Food with roots
Let’s talk about the 70-year-story of a wood oven in Humanes, Madrid, of terroir, of honest food... Everything that needs to be said about Mario Sandoval and his family’s restaurant has been said; a place which, two decades ago, turned things upside down to merge them with his need to do things differently.
Mario Sandoval was bold. That first year, when his cooking substituted that of the generation that had gone before him, and the restaurant was empty for months while he waited in hope for his food to be understood, is long past. Those months did pass, and he has been showing his culinary sensitivity to the world for twenty years now. He has constructed a new language so that food with roots – from central Spain – can be understood.
He started out showing how produce he had been cooking with for years could be used differently, and from that moment onwards you could say that Coque – his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, now in Madrid’s Chamberí neighbourhood – became the gateway to Spanish cuisine.
Those are weighty words. He has shown the world his way of updating the use of vegetables, and of fish. He has been bold via ideas such as cooking with the meat of fighting bulls, something that stems from his family’s love of the bullfighting world and his for cooking, giving particular cuts of this meat a new twist.
His ongoing work with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has resulted in looking at healthy eating within the restaurant industry, in gastrogenomics, supercritical liquid extraction, polyphenols in red wine, etc.
In 2019, he put forward his ideas on fermenting foods; a way of introducing the world of winemaking into cooking in order to create fermented recipes that are more nutrient rich. This year, he will talk about unique emulsions. Let’s see what he has in store for us.
Although it seems obvious, just like the first line of this text, we cannot talk about Mario without mentioning his brothers: Rafa Sandoval, Coque’s sommelier, and Diego Sandoval, front-of-house manager. They will no doubt be in the front row, listening to words they are familiar with, but that will be new for diners at the restaurant to whom they will convey these novel ideas.
Mario has been able to keep the menu in the spirit of the restaurant’s first era when it was located in Humanes, modernizing it in light of the new trends that encompass the cuisine of the 21st century, bringing his own knowledge and refinement, his creativity and personality to the creation of his dishes. When it comes to his food, nothing is left to chance; everything is agreed by the trio, his creations are imbued with meaning, and there is reasoning behind them.
Mario began cooking when he was very young. He studied at the Hospitality and Catering School of Madrid, and from there worked in the best kitchens in the capital, in Barcelona and the Basque country. His is a signature cuisine that can surprise even the biggest sceptic.
His dishes are outstanding thanks to the top-quality produce Mario uses; he works sensibly and with common sense, with concise and precise cooking times ensuring that flavours are highlighted and textures are maintained.
When you enter this new Coque, you enter a magical world. In each of the spaces you pass though you succumb to an enchantment that surprises; the same subtlety and ingeniousness found in his food is adapted to each of the stops along the journey you take:
In the Bar, you are offered a Bloody-Mary ice cream, and a black-sesame, guacamole and foie-gras taco. In the Wine Cellar, enjoy bread treated with wine served with bull sausage (“Vinificación de Pan con Embutido de Toro”); and a paprika maccherone with creamy cheese. In the Sacristy, a Dom Perignon champagne grape, and a mimosa cocktail crispy cloud. The last appetizers are enjoyed in the Kitchen; Casimiro Mahou wheat beer, char-grilled sea cucumber with glass prawn and freeze-dried Spanish omelette.
Everything embodies this cook’s personality. And then, you proceed to the tasting menu which journeys through each of his interests, innovations and influences: white prawn served with its fried head and Palo Cortado pearls; a porcini stew with rocoto pil-pil sauce (a piquancy that conveys freshness), pine nuts and elvers Bilbao-style; piquant seeds with vegetable kimchi and organic shoots...
The ever-present modernity and skill shine in the foie gras with Oloroso escabeche with pickled mango and crispy spring-chicken skin; in the line-caught baby octopus and squid in its ink with a tikka masala sauce and pickles; in the toro tuna in three sequences – tuna belly with piparra pepper, tuna bone marrow with caviar, and glazed tuna back cheek; and in the sea urchin roe with tripe stew Madrid-style and bean purée with green curry.
And to end, of course, his great contemporary classic dish: roasted, lacquered suckling pig with crispy skin and osmotized lettuce.
By García Mocholi