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October 2021

restaurants The yummy chronicles

Saddle restaurant: from a splendid past to a promising future

Saddle restaurant, opened in October 2019, is heir to the legendary Jockey restaurant, the first luxury restaurant in Madrid founded in 1945 by Arsenio Martínez Campos y de la Viesca, a Spanish high society politician, as related by his great-granddaughter Veronica: “After several trips to Switzerland and France, my great-grandfather realized that there was no fancy restaurant in Madrid, and decided to open Jockey. He managed to find the best linens and tableware of the time. We still keep some at home,” she says.

Veronica remembers meeting famous faces and eating cakes from the restaurant every afternoon, as well as getting some other scary experiences in the most active time of the terrorist group ETA, since the restaurant is in front of the Spanish Ministry of the Domestic Issues.

Management problems and the economic crisis of 2008 forced Jockey to close in 2012. But luckily Saddle came to take the baton in October 2019 with a nod to his aristocratic past starting with his name.

Nothing has remained of the decoration and the old Jockey cellar. The rehabilitation works took longer than expected, almost three and a half years. But the promoters of the idea did not lose their way. They kept their star staff: its director, Carlos García Mayoral, who is leaving the project shortly, the chef, Adolfo Sánchez, and the head waiter, Stefano Buscema. They spent the delayed time tracking unique products and discovering old recipes.

The same happened with Israel Ramírez, considered one of the best sommeliers in Spain.  I had the opportunity to chat with him to get to know better this top-notch and ambitious project. Israel spent this time looking for unique wines all over the world to build the best-stocked restaurant cellars in Spain: 1,500 references and 9,000 bottles. Saddle’s wine cellar is so unique that 75% of the wine list cannot be replaced when they run out of a bottle.

Israel Ramírez, Saddle sommelier

He smiles when I ask him how he organizes himself to navigate a collection of wines that would seem unmanageable to me. “The wine list is changed twice a day without exception. We operate seasonally, in coordination with our chef Adolfo. When summer arrives, we replenish more fresh white wines. For autumn Barolo del Piedmont wines, which already smell of undergrowth and truffle, are perfect for game dishes. Or more powerful wines, like Priorat. Our Rioja and Ribera de Duero selection are the most classic and the one that changes the least”, he comments. He is happy with the absolute freedom he must choose and buy the wines that he loves.

The wine list is changed twice a day without exception. We operate seasonally in coordination with our chef

Israel Ramírez, sommelier

The menu changes four times a year, with the seasons, although there are always dishes off the menu and some adjustments every three or four weeks. There is no lack of nods to its predecessor Jockey, such as beef tripe and the stew of the day. They know about the elongated shadow of the mythical restaurant, and they not only don’t shy away from it, but they enjoy taking care of old customers and their memories. “Many people have held important events here, such as weddings, and anniversaries. Now they come back, and we want to be up to the task because for us they are very special clients”, comments Israel.

In fact, for him, what makes the restaurant unique is not only the extensive wine list and an exceptional menu but also the 360-degree personalized experience that they provide to each client. They write down all their tastes and preferences for the next time they visit the restaurant. The number of loyal customers has surprised and delighted them in equal measure.

Curiously, Saddle was born with the vocation of betting 100% on an a la carte menu. That is why he offers infinite combinations of portions and half portions and 60 wines by the glass so that each of the diners builds their own experience. However, after a month and a half, they decided to include the Seasons tasting menu on the menu because customers wanted to taste the star dishes of the restaurant.

Regarding the selection of wines, key in the work of a sommelier, Israel tells me that he follows his intuition and the advice of distributors and collaborators, who advise him on a series of new wines that he and their team try in blind tastings. “I choose wines that have a soul, that represent something, that tell a story. For example, the 82 vintage of Bordeaux is very important in the history of wine, because it was when the Robert Parker phenomenon began. That is why I always try to have wines from that year on the menu, which are precisely now at their perfect point”, he comments.

Last year Israel decided to participate in the Wine Spectator Great Award Restaurants contest. “This is a magazine that I admire a lot because it gives very detailed and truthful information about the world of wine. In addition, although for the Spanish public this magazine is unknown, winemakers take it deeply into account. For us, they must know that we take great care of their product. On the other hand, it is interesting that foreign wine lovers know which restaurants in our country are up to their expectations”, he explains.

Last December 2020 Saddle received his first Michelin star, a pleasant surprise for the entire team. When I ask him what has changed in the way he works and if the pressure is greater now, he answers that for him the real motivation is to give his customers a unique experience and that they want to return.

My experience

Getting to know up close an exceptional restaurant like Saddle and not trying its exquisite food and remarkable wine cellar would have been a shame, so I decided to have lunch there too to see for myself the 360-degree experience that its sommelier had told me about.

The first impression came from the location and interior design of the restaurant, which has taken advantage of the location in an interior courtyard to turn it into a simple and bright space, with a glass ceiling and a large window that opens onto an interior garden with a fireplace. This is a restaurant that is made to remain in time, like its predecessor Jockey. And I appreciate not seeing velvets, gold, and that mix between colonial Shanghai and Miami Art Deco that already has me quite tired of …

I let Israel choose the most suitable wines for the menu we chose, closely linked to the ending summer. After some appetizers to set the tone of the meal, we moved on to the main dishes: a fine and tasty foie gras entier from France, and one of my favorites of the day: a Mediterranean red shrimp tartare with its garlic corals, fresh and delicate, but with personality. The foie came paired with a very special artisanal cider called Malus Mama, made by a young producer in Astigarraga on the North Coast of Spain. The red prawn by a German Riesling: Donhoff Trocken Tonel 2018.

The menu was followed by a red tuna marinated in pistachio soup, an exotic and on-point combination, okra included. It was accompanied by an Albariño Tricó 2016. Afterward, we had the opportunity to meet the charming head waiter, Stefano Buscema, while he prepared us customized steak tartar. In my opinion, the tartar had a slightly vinegary taste due to Tabasco, but he told me that they are working on their sauce that will surely improve the dish a lot. The pairing this time was a Nebbiolo D´Alba 2019 Bruno Glacosa.

My other favorite dish was yet to come: a fig tart with walnut cream and smoked cream. If you combine one of my favorite fruits and add an unexpected smoke point to it, you have won my heart. Several days have passed and I still remember exactly the taste. Something that only great restaurants can achieve. And Saddle is one of them. Israel told me that they have the illusion of retiring there and I would not be surprised at all. The second part of a legend is being forged day by day, plate by plate.

Price 120-150 euros

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