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Balzac, Madrid

7 Calle Moreto
Paseo del Prado
Tel: 34 91 420 0177's insider take:

For a while, this pricey, prestigious restaurant seemed lost, as people lamented the departure of noted chef Andrés Madrigal (now at Alboroque in the Atocha district). But then along came César Martín in April 2006, who renewed Balzac's mission with verve. As ever, to dine here you'll have to have a certain tolerance for pomposities like extra silverware, unnecessary decanting, and service that sacrifices attentiveness for formality, but on the plate, you'll find this 30-something chef working wonders, as in a meltingly tender breast and leg of pigeon lying on a sticky bed of stewed fruit compote. There are some missteps, like Martín's nouvelle version of the classic ajo blanco (a northern soup made from garlic and whitened with crushed almonds). Here, marinated rape (hake) is added, which has too much acidity and is the wrong texture for the dish. But desserts like poached pear in port wine sauce shine on. In the balance, this is once again one of the city's most reliable tables.

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