This was my first trip to Madrid so I was very lucky to be travelling with my Cousin Oli, who used to live there, he speaks the language, knows the local hot spots and knows a few of the locals too. I may have been a tourist (or Guiri, as the Madrileños would call a western tourist) but I lived like a local. We were there from Friday to Monday but we packed in a lot of eating in that time.
Lunching in Madrid
On our first day, after dumping our bags, we headed straight out for lunch. It was about 1 o’clock, which is an early lunch to a Spaniard, so finding a table was easy. In Madrid the restaurants don’t usually get busy until about 2 o’clock. Cousin Oli took us to a place called Venta El Buscón, a traditional Spanish restaurant.
At this point it is worth me pointing out a few of the differences between Spanish restaurants and British restaurants. Spanish waiters are not there to be your friend, they’re not there to create a relationship with you using pointless small talk, they’re there to take your order and bring you your food and drinks. If you engage, they will give you some chat but otherwise you probably won’t even get eye contact, they’re not being rude, that’s just the Spanish way. The focus is on getting good food to your table quickly without interrupting your conversation with annoying questions such as “is everything okay for you?” (A British standard I do not like) This was the experience that we received.
A very classic offering in Spanish restaurants is ‘menú del día’ (menu of the day) or as we would call it ‘the set price menu’, unlike a British set menu there are far more options for each course and the set course is the only offering for some restaurants. The set price also includes a drink and if you both order a glass of wine, you’ll usually get the whole bottle, this is what we did. I started with the seafood paella, which was a true welcome to Spain, I followed this with a traditional stew called Cocido Madrileño (Madrid Stew) Cousin Oli started with a smoked cod Tortilla, and we both shared a slice of cheesecake to finish. This was a total of €13 each (including the wine).
The service was fast, the food was nice and the wine was okay, not the best meal I’ve ever had but it filled a hole and gave me a great intro to a traditional Spanish restaurant, and for price we paid, I wasn’t complaining.
Friday night kept us out until 6am so Saturday morning did not exist, we woke at 1pm ready for our lunch. Our flat was just a short walk from ‘Plaza Santa Ana’ where the surrounding restaurants had seating in the square so we could dine outside, it was a bit chilly but we’re Scottish, and eating outdoors is something we rarely get to do. We were at a tapas restaurant called Lateral, we ordered the following: Pincho Tortilla, this was very gooey, very cheesy and very delicious. Alcachofas Fritas con virutas de Jamón Ibérico (Grilled artichoke with cured ham) and Ceviche de Corvina. All very delicious (both of us on the water at this point).
This was tapas style so we both just shared everything while enjoying the ambiance of Madrid.
On the Sunday we joined some of Cousin Oli’s Madrid friends for lunch. They had booked a table at a restaurant that definitely requires booking. It was called Riviera do Miño. It was a traditional Galician place and was absolutely fantastic. We started with a plate of octopus (pulpo) cooked in garlic and oil, Pimientos de Padron (Padron peppers, deep fried and salted) to share and they brought us a free plate of clams, don’t know why, maybe the waiter fancied one of us. The main course was the highlight for me, we ordered a sharing platter called Mariscada which was a massive pile of shell fish including Langoustines, prawns, shrimps, goose barnacles (not my personal favourite) and Spider crabs. This was served with mayonnaise and fresh lemon, perfect. I would highly recommend Riviera do Miño to anybody who visits Madrid.
Our final lunch was a place called La Sanabresa, which we found by searching ‘best Menú del día in Madrid’ we did have to wait out side the door for about 20 minutes before they could seat us but it was worth the wait. The starters were very Spanish, Oli had Gulas, which are baby eels that were cooked in oil, garlic and chillies. The eels themselves did not offer much flavour, I was not a massive fan of this dish but I love trying new things. I had green beans with eggs, the beans were over cooked but actually the texture worked really well with the eggs, and it was delicious. We both had a meat course for mains, lamb for me and pork for Cousin Oli, it was the most British thing we had had that holiday. For dessert we had a cheese tart and I had profiterolls, and we shared a bottle of wine (of course).
All was very nice and came to a grand total of €16 each.
This was my highlight of the trip. Bar snacks in the UK are usually a bag of crisps, some greasy pork scratchings or a bag of salted nuts. Not in Madrid. Each bar offers a small snack, Gratis, from classic olives to not so classic nuts mixed with Haribo. We must have hit about 10 different tapas bars before we stopped eating, don’t worry I’ll only list the best ones. The tapas crawl street was called Cava Baja, and we were spoiled for choice. Apparently Madrid has more bars then the whole of Norway, and Spain more than the USA. While crawling (almost literally) from bar to bar we would usually only have a caña, which a small beer equal to ¼ of a litre or you can order a doble (double) as the bars stay open until gone 6am in Madrid we mostly stuck to the caña. Although we were offered free tapas it was only a mouthful so we ordered some add-ons in some of bars, in one bar, called Txirimiri, we ordered Croquetas Boletus, which were croquets with cured ham, cheese and truffle… absolutely delicious. Including 2 beers this was €10.70.
My favourite bar of the night was called Sanlúcar, it has a very traditional interior with a bull fighting theme. We ordered squid and sea urchin, the squid was served whole in a warm garlic oil and the urchin was battered and deep fried and served with a wedge of lemon. The waiter said “you can eat the urchin with lemon but I prefer it without” both dishes were absolutely delicious. We ate this standing while enjoying a doble of Mahou beer.
I of course had a hankering to visit one of the Madrid food markets. As we had a kitchen with our accommodation I wanted to have a go at some Spanish cooking.
Sadly we timed the market badly and arrived as many of the stalls were closing or had already closed, I think it was about 3pm. None the less there were still a good number of people at the ‘Mercado de la Cebada’ as many of the seafood stand would not only offer fresh fish to take away but you could also buy prepared food to enjoy with a glass of wine while you have a chat. There are areas designated for this, cocktail tables and bars to sit/stand at while you enjoy your food. Although the market was half empty there was still quite a buzz going round. We joined in and bought a tray of mussels and a cup of wine each. The mussels had obviously been cooked a while back and to be quite honest were not that great. We had a quick walk round the market to see what was there and bought a squid (calamar) as I love squid and ½ a kilo of clams (almejas) because they were there, and I had never cooked with Clams before… sadly we did not check the prices before making our purchase, the clams were €22.80 and the squid was €8, apparently we paid well over the going rate for calms, oh well. We did however have the opposite experience when buying olives, we bought a large tub of two types of delicious olives for less then €2.
Cooking at home
Not equipped with a full kitchen of ingredients we (I) decided to keep it simple. Cousin Oli’s contribution was to put the olives in a bowl, he didn’t even manage that. He did however nip out for some bread and wine from the local supermarket, the wine was about €2 and was the best we drank that holiday.
I made a fresh salsa (recipe on the website) and garlic butter for the squid and I cooked the clams as I would mussels, by steaming them with red onion, oil and some white wine (which had to be poured back out of cousin Oli’s glass) it was all delicious and as we were on holiday we did not resent the ridiculous amount of money we spent on the clams.
Monday morning was the only morning we saw on our trip so we headed out for a wonder while looking for somewhere to have a classic Spanish breakfast. Breakfast is obviously not a big deal as it was very simple, the classic Spanish breakfast was grilled or toasted Ciabatta with grated fresh tomato and olive oil, the juices and oil soak into the bread, it is delicious. Including a coffee for Oli and an orange juice for me, the total bill was less than €5.
Final thoughts of Madrid
It was a great experience and although they have the same things that we do, they do it all a little bit differently from us, and in a lot of ways better. Not only was the food delicious it’s also a great place for culture. The Parque del buen Retior, hosts ‘The Fallen Angel’ a statue dedicated to the devil that rises to 666 meters above sea level. There’s the Royal Palace and of course the Museo del Prado, home to the amazing ‘Las Meninas’.
Madrid is also home to the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin. Some of the architecture is worth a look at, the town hall alone is a sight to behold. But even something as simple as a G&T in the sun is that bit different in Madrid, mostly because there is sun.