Eating Madrid-style - Where to eat Madrileño
Regional and international specialist restaurants abound in this city. I've seen everything from Armenian (Restaurante Sayat Nova - calle de Costa Rica, 13) to Nordic (Restaurante Olsen - calle del Prado, 15 - has over 40 different types of vodka!), but if you want to taste the local cuisine, here's a list of some of the best places offering classic Madrileño cooking.
Despite being located in the centre of the peninsula and many hours from the coasts, the locals are bonkers about fish and seafood and a classic sunday morning snack is the bocadillo de calamares, usually washed down with a caña or two (followed by a snooze in the park). Nonetheless, the two dishes most associated with the city take their main ingredients from the land.
The first is Callos a la Madrileña (pictured) - Sliced ox tripe and snout in a tomato / paprika sauce. It tastes a lot better than it sounds I assure you. The trick is to forget about what part of the cow it came from.
The second dish is Cocido (a meat, potato and chickpea stew), the mere mention of which can send a castizo Madrileño into a trance-like state - I've even seen them dribble just at the thought of it. There's an important ritual with Madrid cocido, as it should be eaten in three stages. First up, you get a noodle soup made from the broth. Then come the chickpeas and vegetables accompanied by a fried tomato paste / sauce. Finally, you get to tuck into the meat: chicken, cured ham, roast pork, bacon and sausage plus the marrow bones. The proper gastronome will usually spread the marrow on toast. After all that you eat nothing but lettuce for a week, but hey, what a feed!
Other local classic dishes include: Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup with a poached egg dropped in it), Besugo a la Madrileña (baked red bream), Perdriz con Chocolate (braised partridge in a chocolate sauce - no really!) and Cabrito al Ajillo (kid goat in a garlic sauce - I love this one, mmmmmmm). Local pastries of note include: Bartolillos (mini custard pies), Buñuelos (cream-filled fritters) and if you're in town during the festival of San Isidro you must try Rosquillas (donuts), which come in two flavours: Tontas ("crazy" donuts - flavoured with anise) and Listas ("Smart" donuts with a sugar coating).
Recommended places for eating and socialising in Madrid
Below we have some reviews of special places I have enjoyed eating at and on the next page an overview of some of the best restaurants and tapas bars in Madrid.
Lavapiés for the cheap Indian food
- What: Restaurant and Bar
- Location: Lavapiés
- Summary: The beers at the cafe were beautifully chilled. The food at the restaurant was distinctly average. The ambience of the area fascinating; a zone containing near-east and subcontinental shops, local cafes, hipster bars, artist-types, immigrants and local wildlife - the various crazies roaming the streets.
Onwards to Tirso de Molina metro station, one stop south of Sol to meet Jasmina and her friend Rosé V, for we are to have Sunday lunch at an Indian restaurant. Our meeting is set for 2.00pm but my cellular is still on English time so I realise I don't have over an hour to get there and am 10 mins late. The ladies assure me they're not pissed off but that they are thirsty so we immediately head down the hill towards Lavapié in search of a cafe. We choose well for the 3 canas - half pints of beer - are ice cold and served with frosted glasses. It's 2.30 pm, we're sat outside the bar, the sun is warming our backs and faces and my companions both have basic English so we can converse in a mixture of Spanglish. Que rico.
After polishing off our cervezas, and being harangued by a lady trying to sell us artist sketch pads (nice patterned velvet covers but none of us draw) we move back up the hill a hundred yards or so where there are 3 restaurants in a row all sharing the same part of the street for their terraza dining. The one major drawback of this is that all the laid out tables and chairs slope somewhat - it is a steepish street. You have a choice of 3 kinds of cuisine: 1st up is Turkish / Iranian with kebabs the main offer, second is Indian, and the third is Pakistani. Madrid-Uno does not let on that, coming from England, he regards himself as somewhat of an expert on the curry front, so stays silent in the choosing period. The ladies settle on the Indian.
It's going to be a samosa starter and we will all choose an individual dish and share. Its 1 chicken sag, 1 chicken tikka and a lamb curry + pilau rice. The samosas are good and they lay on three diferent pickles to complement. The place is also now suddenly full and the staff are busy adding tables around the edges of the existing customers. I'm feeling a bit corralled - as long as they don't start to shoot we'll be fine. Maybe this is why the main courses are pretty average, although another guess would be the Spanish distaste for most things too spicy. Some sausages are allowed to be spicy hot but not much else. I think the kitchen is allowing for local taste because even the 'vindaloo' on the menu is accompanied by an instruction to inform the waiter if you want it 'with extra spice'. Now, where Madrid-Uno comes from, asking for a vindaloo with extra spice is like asking for hit in the head. The tikka is good but the other two dishes are bland and cold. The rice is proper pilau but coloured red - not the usual yellow saffrony tinge.
2 x Coffee and another lager for Madrid-Uno. It's 4.00pm and the first diners are starting to leave, some having to climb over the newer arrivals. A bid for freedom! We join them paying a cuenta of 29 Euroweenies. That's less than £25 for 3 + drinks and OK it wasn't very inspiring but it wasn't bad either.
- What: Restaurant and Sidreria
- Location: C/. Trujillos, 4 - metro Callao
- Summary: Asturian cider house with tapas bar and sit-down restaurant in the back.
The set up is very Asturian with a classic wooden bar worn smooth by the elbows of drinkers down the ages and piled high with tapas, lots of pictures of Sporting Gijon (the owner is fan) and sawdust on the floor. Asturias, up in the North-West of the country, is where Spain's best cider comes from and the place where you go to drink it is called the Sidreria (Sidra = cider). The region is also famous for its milk and cheeses, its beef and wild boar and seafood - especially hake and anchovies.
There is a time-honoured technique for pouring the cider and all patrons are expected to follow it. You hold your bottle in one hand held high above the head and a tipped glass in the other hand at the hip. The idea is you pour from the bottle in this way so that when it splashes into your glass you oxygenate it which makes it taste better (and probably does something for the alcohol as well - I’m no expert). You then drink it (assuming you managed to get any in) IMMEDIATELY and then pass the bottle on. It's quite a tricky process and that's the reason for all the sawdust - it soaks up all the cider that gets spilt by enthusiastic madrileño beginners. Madrid Uno is proud to say he got the hang of things quite quickly and only spilt a few drops. Well, perhaps it was closer to half a pint but after three or four bottles things got quite hazy. Whilst the cider isn't moonshine strong (about 4 per cent or so) it does seem to have more of a kick than say lager or ale.
There is a proper restaurant in the back of the place (its speciality is 'caldereta' - fish stew) but we stayed in the bar area and had tapas which were generous in portion but not exactly cheap - but then the quality was very high so no complaints. We especially liked the 'Patatas al cabrales'. Very fun atmosphere and nobody minds too much if you splash them - as long as you’re making an effort not to.
Update: Apparently the owners got into trouble with the lesbian and gay crowd back in 2008 when they booted out a couple of lezzers who were kissing in the bar - so there is now a gay fatwah on the place. Doesn't seem to have affected its popularity but I thought I should mention it in case you're of that persuasion.