Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

La Montia restaurant - a revelation

Por: | 23 de febrero de 2014

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Just over a year old, La Montia, nestled in the backstreets of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in the foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, packs a punch way above its weight.  A charming and diminutive restaurant whose natural and minimalist dining room features just eight or so tables around a log stove has no Michelin stars (yet) and prices start at just €30 for a degustación menu.  It is no surprise then that the legion of growing fans that have recently discovered it feel as though they’ve stumbled upon a hidden gem.  However that is undoubtedly about to change given its chef owners, Daniel Ochoa, 36 and Luis Moreno, 31 – last month won the prestigious culinary accolade – Madridfusión Revelation Award 2014.

The award hails chefs with the promise of culinary stardom.  Previous recipients have included David Muñoz who won the award in 2009 for his game-changing restaurant Diverxo which last year gained its third Michelin star.  La Montia was selected for the 2014 award by 40 members of the Spanish food press and in an online vote via social media, making it not only the experts’ choice but the people’s choice.  The panel at – Madridfusión said of La Montia: “This is a pure Third Way, with a sparkle and a fine-tuned sense of balance.  And it is authentic market cuisine: there is no à la carte menu, no wine list, just two basic menus, at a very reasonable price, that are served with a few very carefully chosen wines.”

La Montia is a creative capsule that lives and breathes a certain philosophy based on the recovery, study and creative interpretation of local ingredients in the Guadarrama mountains.  The dishes are inspired and dictated by the local seasonal ingredients of the sierra and its environs.  This includes products from small farms, orchards and local bakeries as well as seasonal wild fruits, flowers, roots and herbs.  This even trickles down to the table water, which is not bottled or tap but drawn from the nearby mineral rich natural spring, Fuente de la Concha in the Abantos mountain.

Ochoa and Moreno told me that “Natural, ecological, sustainable, streamlined, clean, pure and honest” are the adjectives usually used to describe their wines and dishes and they see their vision as a mixture of all these things. 

When I ask the young and trendy looking chefs that would not out of place snowboarding in the Pyrenees or in cool bars of Madrid, why they chose to locate the restaurant in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Ochoa says: “We love this land.  We grew up here in the Sierra.  We cannot imagine cooking elsewhere.”

As a result of their love of the land and connection to it, Ochoa and Moreno are hunter gatherers of sorts who live by their philosophy, going out into the sierra, their canvas, researching and foraging in their spare time.  Ochoa says: “You have to have contact with the environment.  Otherwise, all this philosophy we defend would be just a movie."

 

Paté

This large rural area provides a rich seam of natural products to mine.  For example, when I visited in early February the chefs prepared a special risotto dish using amazingly potent blue mushrooms that had been picked that morning from the forest of Abantos, growing beneath the snow.  I also sampled a refreshing and zesty salad of Montia Fontana, which inspired the name of the restaurant.  These tiny clover-like leaves that grow on river banks are delicate and peppery, seasoned with lemon and tomato.  Other local grains and roots you will find lacing the dishes of La Montia include borage, mallow, watercress, sloes and rosehips.

La Montia is also close to a wealth of pioneering providers that have a passion for creating produce the natural way.  The restaurant serves artisan breads from a biodynamic farm in Cercedilla, Colmenareña grand cru butter, made in Colmenar Viejo, Fresnedilla fresh milk, vegetables from Guadalix, and ox from the sustainable farm Finca Jimnez Barbero in Colmenar Del Arroyo.

I ask Ochoa and Moreno how they select these suppliers.  Ochoa says: “Firstly we contact a provider who has an interesting product.  Then we will visit the farm, garden or wherever it does business.  We always know how our products are treated from the beginning.  We have three basic pillars to guide us: what, who and how.  If we are not convinced by any of these elements, the product does not come into La Montia however good it may seem.”

This insistence on the freshest seasonal and natural produce means the menu is constantly changing.  This offers up new challenges and opportunities for the chefs who have to be continually on top of the game.  “We let ideas flow.  What we do every day revolves around the Sierra,” says Ochoa.

Ochoa and Moreno have honed their culinary skills through 14 years working under pioneering chefs in restaurants such as Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in San Sebastián, currently listed as the fourth best restaurant in the world in the San Pellegrino Top 50; and the slow food aficionado Manuel de la Osa of Restaurante Las Rejas in Cuenca.

Eating at La Montia definitely echoes my experience of eating at Mugaritz.  At both you will see little in the way of theatre and heavy sauces.  The dishes use contemporary techniques to create dishes that are imaginative and bursting with subtle complex flavours.  The taste of earth pervades everything from the food to the wine and beer - from savoury to sweet.  You leave both restaurants feeling truly nourished body and soul by the experience.  Like Mugaritz, visually La Montia offers up a treat.  The presentation of the food is artistic and stylish, using natural materials such as polished woods, wine bottles and simple earthenware to create aromatic and evocative landscapes in miniature on your table.

One of the great aspects of the Montia experience is that the chefs themselves serve the food and explain with great intricacy what makes up the dishes and where the ingredients are sourced from.  The chefs will tailor dishes according to clients’ dislikes or allergies.  The service is impeccable, personal and takes time, it is not a conveyer belt, clients are not rushed. 

In terms of décor - simple, clean white walls and linen table cloths provide the backdrop to natural installations of wood, river rocks, flowers and herbs.  The design blends clean lines and freshness with the earthy tones and organic fluid shapes of nature; creating an ambience very much in keeping with the La Montia vision.  When I ask Ochoa about the value of the architecture of the restaurant he says:  “We believe in the energetic influence of certain materials.  It all adds up.”

Moving into the future I ask the young chefs what next…more awards?  Michelin stars?  Ochoa’s reply is understated and honest.  “Just under a year ago our legs were shaking and we had no idea if this restaurant was going to last more than a few months.  You always have uncertainty.  Just enjoy the moment.”

For more information go to La Montia’s Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/montia.sanlorenzo/about

Hay 2 Comentarios

Thanks for share.....!!

I ate here a couple of weeks ago. Great place, great value for money....

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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