… well, think again. Our dear friends in Zaragoza seem to think we know about food and drink (loving to eat and drink doesn’t automatically correlate, but I wasn’t going to disabuse them), and when we visited them one of our foodie highlights was being taken to an amazing little restaurant called La Senda. (More Zaragoza foodie stuff in a different post, including the world’s best tortilla española….. ah, hold back those gastric juices, patience is a virtue.)
La Senda is by way of being an experiment on the part of the owner, chef/owner David Baldrich. The location, a former furniture shop in an unfashionable part of Zaragoza, doesn’t sound promising.
It is also pretty small, with some rooms leading off the bar and a few tables alongside it. The menu is a set tasting menu of various dishes followed by dessert – there are no choices, you eat what is put in front of you. David Baldrich apparently said that he had decided to open in Zaragoza, his home town, having left a very smart restaurant in Pamplona (el Molino), but it had been going so badly he was a month from bankruptcy. He then did a kind of Spanish version of a Gallic shrug and said “what the hell, let’s go out with a bang doing the things we love doing” and that is when he set up his no-choice tasting menu, for a mere €33…… within the month the restaurant was full, word got around and now you have to book several months in advance.
OK, so the food. Wow. If you were an habitué of El Bulli, you had better skip this and move on to one of my other reviews, because I expect you’ve experienced this kind of gastronomy before. I respectfully point out that you probably paid rather more than €33 for it, but for those of us who could never normally afford cutting edge cuisine La Senda is an exciting revelation.
I made notes as we went along, but clearly the cuisine got the better of me because I didn’t note everything. My sincere apologies to the Master (Sr Baldrich) if I have mangled his superb cuisine with my words. The details of our first dish, for example, although I remember it was a tiny mouthful of delicious seafood, escape me. I can show you what it looked like……
Our second, however, was powdered honey smoked pickled sardine with alfalfa. You may need to pause for a minute to take that all in. You will definitely need to pause for a moment to restrain your first thought of “What??? Is this food or narcissistic boasting?”. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it was SUPERB.
The idea of honey smoking sardines would not occur to normal people, but the effect is mouth watering, not salty and not sweet – actually, nearly impossible to define. Next, we had tuna that had been dried so much it resembled filo pastry while still containing a concentrated essence of tuna, and it was resting on a bed of cauliflower purée.
When we were presented with the next dish, it was impossible to believe that what was described as “potato ashes”, and was indeed completely black, could possibly be in any degree pleasant. However, trust having been established by the previous dishes we tasted, albeit gingerly….
… oh my goodness, we immediately realised why this one dish is always on his otherwise ever-changing menu. How can the eyes see one thing but the palate taste something quite different? This is playing with the senses – again, apologies if you are used to this kind of thing, but to us the contrast between expectation and taste is exciting! Nothing tasted carbonised, except it obviously was; somehow the flavour of the potato was retained, and it complemented the wafer-thin ham shavings perfectly, with help from the tiny suspicion of mushroom and the creamy egg. The full name of this dish (I did note this one down – the translation is mine) was ham shavings, potato ash, mushrooms, egg cooked at low temperature.
It was hard to see how any dish could trump that one, but we moved on anyway to our next palate-exploding flavour. This time it was dried tomato, “smoke foam” (yes, I know – how ridiculous; but it was superb), rice and a smudge of home-made ketchup underneath it all. I have had “foam” in some smart restaurants before and tut-tutted at the self-indulgence of it all “for goodness’ sake, this is just some man showing off”, but this chef made me see that, very occasionally, it can make sense.
That was just rice, right? Ah, but not as we know it, Jim…… Next came octopus, something that I usually don’t choose because it is almost always chewy. Guess what – not here. It came with ponzu sauce (sort of soy with something citrusy), yellow corn cream and a croquette (a traditional Spanish speciality) made with our old friend, the potato ashes. Gosh, what a reprise.
Our final main dish was an interesting take on pork, glazed, with a savoury shortbread tuile and pepper sauce. The sauce was almost a fluorescent green, which made for beautiful presentation but it seemed too bright to be natural so I did ask if it had food colouring and the answer came back yes. It’s not something that bothers me, but some people may need to know that.
To accompany all these dishes our friend Ernesto had chosen a wonderful wine, based on only one request from us which was that it should be as local as possible. We had two bottles of Sommos’s red Glárima, an assemblage of Tempranillo 35%, Merlot 35%, Syrah 20% and Cabernet Sauvignon 10% from the Somontano region, between Zaragoza and the Pyrenees. It was oaked, but not obtrusively so, and as rich and smooth as its deep red colour suggested.
Finally – and only possible because the many dishes had been of a sensible size – we were presented with dessert, toffee foam (I had become a convert by this point), a fantastically creamy amaretto ice cream and crushed meringue.
What a meal! The food plays with your senses and leads you delightedly from one “trompe bouche” dish to the next.
The décor was clean, understated modern, mostly cream walls and dark wood accents; the service was discreet and efficient but with a friendliness that one doesn’t always associate with a sophisticated restaurant.
I recommend this restaurant wholeheartedly as a place to explore genuinely interesting food prepared by someone who is clearly fanatical about flavour and is not afraid to experiment. No wonder his restaurant has become known as the Bulli of Torreros (the district of Zaragoza in which it is situated).
The even better news is that since we were there I have heard that Sr Baldrich has now opened a La Senda Tapas restaurant in the centre of Zaragoza – I must go now, I’m off to book my plane ticket to Zaragoza (reasonably priced flights direct from Stansted – you couldn’t have a better foodie break!).