Alejandro del Toro
Calle Amadeo de Saboya 15
Overall rating: 5/10
Time of visit: November 2012
Alejandro del Toro received a star in the Michelin guide in 2007.
The restaurant itself is quite elegant, but not much different than many other restaurants like it.
We were sitting in the sun lounge, which was still nice, but not quite as good looking. Here, they had used different furniture, including plastic chairs.
A friend and I went to this restaurant for lunch during the Valencian restaurant week Cuina Oberta where there was an offer for €20 per person.
Cuina Oberta seems to attract many customers, but it actually rarely seems to be that great an offer. If you save anything on a menu it’s usually only €5 or even less. At Samsha in Valencia, you actually had less options during the restaurant week than if you had gone there any other week. With drinks, the price would still be the same at Samsha in the end.
Admittedly, things might have been completely different if we had gone there at night and bought the tasting menu for €80.
I can’t say for sure, but I think the menu we had was identical to the one the restaurant usually offers for lunch for €25 – at least the menu outside mentioned exactly the same setup, but didn’t mention what each dish consisted of.
Except for the dessert, all the dishes were to share for two.
We were served some quite nice olives on the side when we arrived. They were less bitter than many other olives I’ve had, and the stone was remarkably easy to remove.
The first course was fried eggs, jamon iberico (the type called bellota) and lightly battered and deep-fried artichokes. The ham was definitely the best part, but it’s no problem to buy very good cured ham in Spain. We both thought: “Is this really what they serve in a Michelin star restaurant?”. I would have expected a bit more (6/10 – mostly because of the ham).
The second course was mackerel with caramelised foie gras with a sauce made from orange peppers on the side. Unfortunately, they had also added anchovies to the foie gras and mackerel. I say “unfortunately” both because I don’t particularly them, but also because they completely overpowered the mackerel. It wasn’t until I had almost finished the dish, I realised there actually was mackerel in there (the menu was in Spanish, so when reading it I wasn’t too sure if it was actually mackerel), simply because I picked through it with my fork. Again, we both agreed that this dish wasn’t really that special, and to me it could have been improved immensely by simply leaving out the anchovies – although that still wouldn’t have made the dish more than mildly interesting. And maybe they should actually caramelised the foie gras if they insist on writing that in the menu (5/10).
Prawn tartar with avocado was mostly avocado and a few bits of prawn that I was quite sure had been cooked. A grissini provided some crunch, while the lettuce mostly seemed to be there to fill up the plate. The dressing on the side was none other than every burger’s favourite: Thousand Island. Again, there was nothing wrong with the things on the plate, but where were the inspiration and the creativity in this dish? (5/10).
If you know how militant people in Valencia are about using the word “paella”, you will know why I can’t call the main course paella. To the untrained eye, it looked exactly like Paella, but of course not if you’re Spanish (or at least Valencian). Even the menu called it rice with langoustines and mushrooms. Anyway, it was, of course, very similar to the seafood paella. It didn’t enchant me the way that a proper paella has done several times. The one that one of my friend’s mum did was simply so much better than this one, and even the paella I had for lunch in a small simple restaurant at the market place in front of Mercado central for €6 was better than this one.
The flavour of the mushrooms could barely be detected even when I just ate one without any rice. The langoustines were worse. There were only four of them in total for two people, but maybe that was just as well. They were simply limp and mushy. They didn’t look very good either, so I really don’t think they were of very good quality. This was the only dish where there was a choice. You could either have the dish we had or a “soupy” one. The table next to us had the soupy one, and it was identical except that it was more runny (5/10).
In Southern Europe desserts are often the weakest part of the meal, so it didn’t surprise me that this was also the case here: “Chocolate 2012” was various chocolate creations: Whipped cream with a bit of cocoa flavour, a chocolate brownie, a chocolate ganache, a light chocolate sponge, a chocolate soup and a sorbet with cocoa powder. I don’t know if I can name a favourite element here, as none of them stood out. The brownie might have been a tad better than the rest, but was still far from interesting. The cream did benefit from the cocoa flavouring, but I simply still cannot enjoy UHT cream (people from Northern Europe will know what I mean). The chocolate ganache and the sponge were plain – especially the sponge, which barely had any flavour whatsoever. The sorbet was the worst though. It seriously tasted like it was made from just water and cocoa powder – it definitely wasn’t made with chocolate. I cannot remember last time I had an ice cream that tasted as much as water as this one. A very strange, and not very pleasant, sensation. Six elements, and all tasted like chocolate, albeit none of them more than at best mildly pleasant. Couldn’t the ganache had been made from hazelnut, the ice cream from almonds or something? There was no variety here (4/10 at best).
Our waitress seemed friendly, and she spoke English quite well, which is always a plus in a place like Valencia. The sommelier was quite careful and meticulous (in a good way) about preparing the glasses for the wine. That was about it for the service. There was no attempt to make conversation, no pampering. Most of the dishes weren’t even presented, but were just put on the table. I think this was the first time in a Michelin star restaurant that I didn’t leave a tip.
One thing that was a bit odd about this meal was that except for the dessert all the dishes were shared, so the dishes you see in the pictures were for two. I was still hungry when I left. I know eating from one plate is somewhat common in Spain, especially with paella, but I just found it a bit odd in a restaurant like this to just serve one plate in the middle of the table – especially since they didn’t give us new plates whenever they served new dishes (except for when they served the rice dish). We had the same plate for the first three courses, and I wasn’t keen on smearing the leftover egg yolk on my plate on the foie gras or the avocado.
We simply didn’t understand the pace of the meal. While we were still eating the first dish, they served the next one. While we were eating the second one, they served the third one. While we were eating the third one, they served the rice dish. Only the dessert was served while we weren’t eating another dish. It was like this for the other tables around us too.
None of us felt this meal was anything special. Granted, €20 is by no means a lot of money for a meal. I’m of course fully aware that you can’t expect something extraordinary for €20. But then, if the menu was identical to the one they usually serve here for lunch, doesn’t that say something about what type of food the restaurant does and what ambitions they have?
The price included a beer and coffee. We asked if we could swap the beer for a glass of red wine, but when we had the bill we had to pay €3.50 for each glass of wine anyway. We asked the waitress, but it seemed this was just how it was. I also said no to coffee and asked for a sherry instead, which was also full price. When we left we were talking about this, and we think that we would probably have to pay for any change in the drinks – even if we asked to have a soda instead, which is cheaper than a beer. Anyway, that’s a minor detail. It’s perfectly fair that they charge us for wine, but I would have expected they would have deducted something when we chose to do without certain things instead.
Let me make two comparisons: Riff in Valencia also has a Michelin star. The menu I had there was far better. Granted, it had a few plain dishes, but it also had some wonderful dishes to compensate. Most of the ingredients were top notch. For instance the skate we had was super fresh and perfectly cooked. Here, the langoustines were mushy and poor. Yes, Riff was more expensive at €59, but then we had 11 dishes compared to the 5 at Alejandro del Toro. If you work out the price per dish, the price at Riff was actually not a lot more expensive than Alejandro Del Toro.
Then there’s Samsha. We went there for the Cuina Oberto in June 2012. We ordered three dishes each, but with an appetiser and petit fours, we actually also had five dishes for €20 – exactly the same deal. At Samsha we also had two options for each course. The best dish at Alejandro Del Toro was more or less the same level as the worst dish at my first visit to Samsha (at my second visit to Samsha no dishes were as poor as even the best one at Alejandro Del Toro).
We chose different dishes at Samsha, so we had 8 different dishes in total. The menu at Alejandro had no choice.
Only one dish at Samsha was at the level of the food at Alejandro. Not a single dish at Alejandro showed as much creativity as the least creative dish at Samsha. Not a single dish at Alejandro showed the technical skill of, say, the two perfectly cooked fish, the perfectly cooked guinea fowl or the slowly cooked pork at Samsha, nor the perfectly cooked skate or the lamb cooked for 36 hours at Riff. None of the dishes at Alejandro showed the depth of flavour that the guinea fowl, the pork or the lychee soup at Samsha had, or the celeriac soup or the lamb at Riff had.
It’s perfectly possible that the menu this restaurant serves for €80 is very different (the menu didn’t list the actual dishes), but this meal didn’t make me want to go back.
When I was at Sangonereta (my best meal in Valencia), they said they also did a cheap and simple menu (€25) because of the financial crisis in order to still attract customers. So, it is of course perfectly possible that the menu we had here was such a menu. But then, Samsha did so much more for exactly the same price. Many people in Spain prefer having the same dishes they’ve had for the last 50 years, but for a Michelin starred restaurant I would simply expect a lot more than this – even if it was a cheap option.
And really, if the restaurant had any kind of ambitions, technical skill or used good ingredients, they wouldn’t serve mushy langoustines, a fried egg, watery chocolate sorbet or Thousand Island dressing. A Michelin star for a place like this seems strange to me. This is probably the worst Michelin star meal I’ve had so far.