I’VE been trying to eat at Madrid’s highly-rated DSTAgE restaurant for years.
Either fully-booked or shut, every time I have been in the capital since 2018 I got a friendly message from chef Diego Guerrero that I’d need to try again.
So when a massive storm cancelled an outdoor concert by Blur this month, I knew there would only be one surefire way to cheer up my daughter and myself on a one-night stay in the city.
Of course, predictably Diego, who I recently interviewed at a charity event in Marbella, was away in Saudi Arabia… but thankfully his business partner Tinuca insisted she had the perfect table for us.
And so she did, in the stalls, facing a line up of chefs, like bank tellers, in crisp blue tunics and caps and, thankfully, smiling, to break the ice, as such.
And so at last, I found myself in this two Michelin starred theatre of dreams that wouldn’t be out of place in the Meatpacking District of New York. A delightful space of exposed bricks and industrial lights, its entire feel is one of authenticity, with wooden furniture and floors and even trays to match.
DSTAgE is an acronym ‘Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow & Enjoy’, and Guerrero has a mission to make fine food less pretentious and more accessible.
It’s an honourable – and often necessary – plan, given the number of top chefs who go off on their own personal missions, leaving the majority of their clients behind in a fog of inventiveness.
This was quite the opposite, an extremely inclusive evening, where dishes were not just well explained but conceived with real passion, but not pretension.
Yes, there was some theatre throughout the 15 courses, but what we noted more was the quality of the ingredients and the talents of his waiters who explained the dishes.
There was genuine joy, for example, extolling the use of a wasabi root to flavour, but not necessarily burn your mouth, with a Mexican-style taco.
Described as ‘a palate cleanser dish’ the creamy wasabi sauce, served with a wasabi flower and shavings on top, was the real surprise of the night. Delicious and lingering with flavour.
And that is saying something given – after we had raved about a dish of spicy chorizo – the waiter came out and told us it was 100% vegan, made from vegetables.
It turns out the creative edge to the operation is conjured up next door in their very own factory of light in the mornings. “Yes, I suppose you could say it is something of an El Bulli in Madrid,” Tinuca confirmed.
But while there was creation – take the ‘potato with honey’ which was actually a type of cheese, or the melt-in-the-mouth tortilla Francesa that came out looking like a bread roll – there were as many good solid dishes that brought you down to earth.
The pigeon, which is served with pear, has been tenderised over an incredible two weeks we are told, while the ‘tears’ of green peas, triple podded and served in squid ink are stunningly good.
The cheek of hake (kokotxa) was everything you’d expect of a chef who comes from the Basque region… and equally, the anchovy lasagna, a quirky-looking dish served on seaweed and with pine nuts, was breathtakingly tasty.
But from the start with a biscuit of caviar and an impossible to explain black garlic sandwich, we were impressed. Our favourite dish was called just ‘maiz/kefir’ basically a big mix of ways to cook sweetcorn and it was full of flavours.
We also liked the ratio of female cooks in the kitchen and noted the contemporary music, not too loud, including salsa, jazz, soul, ska and even punk.
And with a sommelier who really worked hard to explain the matching wines, so what about that third star?
Given it’s seven years since they got their second star in 2017, they must certainly be itching for a third.
“We’ll soon have it,” Tinuca assured me. “We’re certainly all working hard to get it.”
On this showing – and with the boss away for the week – they certainly deserve it.