Marta Fernández Guadaño

Updated Monday, February 12, 2024-01:41

He avoids definitions and, although at some point the concept 'food house' escapes him, he decides to eliminate the last name to keep the word that he believes really portrays the restaurant that opened almost 20 years ago in Madrid: "It's house" .

Manuel Domínguez Carrete

(O Carballiño, Orense, 1975) refers to Lúa, the business that started in a first location on Zurbano Street, in December 2004. "Because it is a business and anyone who doesn't want to see the hospitality industry like that is wrong," emphasizes this chef with studies in Business Sciences, who, in reality, loves numbers. "I'm totally methodical," he introduces himself. In January 2012, he moved Lúa to a larger and more comfortable space in Eduardo Dato—next to Chamberí Square—where he added a more gastronomic point and where it continues to operate today.



concerns were mixed to end up involved in the hospitality industry: family ties to the sector - even with the job of 'pulpeiro' -, his desire to be an entrepreneur and something that years ago he defined as "cooking as an 'excuse' to connect with the people". Has that changed? "Not at all! He has gone further," he says, sitting on a sunny February morning at one of the tables without a tablecloth in his 'new' Lúa. "I thought: I'll make it 'more homey' and take away the tablecloth."

New Lua? Yes, although not so much. "I only make what the customer asks for. During the pandemic, we changed the menu a little and we realized that we were doing very well with the cuisine we were offering. We kept, let's say, modern dishes, but

we also opted for traditional recipes

and the idea that the customer could choose what they wanted or share dishes. After that stage, we kept it for a reason: it was what people wanted and demanded from us. Sometimes, customers came and, when they left, they reserved a table for the following week. That's beautiful ", details Manuel Domínguez.

Food to repeat several times

He draws on his double training in management and cooking to round out his argument. "A hotelier has to be guided by a 'gastroeconomic' model based on a type of food that allows the customer to repeat several times throughout the month or year. The diner himself tells you, I don't know if directly or indirectly, where you have to go".

That evolution towards a greater commitment to the menu as a result of the 'Covid context' was not only maintained, but was reinforced in recent times and was accompanied by a

renovation undertaken in the restaurant's dining room

last November. "We removed the tablecloths, also on the terrace; we put round tables and one oval, apart from a couple of high tables with stools; we expanded seats to 40 or 4 5—plus 30 on the terrace—. Thus, Lúa is 'more home' ", defends Domínguez.

That means a menu that includes half portions of several dishes and is designed to be shared. Serve from octopus 'á feira' or Galician broth to tripe with chickpeas,

green vegetables with carabineros and monkfish

, skate in caldeirada, glazed Galician beef rib or one of the best seafood salpicones in Madrid, with lobster, crayfish, carabinero and prawn .

"Emblematic dishes that are part of our history" are added, perhaps not so Galician or not so traditional, such as oyster

with green tomatillo, cilantro and jalapeño soup

; the carabinero carpaccio with ginger and passion fruit mayonnaise; the now famous 'bravas' of prawns or the oxtail tacos with carabinero. By the way, there is also a good "wagyu" jerky matured in León or a lobster with potatoes and eggs, which is wonderful," says the chef, who calculates an average a la carte ticket between 50 and 60 euros, "although for 40 or 45 also eats very well.

Meanwhile, the dining room in Lúa's basement can accommodate group reservations and a private one located behind the kitchen, "

I can adapt to what each client asks of me, if they let me know with a certain amount of time

, from an angulada to a stew, now that it is Carnival".

Still with tasting menu

This menu approach did not mean the elimination of the tasting menu, which continues to be delivered today under a single extension, with a price of 92 euros. "In the pandemic, people did not want to go out to eat a tasting menu; they demanded affection and to feel comfortable in a restaurant, almost with the need to have the confidence to say 'you give me something to eat'. But we

always maintained and continue to maintain the menu tasting

for the public that asks us for it," explains the hotelier.

In the last distribution of stars at the end of last November, the Michelin Guide did not renew the distinction to Lúa - which it had achieved in 2015 - for its 2024 edition. "We expected it, of course. The criterion seems fair and logical to me. I received almost messages of condolences, when I do not see it as a loss, but as the non-renewal of an award, which the only thing that can be translated into is that, perhaps, fewer foreign clients come," clarifies Domínguez, who reasons: "To all the The world likes awards, but I think I am in a change of trend in the business to bet on another type of gastronomy that, in addition, my clients advocate. With the star, I have already played what I had to play; now "I'm looking for my stability a little. In the sector, there has to be everything; all the fish fit in the same tank."

Tradition adapted to the 21st century

Domínguez recognizes that Lúa's current model is what fits her personal moment within her 'house', which has fulfilled several 'lives' under different formats in its almost two decades of existence. "Maybe this is what my body is asking for and more after more than 19 years maintaining a business with my own capital," he admits.

So, does Lúa walk between the restaurant and the bistro? "

The concept of a food house is very broad and, sometimes, it is not understood

. There is a really very bourgeois part of gastronomy that can be equivalent to a Galician broth, which is almost eaten on a paper tablecloth in Galicia, and which It remembers the essence of our gastronomic tradition that can be adapted to the 21st century, which may even sound new, but it is the 'old thing'; that is our trend right now. It turns out that going back to what was before is the new modernity."

Fundamental in this story is

Mari Morales Chaves

, head of the room "and of everything" at Lúa, "who is the one who really gets the work done," emphasizes Domínguez, who believes that "the composition of teams is much more complex in a business. of haute cuisine with a tasting menu than in our current format. Making octopus 'á feira' may seem minor or minimize you as a chef, but it turns out that it is the other way around. Sometimes, we chefs lose freedom when it comes to expressing ourselves in gastronomy" .

Adoc, Zaranda, Zorzal... passed through this establishment at number 5 of the stately Eduardo Dato, without coming to fruition until Lúa moved in 12 years ago. "It seems like we broke a curse," comments its owner.

Regarding the effervescent moment of the

Madrid gastronomic market, he considers that "today it is probably one of the best European capitals

and the flow of people there proves it. In terms of gastronomy, it is almost scary, since it is very difficult to compete with large groups; Being small costs a lot."

He says goodbye, insisting again: "now, Lúa is 'more home', 'more home'." And he admits 'the Galician way': "many Galicians come here," she says discreetly, without giving names of the many familiar faces who usually sit in Lúa. "People see him at his house. They also come to see me, something I love, like when the rest of us go to see Sacha at his house."

Lua. Eduardo Dato, 5. Madrid. Tel. 913 95 28 53.