Photo by Patricia Esteve
Dontell. A play on the words: “Don’t tell” in keeping with the Tintorería’s cunning disguise as a dry cleaners, when in fact it’s a restaurant. So far so clandestine except that by now it’s about the worst kept secret in town. Tap it into Google and up come numerous reviews (and photos), mainly good, so that now the word is largely: been to that dry cleaner restaurant yet?
I booked for a Friday night. We arrived at a place that did indeed seem like the real deal, in dry cleaner terms that is. There were jackets and shirts, ticketed and hanging on a rail. A large tumble-dryer tucked into a corner. Even the smell of starch and detergent hanging in the air. “Do you have a reservation,” asked the girl at the till, clad in a dark, tailored suit. “Yes, it’s Tara,” say I. “Nobody of that name here she remarks. “Could I see,” I say, having got used to the problems of Tara over the years. “That’ll be it: Lana.” “OK then,” she says rather moodily, here’s the code, you tap it in over there.”
Once through the secret doorway we were whisked through to a sultry dining room with a huge open-plan kitchen, framed by plate-glass windows etched with violet swirls, giant overhead bulbs (dimly lit) and comfortable, silvery banquets that seemed to glow discreetly in the dark. Wow, we thought, actually this isn’t half bad.
20 minutes later the place was rammed, including a table behind us that came with three kids aged under five who were made extremely welcome. Elsewhere were couples, grown-up kids and their parents; a mix of uptowners, downtowners and possibly the odd tourist, though I suspect it’s not quite that discovered yet.
The menu changes every two months and is split into aperitifs, cold starters, warm starters, mains and deserts. Most of them are available in half portions. We kicked off with an avocado langoustine salad with wild herbs served ‘martini style’. “Do you think that means it’s served in a martini glass?” I asked my friend. “Absolutely” she replied, and of course was completely right. It was tasty enough. My only criticism was a need to slow the pace of things for greedy tables like ours; we struggled to keep up.
Next then a slab of spiced bread, topped with not quite enough duck liver (the spices in the bread overpowered it) and slivers of green apple, which were nevertheless a welcome and imaginative aside to the ubiquitous mi-cuit de foie. Better yet was a dish of sweet and buttery seared scallops served with a dollop of wild almond puree. An exceptional dish using an inspired combination of ingredients that really worked. The bogavante (lobster) and lamb sweetbreads in ravioli were a bit of a dud comprising five tubes of empty canelone, an admittedly brilliant reduction of sweetbread and lobster juice, three shrivelled glands and a small prawn. “Er, waiter”, we say, “where’s the lobster?” “Oh, we don’t we have any of that today”, he says brightly. Then hopefully, “but we’ve given you a prawn, I can take it away if you want?”
Personally I saw little point in eating it, and truth be told, we’d rather over-ordered so it worked out for the best. Our main courses consisted of turbot—a wonderful fish, that we don’t see enough of in these parts—with a tender melange of the season’s new wild mushrooms and a simple roasted filet of wild sea bass. A beautifully silky papada (the slow-cooked chin of an Iberian pig) and the most delectably smoky, tender and juicy hunk of ox meat topped with a dollop of kalamata tapenade.
By the time desert was proffered we couldn’t eat another morsel so I can’t comment on that. The bill came to €126 for two, but given the excessive feed we’d had and the excellent bottle of wine (Alvaro Palacios’ Les Terrasses) I don’t think it was so outrageous. More to the point, I can say with my hand on my heart, that this is one little secret I won’t be shy of sharing.