No, Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive weapon in the defense against the enemy.
We’re in Madrid, on the second floor of the Reina Sofia museum, where some of the world’s most famous masterpieces are exhibited. It’s almost as though you can hear Pablo Picasso as he comments on his Guernica, as we stand by shocked, shaking our heads, feeling small and unprepared for the emotions washing over us as we look at the most famous artistic rendering of the Spanish civil war.
A visit to the Reina Sofia museum – more formally called Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – must begin here, in its most famous room. But this is just the beginning: officially inaugurated in 1992 in a building that was once intended to be a hospital, the museum is considered one of the world’s finest modern and contemporary art collections. A visit is like diving in to Spanish figurative art in the 20th Century, along with international icons like Braque, Duchamp, Ernst, Fontana, Gris, Klee, Kandinsky, Magritte, Francis Bacon, Klein and Delaunay.
At the southern tip of the art-circuit triangle made up of Madrid’s other two principal museums – the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Prado – since 2005, the old edifice has been joined by the new additions by architect Jean Nouvel. And now we head into the Nouvel Building to check out the museum’s café-restaurant. Follow us!
With its open, aerodynamic spaces and a ceiling that looks like a bright, red sky, the Café Nouvel evokes a diaphanous and sidereal mood. Tables have shiny surfaces and create micro-landscapes that invite visitors to take a well-earned rest from their art admiration. How about a snack between Pistoletto and Dalì? In the bar area you can get an excellent coffee – better than a lot of the coffee you’ll find in Madrid – along with sandwiches made with artisan bread, and salads. And, as a further perk, free wi-fi if you need to check emails or tweet.
From the restaurant’s extensive menu, there are several items that shouldn’t be overlooked. For the shameless and greedy, the mille-feuille of goat cheese and foie gras with caramelized apple and creamed corn should be hastily ordered and then slowly savoured. The tartar made from fresh and smoked salmon, served with a light vichyssoise and asparagus is also a highlight.
The cuisine will conquer even the most discerning taste buds and aesthetic, with dishes like sea bass with potatoes parmentier and pisto manchego, that may be a classic but won’t leave anyone who tastes it indifferent. And the taste of the sea is present again with a Basque-inspired dish of salted cod, porrusalda and carrot crisps.
If it’s time for sweets, eliminate all doubt and postpone your battle against sugar to another day, por favor. After all, it was James Beard himself who said, “A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.” Nothing could be truer!
So if I were you, I’d just let myself get carried away and ask for the raspberry charlotte with a balsamic vinegar reduction: a mousse of velvety fruit, with alternating flavours of sweet and sour. But then there’s also the glycemic vortex offered by the hazlenut chocoate dessert with an olive oil biscuit and dulce de leche ice cream – a milky, caramel flavour that will bring back those kinds childhood memories that you’d happily re-live over and over again. And, if you think the promise of a caffeine hit is a good enough excuse, there’s the coffee-flavoured mousse with an apple gelée and cinnamon tuile pastry to get the job done.
And if you happen to be in Madrid during the month of September, you can enjoy your food while listening to live music, as a part of the Espacio Acustico concert series, held in the Nouvel café.
What do you say, shall we meet at the museum?
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Calle de Santa Isabel, 52 - Madrid