I went last year and loved it, but never got around to doing a post on it. I recently went two more times with my good friend, Gerry Dawes, while we were in Madrid for Madrid Fusión and again, each time, it was terrific. This time, I will not fail to post on it, but I will incorporate elements from all three visits. The premise of the restaurant, Marisqueria Rafa, is simple – take great product, treat it simply, but with great skill and in a (mostly) traditional framework and serve it. The food generally speaks for itself, but I will add commentary as necessary. Everything was outstanding in terms of quality of product and preparation. There are two ways to enjoy the restaurant. One is a more formal, white table-cloth sit down table service restaurant.
The other way and the way we did it on each of our three visits was simply to stand at the bar and enjoy the food and the drink as it came to us directly from the kitchen downstairs or the plancha right in front of us.
Boquerones, or anchovies cured in vinegar, are a real delight, especially when they have the freshness and quality they have here. We opened each of our meals with a plate of these house-prepared beauties that wind up getting swiftly devoured, setting up our appetites for much more to come.
Salpicon de bogavante aka lobster salad is a luxury that does not skimp on the tender, beautifully cooked, fresh lobster meat. Like the filling of a good, American lobster roll, the lobster doesn’t get overpowered by the other ingredients, all of which are simply there to highlight and serve the lobster’s inherent majesty.
Rafa may be a marisqueria specializing in top quality seafood, but it is also a Spanish restaurant in Madrid, which means that it offers embutidos such as jamón Ibérico de bellota, chorizo and more and of damn fine quality too as they serve Joselito, one of the finest producers in Spain. This is certainly not unique to this restaurant, but remains a desirable feature, especially when this is one’s first meal after just having arrived back in Spain.
When in Spain I particularly enjoy drinking a wide variety of spirited beverages with emphasis on the word variety. One class of product that I have become particularly enamored of is Spanish vermut, aka Vermouth. I love the multiple styles and flavor profiles with variation stemming from regional differences, grape varieties and flavoring agents. On my first visit here this year I especially enjoyed Amillo, a vermut from Jerez made using sherry grapes and over thirty botanicals.
…or the exquisite gambas de denia (really from the deep Mediterranean waters off Ibiza, but fished by boats out of the port of Denia) grilled a la plancha with heads ready to be torn off and greedily sucked of their juices before the perfect tails get crushed in an explosion of flavor and texture. Shrimp do not get better or more succulent than these.
Ensaladilla Rusa, potato salad Spanish style is a common dish all over Spain, but I can’t recall any attracting me as much as this eggy one did. I no longer indulge much in carb rich dishes, unless the dish is truly exceptional. I could not stop myself from devouring this.
Sea urchin seems to be everywhere now, but I typically enjoy it best, when it is left to shine on its own, like here, abetted only by some green onion and ponzu, a surprisingly, but refreshingly non-Spanish approach. The Asturian urchin was sweet and superb, surpassed by few others.
Espardenyas or sea cucumbers are a Spanish delicacy most often found in Catalunya. These, pan seared simply with olive oil, garlic and parsley, were tender and allowed the product to shine with only a comforting level of embellishment. Apropos to the modus operandi of the restaurant, the only thing fancy about this dish was the quality and luxury of the main ingredient.
Hake cheeks or kokotxas are typically a Basque treat, but again, were prepared here with great expertise. These parts secured from the head of the hake are gelatinous and perfect for making a pil-pil, adding body to a sauce and highlighting the supremely important textural elements of this classic dish. The salsa verde of these cocochas (Castilian vs. Basque) was a perfect accompaniment.
I’m not typically much of a beer drinker, generally preferring wine, cider or cocktails, but I’ve never seen beer more appetizingly poured than at Marisqueria Rafa by Miguel Angel Limpiás Guzmán, one of the superb barmen of the restaurant.
Perhaps the crowning dish of my three visits to Rafa so far was the angulas, a rare treat that are elegant, and delicious. This dish, served by the chef and co-owner of the restaurant, Miguel Angel Andrés, made it to my Top 15 Restaurant Dishes of 2015.
Some meals are made to linger and there is no better way to linger in Spain than over a glass (or two) of pacharan, an herbal elixir, in this case Baines, perhaps the most widely known and one of the finest commercially produced pacharanes in the country.
Marisqueria Rafa is a classic, a throwback to simpler and more abundant times with quality and simplicity rolled together to produce a superior and memorable experience. Situated in a an upscale residential neighborhood and not in one of Madrid’s many tourist centered destinations, Rafa remains off the radar for most visitors to Spain and indeed for many Madrileños as well, though it does not appear to suffer from any shortage of business. So far, I haven’t experienced anything there short of excellent. For me, Rafa has earned its place as a fixture in my restaurant rotation anytime that I will return to Madrid.