Juventus).
For starters, he has completely created the bar menu, drinks, meals and snacks… and he has made it fun, to boot.
In particular, this well-travelled Italian has invented a tasting of Negronis, where you try three of six versions, based around his globetrotting… each paired with a dish. Without spoiling it, you’ve got everything from Indonesia to Brazil in the mix. And it works.
He is also, as you’d expect, well up on gin and tonics and the erudite man can clearly talk for hours on the subject. He has even come up with an idea, alongside a hip new Madrid gin, to encourage guests to mix their own cocktails.
“I’m trying to make things more fun,” he tells me, going on to explain the whisky list, which has 20 single malts from Scotland alone, as well as his vermouth, which he made himself using no less than 38 spices and herbs.
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