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You can probably count Madrid’s Japanese restaurants on one hand, but when it comes to exquisite dining from the land of the rising sun one name stands out above all the rest.

Kabuki (www.restaurantekabuki.com), tucked away on the lower-ground floor of the five-star Wellington Hotel in central Madrid near Retiro Park attracts those who want to enjoy the unique flavours of Japanese cuisine with a Spanish twist. It’s this gastronomic creativity and merging of cultures from the hand of Chef Ricardo Sanz that has seen the Michelin Guide award the restaurant a coveted Michelin star for many years.

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Kabuki’s minimalist décor provides a sophisticated setting where diners can focus their attention on the exquisite food. Those who want to be close to the action and watch the chefs hand-slice the fish to prepare the sushi and sashimi should book a place at the Sushi Bar. The tables, which are spread over two levels, provide privacy and the perfect setting for those seeking romance. For small groups of up to ten there is also a private dining room. Kabuki’s fame has spread, and the restaurant is now extremely popular with both locals and visiting Japanese. Bookings are highly recommended.

Chef Ricardo, who learned his art during a four-year apprentice in Tokyo from the master sushi chef, Masao Kikuchi, presents an amazing menu which includes a number of delightful dishes where the flavours of Spain and Japan are combined with great effect. A good example is Usuzukari de Toro, a delicious combination of tuna loin and pan tomaca – a traditional bread and tomato dish from Spain’s north-eastern region of Cataluña. Sashimi of tuna loin is dressed with extra virgin olive oil, a drop of soy sauce, fresh tomato pulp and tiny bread crumbs to provide a wonderful fusion experience. It gets top marks from both Spanish and Japanese diners.

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For those who are concerned about declining tuna numbers, all the tuna used in the restaurant comes with a certificate showing that it has been sourced from sustainable reserves. Sushi lovers are really spoilt with some totally tantalizing flavours. The nigiri topped with a quail’s egg and black truffle is divine. Chef Ricardo’s creativity continues with the larger dishes. Chunky tuna with teriyaki sauce, and thin, extra-rare slices of beef drizzled with ponzo sauce – a citrus juice and soy sauce blend – are ‘must trys’.

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While Japan is not famed for its desserts Chef Ricardo has once again created some sweet treats which are the perfect marriage of both cultures. To cleanse the palette and provide a refreshing end to the meal try the apple jelly topped with juicy whole litchis and crowned with passion fruit pulp.

For those seeking delightful winter fare, a duo of exciting new eateries in Madrid offer the chance to indulge in either French or Basque cuisine.

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Right in the heart of Madrid, just steps from Plaza Santa Ana, Casanis  (www.casanis-restaurante-marbella.es/casanis-madrid  tel.914 290 877)  is a warming experience from the moment you step through the door. The softly lit interior is a stunning tribute to rustic, French style. Exposed wooden columns, walls adorned with trompe l’oeil, a rear-lit wine display and lush potted palms create the perfect mood whether you want a quiet business lunch or a romantic dinner.

The Belgian owners of this venue have been wooing diners in Marbella with the original Casanis for over eight years, and its success prompted them to start operations in Madrid.

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With a menu inspired by dishes you’d encounter in a classic French bistro, you’ll find solace in old favourites such as snails with herb butter, freshly shucked oysters, foie mi cuit and filled crêpes. Pushing the experience up a notch, Chef Fabian Cangas makes sure all the meat, fish and shellfish is bought daily in the local market. It’s a great combination and one that works wonderfully as Spain’s very best ingredients are converted into delicious French cuisine. Chef Fabian places great importance on presentation and every dish that comes out from the kitchen looks picture perfect.

Across in Barrio de Salamanca, Muñagorri (www.munagorrirestaurante.es  tel. 914 014 741) brings fine Basque dishes within the reach of everyone.

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In the front bar section of the restaurant, which sports street views from the oversized windows, you’ll find smaller tapa-sized versions of the starters on the main menu.  ‘Must trys’ are veal meatballs with curry and mustard sauce or slices of the Basque cheese Idiazábal served with tangy quince jelly on the side. High tables, leather stools, an elegant wooden bar and blackboards with chalked-up specials create the perfect setting to sit in the company of friends while you enjoy a selection of Basque delicacies. Excellent Spanish wines are served by the glass and are a great excuse to linger on.

Responsible for creating the enticing menu is Chef Pedro Muñagorri who was trained in some of the top kitchens in San Sebastian, but has since been running his own restaurant for five years.  True to his roots, Basque cuisine shines through in the dishes offered.

Muñagorri Madrid 2012 (2)For those with bigger appetites, the contemporary-styled, main dining room is where to indulge in full-sized portions. A winter favourite is the creamy risotto flavoured with wild mushrooms and Idiazábal cheese.  Mains are neatly divided into fish and meat with the squid stuffed with caramelised onions and a rich and hearty ox tail stew being definite highlights which should not be missed.

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You’ve probably noticed that the supermarket shelves around Spain are already bending under the weight of packets of traditional Spanish Christmas sweets. As in many countries, the festive period here is a time to indulge in calorie-rich treats.

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Many of the Christmas goodies can trace their origins back to when the Moors ruled large tracts of Spain. When you see ingredients such as almonds and honey listed on the box you can be pretty sure that what you are eating has its roots in Arab cuisine. Turrón, marzipan, polvorones and mantecados all use these delicious ingredients and are mainstays on the Christmas sweets’ tray in most homes.

On the coast of eastern Spain near Alicante, the small town of Jijona is where most of the turrón is produced. Made using just two basic ingredients – almonds and honey – it’s the wild flowers that the bees in the area feed on which gives the honey, and ultimately the turrón, its distinctive flavour. Turrón comes in two distinctive varieties, soft and hard. Soft turrón just melts in your mouth, while hard turrón has chunky pieces of almond and is brittle and crunchy.

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The recipe for polvorones is simple. Ground almonds, sugar, flour and lard are blended together to make these soft shortbread. Orange, lemon, chocolate and cinnamon are sometimes added for an extra flavour boost. Once baked they are extremely crumbly, and most people find it easier to give them a good squeeze while still in their protective paper to convert them into a more manageable consistency before attempting to eat them.

Marzipan is another sweet of undisputable Moorish origin. Known as mahsaban in the Arab world, the ingredients are limited to sweet almonds and sugar. Once ground together the paste is formed into small bird and animal shapes and baked to achieve a soft but slightly chewy consistency. Toledo, with its strong Arab roots, is Spain’s most famous city for marzipan. The rules governing the recipe are very clear. The almond to sugar ratio must be one to one, and almonds must represent 50 percent of the final product.

Although similar to polvorones, mantecados are firmer in consistency. Once again the basic ingredients are almonds, sugar and flour, but what is essential to a mantecado is the use of manteca – lard. Many regions have their own variations of these small shortbread. In La Mancha they add a glass of sweet red wine to the dough, while in Andalucía, orange or lemon essence provides a fragrant touch.

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Stock-up on all these Spanish sweets in any shop or supermarket across Spain. For an exclusive range of the best brands try El Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience   http://www.gourmetexperienceelcorteingles.es  Look out for the new gourmet food space on the ninth floor of El Corte Inglés in Callao, Madrid.

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With the festive season fast approaching, it’s time to look out for places to raise a glass with friends. In Barcelona you’ll find innovative and alluring bars to have a celebratory tipple. A new wave of mixologists have introduced bold colours, exciting textures, scintillating aromas and, most of all, imagination to the glass. Enjoy.

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In the elegant Banker’s Bar, inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel (www.mohg.com/barcelona) on Passeig de Grácia,you’ll find impressive movers and shakers behind the bar. Drinkers at the Banker’s Bar love the more unusual combinations which are highlighted by variations in texture and an astute perception of how to combine, what could be described as, unusual bedfellows. A good example is the Devil’s Horn – a spicy concoction using dark rum, macerated raspberries, red jalapeño chillies and topped off with a drizzle of honey.

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Another must try is the Cubajito – a tribute to the three great rum-based cocktails – the Cuba Libre, the Mojito and the Daiquiri. After the main ingredients have been blended, the ‘coup de grâce’ comes from beaten Coca Cola foam. The airy foam is poured into the top of the glass over the back of a spoon. As you drink this heavenly concoction you’ll notice the fresh scent of the mint, the tang of the lemon and the rich flavour of the rum.

Perched on the 26th floor of the W Hotel, (www.w-barcelona.com) at beachside Barceloneta, and offering spectacular views of the coastline from the floor to ceiling windows is Eclipse. Mixologist Emmanuel Duran uses fresh fruit juices and herbs to infuse the spirits with natural aromas which are then topped off with mixers to create truly memorable beverages.

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The 27-year-old barman believes fresh is best. His signature cocktail, the Watermelon Martini, is a refreshing mix of vodka and freshly squeezed watermelon juice served with a wedge of the same fruit in the glass. Those who are keen to learn how to create delicious cocktails at home should sign up for a cocktail master class where some of the trade secrets will be passed on by Emmanuel.

Also beachside is the newly renovated Frank’s Bar, named after Frank Gehry and situated in the contemporary-styled Hotel Arts. (www.hotelartsbarcelona.com) at Puerto Olímpico. If you like your drinks with a feminine touch, this is the place. In charge of the elegant bar is Irina de Filipa. Her philosophy is simple, to use traditional recipes as the base and then give them a modern twist. The perfect example of her style is the Cucumberjito; a refreshing mix of gin, cucumber pulp and mint. Those who love Gin and Tonics shouldn’t miss the eight special varieties which are infused with subtle flavours such as green apple, or honey and halved grapes to provide a slightly sweeter drink.

ImageSpaniards love marisco – shellfish, and anyone spending time in Spain will also want to yield to the temptation to enjoy the huge variety of crustaceans and molluscs on offer. Spain’s water bound location with the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Cantabrian Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the east, assures that there is a large and varied selection of seafood to sample. What may come as a surprise however is the quality and freshness of seafood in cities such as Madrid which are nowhere near a port. Each night the catch comes off the boats and is transported by road to be in the cities’ markets by daybreak.November, and all the colder months with an ‘r’ in them, are when you’ll find the best seafood. In the weeks running up to Christmas you’ll see shoppers stocking up on frozen supplies – particularly langostinos – giant prawns, vieiras – scallops and cigalas– Dublin bay prawns, to have on hand over the festive period. That said, when it comes to seafood, fresh is best. Freezing may be convenient, but it changes the texture of the food making it mushy and less appetizing when defrosted.ImageFinding opportunities to sample fresh seafood is easy and, depending on the location and the produce, it doesn’t have to be an expensive meal. For a delicious tapa at a nice price dive in and order a serve of paella topped with langostinos – giant prawns and mejillones – mussels. For a popular lunchtime dish, which is sure to please the taste buds and won’t break the bank, order a pot of Mejillones al vapor– steamed mussels. This popular light meal sees the bright orange molluscs steamed in their shells and served with a sauce made from garlic, parsley and white wine. The plump mussels are delicious and the sauce when mopped up with fresh crusty bread is simply sinful.For a special occasion Spain’s many marisquerias – specialty seafood restaurants – are a perfect treat. Highlights are always the huge platters filled to overflowing with cangrejos – crabs, vieiras – scallops, ostras – oysters, navajas – razor clams, percebes – gooseneck barnacles and cigalas – Dublin bay prawns.Image

In Madrid head to Mercado San Miguel, www.mercadodesanmiguel.es near Plaza Mayor, to sample a plate of freshly shucked oysters with a glass of albariño white wine. For an all out seafood banquet you can’t beat the two restaurants Combarro and Sanxenso www.combarro.com . Across in Barcelona, Rias de Galicia www.riasdegalicia.com offers spectacularly presented seafood tapas. In Valencia Marisqueria Santa Cruz www.marisqueriasantacruz.com serves fabulous seafood platters and in A Coruña try either Suso 1 or 2  www.marisqueriasuso.es.

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Deep inside the luxurious Westin Palace Hotel (www.westinpalacemadrid.com) is one of Madrid’s hidden gems for anyone who is passionate about fine Chinese cuisine.

Asia Gallery (www.asiagallerymadrid.com) specializes in highly refined Cantonese dishes from the southern province of Guangdong near Hong Kong. Characterized by stir-fried, seafood dishes prepared with spring onions, ginger, chili and soy sauce, Cantonese cuisine is one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines with diners around the world.

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Positioned off the famed Cupola Lounge in the Westin Palace Hotel, Asia Gallery is a favourite rendezvous with celebrities, politicians and visiting statesmen who come there to enjoy the intimate, designer ambience as well as the exceptional food. For those seeking privacy there are two tables which can be converted into more intimate spaces by drawing the rich, damask curtains around the splendidly carved Chinese screens.

The restaurant’s interior, which echoes the décor of a 1920’s Shanghai club, features bench seats covered with crimson and gold silk and delicate oriental lamps adorned with a peach blossom design. At night candles on each table provide a soft glow perfect for romance. A series of oversized paintings depicting classic, oriental scenes add to the exceptional décor. Providing a delightful juxtaposition of styles are the contemporary, white leather chairs and the minimalist porcelain and glassware on the tables.

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Asia Gallery’s extensive menu offers a number of delightful surprises. Don’t miss the sautéed lobster with X.O. – a spicy seafood sauce invented in Hong Kong – steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onions, marinated quail with mild chili and of course the classic, Peking duck served with paper-thin pancakes. For dim sum fans there is an extensive selection including tasty morsels filled with duck foie or langoustines. Adding to the experience is the chance to sample some wine from the large selection of both Spanish and international labels. Chinese food and wine can be a tricky combination, but help is at hand from the experienced sommelier when it comes to pairing the dishes with the right wines.

Three exciting new restaurants have recently opened their doors in Madrid. Not only do they offer varied cuisine and dining styles but there is something suitable for all pockets.

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Calle Cava Baja in central Madrid is already a favourite thoroughfare for those looking for tapas bars and casual dining. Taberna Casa Curro (www.tabernacasacurro.com) at number 23 makes a welcome addition. Visually the cosy tapas bar packs a punch from the bright red doors and façade to the interior where oversized photos of bull fighters adorn the walls. Black and white framed photos with scenes from Andalusian cities cover the ceiling adding to the highly original design element. Although it’s been open only a few months, Taberna Casa Curro has become so popular that you may have to fight your way in.

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Typical of small tabernas, there are high stools set around benches and at the bar. It’s the food of course that has the patrons in raptures, and the prices won’t break the bank. You can enjoy a delicious light meal for around €20. All the ingredients are fresh, and each dish is prepared a-la-minute. Taking its cue for Spain’s south, the menu features plenty of small dishes and individual portions. Everyone should start off with a serving of Cadiz-style salted prawns. They’re some of the best around. Move on to enjoy paper thin slices of Iberian ham, pork cheek, chorizo or chunks of delicious morcilla – black pudding. Those looking for something light will love the freshly made tomato and tuna loin salad. To keep thirst at bay Taberna Casa Curro offers a good selection of beers and wine.

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Just opened, and providing an elegant dining experience at affordable prices, M29 (inside the Occidental Miguel Angel Hotel, 29 Calle Miguel Angel, tel 914 520 521) is a great place to experience creative Mediterranean cuisine. The lunch and dinner menus have been carefully thought out – there are lighter meals at midday and more elaborate offerings in the evening. For those on the run it’s possible to enjoy lunch in an hour. What’s more, there are special set menus priced at €20 and €29 which include tempting dishes such as stewed veal cheek with creamed pumpkin or stir-fried vegetables. At night, M29’s seductive ambience, with candlelight and soft music, will urge you to linger over the meal. The dining room is dressed in a sophisticated combination of black and white. Average prices for dinner are around €50 per person. Highlights from the menu include lobster croquettes, wild salmon and guacamole mini hamburgers, and grilled hake with potatoes and red mojo – a delicious sauce made from garlic and red peppers. Lovers of the grape will want to try a bottle from the extensive wine list which includes both Spanish and international vintages.

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In just over a year Caoba (www.caobarestaurant.com) has cemented its place as one of the best, fine-dining venues in Madrid. The interior of the main dining room is a stunning mix of art, design and comfort. Smaller groups will love the private space for up to ten. The Chef’s Table has its own dining room with space for four diners and boasting views of the action in the kitchen through the glass partition.

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The owners, the Mammolli brothers and Chef Vincenzo Marconi, have done away with the traditional menu and have created a concept based on three, set, gastronomic menus – discover, understand and surprise priced at €48, €62 and €75. The gastronomic offerings change each week according to what ingredients are in season. No two weeks are ever the same.  Caoba has one of the best wine cellars in Madrid with over 400 vintages from Europe and the ‘new world’. After the meal save room for a selection of European cheeses from the cheese table which offers between 20 and 30 varieties.

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Although the Canary Islands (www.turismodecanarias.com) fly the Spanish flag, their remote location, some 1700km from the mainland, has ensured that the cuisine holds some pleasant surprises for foodies. The use of locally grown ingredients and recipes that have been passed down through generations means that you’ll find dishes to enjoy on all seven islands that you won’t find anywhere else.

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Canaries offer numerous opportunities to savour fresh fish, including vieja which can only be found in the surrounding shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean. High mountains and green valleys are a good source of pork, goat and rabbit meat which are perfect for hearty stews, while the rich volcanic soil and year-round warm climate are perfect for growing vegetables and tropical fruit of exceptional quality.

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There are many dishes that are common to all the Canary Islands but are unique to them. Perhaps the most typical, and one that is quite simply delicious, is mojo. This sauce can be served with a large number of dishes, but the most popular is papas arrugadas – wrinkled potatoes. Small potatoes are boiled in very salty water in their jackets. Mojo comes in two highly contrasting flavours which are easily distinguished by their colour. Basic mojo is made by combining olive oil, salt garlic and cumin. Mojo picón gets its red hue and distinctive bite from the addition of red peppers and chillies, while its green counterpart, mojo verde, is infused with puréed fresh coriander leaves. Both sauces are traditionally served with papas arrugadas, but they also make a welcome flavour boost when drizzled on fish or char-grilled meat.

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Inherited from the Guanches – the islands’ indigenous race – gofio is a flour-like substance made by roasting ground maize and wheat. Its nutty flavour is delightful. Once the flour is mixed with water or milk it can be rolled into balls or cylinders and baked to make a type of bread. Gofio is a versatile ingredient that is often added to soups, stews, sauces and even desserts. It’s an important part of the locals’ diet, so make sure you try it.

All these dishes are readily available in most restaurants. In La Bellota Mesón del Valle (www.bodegalabellota.com) in Tenerife you’ll find traditional Canary Island flavours served with a modern twist.

Across on Gran Canaria one of the best places to enjoy high-end local cuisine is Restaurante Nelson (www.restaurantenelson.com) The coastal setting and elegant interior are where to tuck into a bowl of gofio balls served with a rich seafood broth. Continue the meal with roast pork knuckle served with papas and a selection of mojo sauces.

On Lanzarote, the cosy restaurant Casa Roja (www.casarojalanzarote.com) sits on the water’s edge in the pretty town of Puerto del Carmen. Make sure you try the seaweed and tomato salad, black paella with squid ink and grilled vieja which comes served with a selection of mojo sauces on the side.

It’s already one of Madrid’s favourite watering holes and restaurants, but now Bristol Bar (www.bristolbar.es) has added to its allure with the addition of Chicken Masala Tikka to its already very British menu. This popular curry dish is eaten by most people in the UK at least once a week, and now visitors to Bristol Bar can enjoy it as part of the very British experience that the restaurant offers.

The trendy gathering point for Spaniards and expats in Calle Admirante 20 also has one of the best gin selections in town. In the front bar, there are no less than 60 gin labels to choose from including the simply delicious Ish which is served with a sprig of parsley. Let owner and gin expert Elle Baker guide you in your choice. There’s a lively crowd there most nights and it’s the perfect place to relax with friends or make new ones.

Moving past the bar you’ll find the restaurant with walls painted in charcoal grey and chairs in crimson. Photos of Winston Churchill hang proudly on the walls making for a stylish place to dine on real British cuisine. The menu offers excellent choices such as vegetable quiche, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy or the ‘must try’ steak and Guinness pie. All these dishes are cooked to absolute perfection. Now adding to the experience is Britain’s favourite, adopted dish – Chicken Masala Tikka – a delightful mix of chicken chunks cooked in a spicy tomato and yogurt sauce and topped with fresh coriander.

Spain has a long tradition of cheese production, and every region boasts its own variety. Cheese lovers will be spoilt for choice as they move around the country trying examples made with cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk. Each cheese’s unique qualities are protected by its D.O. – the Denomination of Origin symbol that certifies its authenticity. From more than 63 registered Spanish cheeses try tangy Manchego, sharp rich Zamorano, smoky Idiazábal, savory Majorero, Mahón – with its paprika-scented rind, mild Tetilla and robust Cabrales – one of the world’s greatest blues. Enjoy all these with a glass of wine, a few slices of bread and dried fruits and nuts.  A great place to find out more, and of course buy some to enjoy, is at any of Spain’s many markets. You’ll see row upon row lined up in the glass display cases. In Madrid don’t miss the specialty cheese shop Poncelet (www.poncelet.es) or in Barcelona La Seu (www.formatgerialaseu.com) which also has an excellent selection.