El Bulli’s eye | Fismuler, Madrid


Take three ex-El Bulli chefs, put them in a fantastic industrial space in Madrid, and you’ll get Fismuler

El Bulli’s eye | Fismuler, Madrid

Itterasshai! I was in Madrid. Japanese chefs around me belting out ōkina kotoba (loud words). Not a lot of Japanese in Madrid. They yell with an abundance of exclamation marks. Although not the most famous use of stressed punctuation on these shores. That accolade goes to Dolores Ibárruri Gomez during the siege of Madrid. As fascists took the city, the impassioned orator coined the Republican battle cry, “No pasarán!”

It was Madrid Fusión, one of the world’s most prominent global symposiums for gastronomy. I was here with Wagyumafia, Hisato Hamada and Takafumi Horie’s wagyu pop-up juggernaut. With multiple outposts worldwide, Hisato, his finance Flora and sous chef Toshi were continuing their global wagyu crusade. I joined in, too, enthused by the joviality and buddy chef camaraderie but knowing only a little of the language – Tamagotchi!

Everything is exciting, everything is an opportunity to explore, and everything is studied

Dining with hungry Japanese is the best. Everything is exciting, everything is an opportunity to explore, and everything is studied. I get it; when the rice and the fish and the noodles and the beef are that good, every other country’s output is questionable. Spain is pretty good, though; its food distinctly regional and also with a national cuisine formed around both land and sea – sushi-tapas, torro-Iberico. There’s something there, a connection of sorts. So when a local foodie suggested lunch at Fismuler, a casual dining restaurant cooked up by three ex-El Bulli chefs, that seemed like a safe bet.

Fismuler, Madrid

The smudgy fingerprints of El Bulli grease the world over, and nowhere more so than in Spain. Anyone fortunate enough to work in the famous Catalonia kitchen left touched by madness, Ferran Adrià doing for Spanish cooking what Pablo Picasso did for the artistic reputation of the country a century earlier. So when Nino Redruello – heir to Madrid’s legendary La Ancha restaurants – and Patxi Zumárraga departed, it was a matter of time until they paired up for a project; launching Las Tortillas de Gambino, La Gabinoteca and Tatel before opening Fismuler Madrid in 2016. They opened a second outpost in Barcelona two years later with fellow El Bulli alumni Jaime Santianes.

Fismuler, Madrid

Located in Madrid’s trendy Salamanca neighbourhood, Fismuler occupies a bizarre industrial space on the busy Calle de Sagasta. The corner unit has a scuffed interior with blasted, muddy tones. The ceilings are high and the rooms long. It would be a fantastic bowling alley. It’s part mercantile storage facility, part Hostel torture chamber. There’s no attention-stealing artwork or plush interior fancies. The focus here is strictly on the food. I see similitudes with London’s St. John, the former bacon smoke-house turned no-fuss dining institution where produce is paramount.

Even during a mid-week lunch, the atmosphere was boisterous, roaring with atmosphere. Tables were packed with families and business lunches, voices raised over the happy noshing of food. Staff tiptoe past, roaming between tables and returning from the kitchen – somewhere out back – with plates of Spanish fare. It’s not traditional fine dining, nor is it tapas. They do the whole multiple-sharing deal, so expect plenty of food arriving and empty plates being cleared. This forces convivial eating, dishes shared across the table as more and more arrive and proving exactly what you were thinking – that the table isn’t big enough. Thankfully, our local foodie friend had called and booked in advance, so we took our seats around a large circular table at the back. Two locals, plus Hisato, Flora, Toshi and me. Three nationalities, all famished, feigning amiable smiles while waiting, praying, dying for food to arrive. Food brings out the best in people, but hungry people are assholes.

Fismuler, Madrid

Things kick off with a small garden lettuce, presented to each of us, the entire thing covered in lashings of grated 24-month Comté, supple and milky. Then a slow procession of plates – white asparagus, roasted baby quid and smoked eel. It wasn’t the aggressive, quick-fire tapas pace I had expected, but considered and purposeful. A snapper, tinted pink, comes with salted almonds and sweet red grapes, and an Empordà onion soup was wonderfully gelatinous from “cod guts,” a jiggly orange egg yolk on top. Mmmhhh… Tamagotchi!

Then more plates, each arriving faster than the last. Baked hake, white (croaker) sea bass, a marinated stingray with Ibérico sofrito and Navarra piparras chilli peppers. All are competitively priced, between €14.00 and €34.00. Old Spanish recipes reimagined, the three amigo chefs transforming peasant grub into refined epicureanism. This is more akin to St. John than I had initially realised, recipes that began as honest and necessary, refined by young, ambitious cooks. As AA Gill correctly noted, food travels from the poor to the rich, with all great cuisines aspiring from the bottom up.

Restraint is vital, but where’s the fun in that?

Plates and bowls soon consume the table. And there’s more – Navarrese white asparagus peeled into thin strips, with a champagne cream spooned over, that’s clean and fresh, as was the maresme peas with green beans and thistle. The entire table is thrilled, subarashī! There’s a good yet unusual bitterness to the thistle, and here’s a tip for free, if you cut the prickly parts and scrape away the skin and spines, they’re great with onion, garlic, cloves, tomato and spaghetti in what some call Peasant Pasta. Then a potato omelette, as it is listed – although more recognisable as a Spanish tortilla or tortilla Española – is served with Iberian chorizo and charred jalapeños. At €19.00, it’s a bargain, each bite carrying a different flavour, simultaneously light and dense, thick with melted cheese, and sweet and smokey from the pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika). Restraint is vital, but where’s the fun in that?

And so on we go, the inhibited, gluttonous beasts within us released. Tamagotchi! There’s a grilled red tuna from Barbate in southern Spain where trawlers use the La Levanta technique of retrieving fish, designed to catch them in their spring migrations from the North Sea towards the Mediterranean. It’s prepared topped with fermented, spicy raspberries and washed down with glasses of homemade lemonade and a Spanish dry white that I frustratingly never got the name of. Then a schnitzel is wheeled to the table by a waiter who proceeds to beat the life out of the already deceased veal, pounding it into pointless submission before an egg, chive and truffle sauce is prepared à la minute to pour over. It’s fancy theatrics and bold in flavours. All done without overt decoration or fuss and without exclamation marks. C


Fismuler, C. de Sagasta, 29, 28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 918 27 75 81; fismuler.com