The crazy world of El Corral de la Morería: a flamenco tablao with a Michelin star thanks to a Basque chef who plays thrash metal
Juan Manuel del Rey, director of El Corral de la Morería, and one of the most renowned chefs in Spain, tells us that there are three important things in a restaurant: what is done, how it is done and why it is done. But for him the most important thing is knowing how to answer the last question, on which the philosophy of an establishment depends.
"That‘ why ’is the key to everything," said Del Rey in a recent conference held at the BBVA Bilbao Food Capital congress. “Seeing a client get excited makes us excited, that's our why. If there is not this, then we simply do work, and that work, at least for us, is not enough. The room is a transmitter of our passions, and our illusion to make the client happy ”.
As soon as you enter El Corral de la Morería, you realize that you are in an exceptional place: it is a flamenco tablao, with Michelin-star cuisine, and what is probably the best fortified wine cellar in the world. But it is much more than that. It is a vortex towards happiness.
David García and Juan Manuel Del Rey.
Where flamenco meets gastronomy
It is impossible to talk about El Corral de la Morería without remembering its founder, Manuel del Rey, father of Juan Manuel and husband of Blanca Ávila, the bailaora who he himself signed when he was only 14 years old, to marry her five years later.
Currently, Ávila is in charge of the artistic direction, always at the forefront, and his son, Juan Manuel, of the room. And both follow the philosophy of Manuel - or Manolo, as his friends knew him - who died in 2006.
Today most tablaos are focused on satisfying foreign tourists, who seek to find an authentic Spain that, perhaps, has never existed as they imagine it, but the truth is that during the entire second half of the 20th century El Corral de la Morería was the nerve center of flamenco, and Don Manuel del Rey, a fundamental character in its evolution.
As Juan Manuel points out, all the great flamenco artists have passed and continue to pass through the Corral de la Morería, who are also closely linked to the family. Antonio Gades is his godfather, La Chunga his godmother and Paco de Lucía presented one of the most important albums in the history of flamenco at El Corral: Source and Flow.
Don Manuel el Rey with Maureen O'Hara, sometime in the 60s.
The Corral de la Morería was the place to be of the time. Within its walls, the Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahleví, met Farah Diba, after asking Manolo to seat him at a table of Iranian architecture students where his future wife was. John Lennon ended up closing the premises after the Beatles' only visit to Spain and the Kiss ended up having some dances on stage, we suppose without their usual makeup.
All this story strengthens the vision that flamenco tablaos live only on foreign tourists, but although these continue to represent a large percentage of its audience, El Corral is experiencing a new golden stage, boosted by an element that was always present in the tablao, but it has taken on more prominence than ever: gastronomy.
The bailaora Inma Salomón, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Spain, starred in one of the night's numbers.
Eat, drink and sing
Although flamenco was the great passion of Manuel Del Rey, the second place was occupied by gastronomy, which he had since childhood.
His father, Juan Del Rey, came from Guadalajara at the end of the 19th century to take over the Casa Camorra restaurant, on the slope of the partridges, today occupied by the Coruña road, between Puerta de Hierro and the Zarzuela racecourse. There the high society of the time traveled to eat its famous rice with chicken and its vegetable paellas.
The hill of the partridges witnessed one of the most virulent confrontations of the Civil War and the place was in the hands of both armies, becoming the advanced command post from which the rebel side planned the taking of Madrid. At the end of the war it was completely destroyed, bombed on all sides.
Grilled and almond-shaped veal gizzard with a concentrated red onion juice. Very good.
After the war, Manuel set up a new restaurant in the place that later occupied the Archie nightclub and today Coque, which continued to be famous for its rice dishes, but in 1956 he decided to unite his two passions in El Corral de la Morería, which has not moved. since then from its location on Calle de la Morería, in the heart of Madrid.
Since its inauguration, El Corral had an unusual gastronomic offer for a flamenco tablao. On its menu were the most cutting-edge dishes of the time: thermidor lobster, menier sole, caviar ...
Despite living in the shadow of the revelry, haute cuisine was always in the DNA of the Corral, but it was not until the incorporation of chef David García in 2016 that a small room attached to the tablao was inaugurated in which a gastronomic menu is served. . A proposal that has made El Corral become the first flamenco tablao in the world with a Michelin star.
Squid noodles with a spicy touch and squid broth.
Andalusian flamenco, Basque cuisine
When García, a chef from Bilbao, trained by Martín Berasategui, told his family that he was going to work in a flamenco tablao, his parents looked at him and said: “You're stupid”.
The chef had just won the Michelin star for the Álbora restaurant, but he was immediately won over by the proposal from El Corral, so much so that he lives in the same building as the tablao.
"The truth is that I do flamenco life all day, but very well," explains García. “It is such a curious place that you have to live it with emotion, take advantage of the moment of being with the artists and enjoy it. Inside the corral, each one to his own: one dancing, another cooking, the other with the wines, another at the door… We try to ensure that everything is within the most magical atmosphere possible ”.
Turbot with honeyed juice from its bones and lemon jam.
The world of music is no stranger to García: he has been playing drums for decades in groups of thrash metal from the scene of the Basque Country and is about to enter to record an album with his new band from Madrid, with former members of the group Circus. He has already made up his mind that he is going to end up in one of the tablao numbers playing casseroles. "I have been told many times and these people are serious," he jokes. But, for now, he has enough to manage the mammoth kitchen that feeds every night the two services of the tablao and the gastronomic one.
The zurrukutuna, a dish that looks as simple as it is complex is its flavor.
A menu to remember
The first thing that strikes you when you see El Corral's tasting menu is that there is no trace of Andalusian dishes. García makes 100% Basque cuisine; the one that claims to know better.
"David's cuisine is modern, but he operates with a lot of tradition, just like the artists, who are the avant-garde of today's flamenco, but are tied to tradition," explains Juan Manuel.
In the seasonal tasting menu that we were lucky enough to try - made up of 11 dishes at a price of 65 euros - we find traditional Basque stews such as zurrukutuna, marmitaxo or goxua, but in versions that have little to do with the originals. .
Collagen marmitako cooked in eel consommé. A sidereal dish.
An example is the zurrukutuna, a traditional Basque dish that, as Santi Carrillo explains, maitre d ' and sommelier from El Corral, it has its origin in the fishing boats, where a garlic soup was cooked with the remains of cod and the pickles that were brought to slaughter.
García takes this soup to high-level cuisine, in a dish that is as visually simple as it is complex on the palate. The sofrito of the soup is mixed with a conger broth and cooked with cream and egg to obtain a curd, on which a cod collagen soup rests, with onion and peppers cooked in the oven separately. "He is a Christ of the ciborium," admits García. "The aesthetics may seem simple, but to get to the final elaboration ... There are three or four elaborations in each recipe."
Another good mess is the collagens marmitako, cooked in eel consommé, which for me was the dish of the night. To make this, García cooks cockscomb, pork tail, cow tendon and lamb's foot separately at a low temperature, with very long times, so that they are super gelatinous. The colegens are presented on an exquisite smoked eel broth accompanied by pickles of cucumber, carrot and radishes, which give acidity and lightness to a dish as strong as it is balanced.
Santi Carrillo was our host in the room.
A souvenir for wines
To complete the experience at El Corral de la Morería, it is as important to enjoy the show as it is to be advised on wine matters. The tablao has what is probably the largest fortified wine cellar in the world: it has 3,000 references, of which 1,200 are fortified wines, 700 of them old bottles.
Even if you don't know too much about wines, it is well worth choosing the pairing option with the tasting menu (whose value for money is unbeatable). There are three options, 35, 65 and 110 euros, which include nine glasses of wine, many of which can only be tasted in this house.
Some of the amazing wines we tried on our visit.
In El Corral they keep bottles of bags that have only been made for them, wines from the last century, and also from the ancestor, and all kinds of Jerez and Monilla-Moriles elaborations that are, simply, a scandal.
But the best thing is not the wines, it is the way in which Carrillo and Del Rey make you immerse yourself in the culture of fortified wines, without too many technicalities, or understood experiences. Each wine has its own story, and they have all the time in the world to tell it to you and answer the questions, something that a room with only three tables helps, in which it is easy to end up talking with the neighbor next door.