Madrid Eats: Sala de Despiece
This is another long overdue post from previous trips to Madrid!
Sala de Despiece was long my favorite restaurant in Spain for innovative tapas, because they actually were innovative rather than relying on 1) overdone fusion tropes like anything to do with the words bao or tataki, 2) form-play like turning patatas bravas into cubes, or 3) foam.
The name of the restaurant means "meat dressing and processing room" in English, and they carry the industrial butchery theme throughout, from the exterior...
...to the interior with the tracks and hooks to hang carcasses, display cases of rubber boots and cleavers, and the coolers on the ceiling.
The servers wear heavy-duty butcher aprons.
And the menu looks like a price list. It's all fun, without being too over-the-top or Disney-like.
They always drop off a bag of nicely fried potato chips to nibble on while you wait for your food.
One of my favorite tapas here is the chuletón, thin slices of T-bone, with tartufata (mushrooms and truffles) placed on one end, and grated tomato on the other. The server shows you how to roll it up into a little packet to eat in a couple bites. The flavor combination is simply magical - I always ended up wanting more!
Another one of my favorites is the lomo de vaca, or beef sirloin. The presentation is super fun! Basically the raw sirlone is in a heavy stone vessel, topped with a coating of solid fat.
The server then melts the fat and cooks the sirloin with a blowtorch, eventually adding in the egg yolk and pickled garnishes. There's kimchi hiding in there somewhere, too.
When the process is done, you then eat the beef mixture with the little lettuce rounds, like Korean barbecue!
One of Sala de Despiece's signature tapas is the Rolex. Basically a plate comes out with a thin slice of bacon, on top of which sits a slice of foie gras, that tartufada, and an egg yolk. The blow torch comes out again to partially cook the ingredients, turning the bacon translucent.
Then the server cuts the whole thing in half...
...and rolls up the two halves into little sushi makis...
...and blowtorches the little rolls for good measure.
Needless to say, this is basically four of the most unctuously rich ingredients folded into one! It's fun to see and taste, but unlike the chuletón, just one of these little rolls is good for me, for one evening.
Speaking of eggs, they also at one time had a version of the Rolex but basically with a fried egg, and the truffles and foie on top.
Lest you think that there is only meat and eggs on offer, I'm happy to report that they also always have several seafood options on the menu, too. This was an interesting butter fish sashimi, which you dredge in the cream and then the crunchy chicharrón pork skin (I guess meat is never too far away!).
This was okay, but I liked a variation of this dish on another evening: first the waiter shakes a tin of nori powder and a tin of puffed rice together.
That left the puffed rice coated in nori powder, and then you dredge the fish first through some sauce, and then the puffed rice, finally eating it all together like a deconstructed maki.
That was truly a surprising find, because as many variations on sushi as there are out there, I hadn't come across something that I liked even more than regular sushi like this tapa! The nori in powder form seemed to be more deeply marine than the normal sheets of nori, and the crunchy rice was a wonderful textural contrast.
The following are the navajas, or razor clams, prepared with a sauce of pineapple and chipotle. This was one of the few misses I've had at Sala de Despiece: the sauce was far too sweet, and the spiciness didn't have any dimension to it. It simply stung the mouth.
Once I had octopus here, but instead of delicate rounds of tentacle sections, the octopus was served as a whole honkin' tentacle. It became a bit monotonous after a while...
For vegetables, they have a bunch of tapas, too. Here are their artichokes, grilled, and served with smoked eel and a cream with pomegranate seeds.
On another evening, the artichokes were presented similarly, but in a slightly different arrangement!
And these potatoes were amazing. The potatoes were baked and grilled, and topped with tonnè sauce - that sauce of tuna and anchovies that's often served on chilled sliced veal -, capers, and bonito flakes. The tonnè sauce and the bonito flakes gave a robust and meaty flavor, while the briny capers deepened the punch. So simple yet satisfying.
The only "dessert" I've had there is their griddled cheese. Naturally, crunchy, griddled cheese is delicious, but it's nothing as eye-opening as the other tapas.
I'm still a huge fan of Sala de Despiece, but I must admit I haven't been back on my last few visits. Why? Their menu changed surprisingly little between visits over the course of a year, whereas I would have expected more change given how creative and innovative the restaurant is.
But it's still a wonderful place, and I'd highly recommend it as a place to experience avant-garde tapas. Just keep in mind that the space is small and they don't take reservations, so to avoid waiting too long, get there "early" for dinner - that means around 8pm here in Spain!
Sala de Despiece
Calle de Ponzano, 11