Sushi or Duck Confit. Have you ever craved two completely different genres of food at the same time? At L’Artisan, you can have both. And you should have both. If you like a good story behind the scenes of Madrid restaurants too, you are in for a real treat.
Tucked away in an unassuming and quiet street within shouting distance of central Madrid’s Plaza Santa Ana, L’Artisan is easily picked out with its bright red shutter doors. The message skilfully scrawled (in multiple languages) on those doors is clear – this a Furansu (Japanese for French) Kitchen serving a combination of two culinary cultures.
With expert guidance through the menu from the devoted staff, something I treasure in many Madrid restaurants, we tried some incredible dishes. Aji No Tataki, a mackerel tartare and aubergine caviar was intense and gentle at the same time, texture and flavour balance impeccable. Buta No Kakuni, pork belly slow cooked for 12 hours in sweet soy sauce was melt in the mouth perfection. The house duck confit would stand up to any served in the grandest Michelin-honoured establishments of Paris. The addition of quince cream with the duck was an uplifting and striking match.
Oven-roasted butterfish was a completely new and unknown quantity for me. Complimented by a saikyo miso marinade, steamed and sticky jasmine rice, as well as beautifully bright pickled ginger, it is a dish that sings. It left us speechless. Butterfish is astonishingly full-bodied and filling for a white fish and delicious when cooked simply and allied with the ideal Japanese ingredients.
The contrasting options mysteriously work wonders when put together without jarring in the slightest. The dual styling of the restaurant, which draws heavily from two very different sources, is frankly awesome. On one hand, owner and chef Stephane emphasises the tradition of a deep-rooted philosophy of Japanese cooking and etiquette (kaiseki). On the other, the chef’s experience in modern European settings is expressed through the contemporary French style. French cuisine is now a free and creative genre, combining classic recipes with a fresher feel, more local and seasonal.
Chef Stephane Shoji is truly French Japanese. Growing up in Paris with a French mother, in the midst of a revolution in French cooking, he spent many hours as a young boy absorbing the industry, sticking close to his father, a Japanese chef blazing a trail in the heart of Western cuisine. Pulling up a chair to sit down and share his story with us, Stephane grins when we remark on his apparent youthfulness – he seems little older than 25. The years of experience he has accumulated defy logic.
Returning to Japan as a talented young chef, he had to quickly learn the holistic approach to gastronomy of his forefathers. This was not easy but as he began to show serious potential, his path to success was opening up for all to see. Kitchen and restaurant leadership followed in Melbourne, London, Athens and more. Speaking with him, his passion for food was infectious and Madrid is lucky to have him. Madrid restaurants are increasingly varied and L’Artisan is a gem amongst them. The world being as it is, the prices are absolutely the best side of reasonable. The quality of the food makes this even more true.
We are talking fine dining here with added fun. No pretentiousness. Rules are observed in the preparation but only when they serve the purpose of allowing Stephane and his team to serve subtle yet extraordinarily powerful flavours. This is one of those Madrid restaurants that is perfect for a romantic meal, family get together and relaxed night out with friends. It works on so many levels.
When you’re all done with the exceptional dining there is one more thing you must try. Round off your experience with a cocktail. Also posted on the alluring red entrance is an invitation to Japanese Mojitos. To a standard Mojito recipe, add sake (Japan’s punchy rice wine), ginger and the joker in the pack – melon liquor. More than one of these and I challenge you to walk straight as you leave but know this, as our excellent waiter Tyrone declared, L’Artisan’s Mojito is almost certainly the greatest in Madrid!
Address: Calle Ventura de la Vega, 15, Madrid
Tel: +34 91 420 3172 or +34 626 792 905