In 2009, two friends, Álvaro Castellanos and Iván Morales, opened a six-table spot in the Retiro Park neighborhood (which has since evolved into Madrid’s new tapas central). With its dark, cozy looks—and details inspired by the French bistronomy movement—their neo-tasca felt both utterly familiar and totally new. Diners were greeted with huge tubs of French butter with great, crusty sourdough bread (then still a novelty in Madrid), and there were international wines and Champagnes by the glass, whereas most traditional tapas bars served generic reds and whites. Classic recipes were full of little surprises: The now-famous croquetas were supremely airy and filled with a superflavorful sheep-milk béchamel. The huevos rotos (a Madrid stalwart of fried eggs broken up over French fries) came in adorable individual skillets under shavings of black truffle.
These days, Morales and Castellanos are Madrid’s most successful restaurateurs, with a mini empire that includes the larger Arzábal in the Retiro Park area and Kirikata, a clever mash-up of Japanese izakaya and tapas bar. Their latest venture is a mod version of Arzábal inside the Reina Sofía Museum, home to Picasso’s Guernica. Their croquetas and truffled eggs with fries are still on the menu, along with dishes like warm escabeche of partridge, and monkfish with a thyme-infused vinaigrette of tomatoes with aged sherry vinegar. “We’ve shown Madrid that you can have a serious restaurant,” Morales says. “And with all that fusion around us, we’re proud to remain totally Spanish.”
Av. de Menéndez Pelayo 13; 011-34-9140-95661; arzabal .com .