Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Review: Tragabuches, Ronda

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! We're at Tragabuches, the modernist Andalusian restaurant named after a famous bull fighter, situated just a hundred metres from the bull ring in Ronda. Whisper whisper! Unlike how I imagine a bullfight, It's really quiet in here. No roaring crowds, no oles, no fanfare of trumpets. We've done the quintessential Brits abroad thing and booked a table for dinner at 8.30pm. Except we're in Spain, and no one really eats that early over here. Consequently we're alone, apart from the three waiters in attendance.

"I hope it fills up", she whispers.

"I'm sure it will. We're just early", I whisper.

"Why are we whispering?" she whispers.

"I have no idea. Ridiculous isn't it? Let's mutter instead", I mutter in reply.

So we turn to our menus and mutter some more. Tragabuches has two dining rooms and we're in the rear one, the room with the wall of plate glass that has a magnificent view onto some parked cars, a tree stump covered in graffiti and, in the distance, the beginnings of a nice, rosy sunset. All of the tables for two are angled to give the diners a view out of the window and we have a prime spot close to the glass. Unfortunately for the table behind us, their view will be of the back of my head rather than the graffitied tree stump. If I were them, I'd complain.

I'm actually pretty glad we reserved a table for 8.30pm because if we'd started the 12 course taster menu at 10.30pm it would have been getting light by the time we'd finished. What a lot of food there was, but how good it was too. Two amuses, four tapas, two starters, two mains, and two desserts. Each.

The food is modern Andalusian, but not really knowing much about classic Andalusian cuisine and not being able to translate the menu, I couldn't tell you the roots of the dishes. What I can tell you is that this food is not for the lactose intolerant. After the first five plates I was seriously impressed, even to the point of thinking that this could be the finest meal I'd ever eaten. An ajoblanco with mackerel and caviar was a light and milky garlic soup with tiny rafts of smoked fish. A rich, creamy potato puree hid some unidentifiable but tasty poultry parts in a rich stock. They were slightly flabby so I suggested that it might be chicken skin, at which point Emilie nearly gagged and put down her spoon. More soup came in the way of a spring vegetable bouillon with tiny pea pods and lime zest and then followed the obligatory egg cooked at low temperature which is fast becoming as much a staple of avant-garde restaurants as lamb shanks were in gastropubs a while back. Here it was served in another Andalusian soup accompanied by mini towers of Iberian pork belly and chick peas. So far, so sublime.

The menu stuttered as we moved on to the fish main course which was hake in another milky soup flavoured with seaweed. Perfectly cooked fish to be sure, but the seaweed milk just didn't seem to hit the heights of the previous dishes. The meat main course was a supremely tender shoulder of milk-fed lamb with a milk foam and milk skin and again, it was cooked to unctuous perfection but crying out for a rich, meaty sauce to bathe the meat. I think only the milky bar kid would disagree, and possibly the odd nappy-wearing, dummy-sucking gourmand.

The menu returned to form as we moved on to dessert. A milkshake (yes!) ice cream with pistachio crumbs was far more interesting than a pistachio ice cream could ever be, and a moist chocolate cake with chocolate sorbet and passionfruit was the perfect ending to a meal that had more twists and turns that the winding mountain roads that lead to the village of Ronda itself.

It was definitely a memorable meal, for its inventiveness as much as its milkiness, and amazingly out of 12 dishes there was only one that Mrs Withchild couldn't eat. I'm glad that the chef didn't follow the maitre d's suggestion and "cook the low temperature egg a bit more" but instead gave her an entirely different dish from the menu, a lovely green asparagus and baby octopus risotto. At 200 euros without wine though, it was pretty pricey given the poor exchange rate but for a birthday meal it was definitely worth the splurge.


Trig said...

Expensive, but sounds good. I guess you'll have learnt your lesson about timing. Many of our team don't even arrive until 8.30pm and 9pm is the earliest possible time to eat in Spain!

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