In this post I want to look at food and drinks! I am not going to concentrate solely on Tapas, yes, it will be included though! Madrid isn’t just tapas, though this is traditional fare here. I hope to provide ideas for the money conscious, vegetarian and also those who like a bit of spice. What will follow will be recommendations from me and my friends, who are Spanish and live in Madrid as I do. I hope this article will offer something a bit different, as I don’t want to take you down the already well-trodden tourist path. I hope to show Madrid from an insider view, or a more quirky view! That is why I have included a section ‘Something Secret’, the bar I mention there is NOT well-known and is a CLOSELY guarded Madrid secret!
Under Starters Orders:
Tapas is a brilliant thing, something very typical Spanish and not really a dish done well elsewhere. What makes tapas genius is that it is accessible to all who visit Madrid, without them necessarily even realising it. This is because in bars individual tapas dishes usually come served with your alcoholic drink, this is complimentary. Straight away they have you hooked, a cunning plan indeed! I have asked friends for the reasons behind this gesture; they told me that the Government here have realised people drink quite liberally, and they were afraid that people would become too drunk too quickly, so food is served as an accompaniment to slow the process of becoming drunk.
The tapas served with a drink will usually consist of nuts, olives and even crisps/chips and popcorn, but we have also had liver and kidney mixed up in an onion like stew, croquettes, patatas bravas, tortilla, bread, white bait, anchovies, chorizo, ham and cheeses.
Some of the most popular drinks to order here to accompany tapas are; Caña con Limón (beer with lemon such as Fanta), ‘claro’ (beer with a soda water) and tinto de verano (red wine and lemon, Fanta is used too). All very refreshing for the summer, and relatively inexpensive.
Going out to a bar to have a drink is a far different type of environment than that usual to the UK. Firstly you don’t usually pay as soon as you order, the bill comes later when you leave, and this is true in restaurants and cafes too. Here in Madrid it is believed to be rude to ask for prompt payment! Of course there are those that then leave without paying!
It is not uncommon to sit outside on terraces flanking beautiful plazas; here you can see people having only one drink and chatting, and also see families together eating and drinking. Even the smallest of children accompany their parents, and often just sit or play while the elders chat. People tend to drink beer or wine with their snacks or food as we might have a soda or coffee; in fact I have ordered a coffee at 12:00 (lunch time), and been admonished by the waiter! Alcohol is common place here!
Going out times: 10:00 p.m is just when the party begins in Madrid. Places don’t often close until 3 a.m and then there after parties of course until 6 or 7 a.m.
Times to eat vary incredibly from the UK norm. Breakfast is generally 8-10 and may consist of tortilla, bread with an olive oil, garlic and tomato puree or sweet pastries. Lunch is usually 2- 4 in the afternoon, and during this time it is most common for restaurants to serve Paella. Dinner is anything from 8 -11 at night, and this is a family and friends affair; tapas usually being served to share. Children here don’t usually go to bed as they might in the UK for 7:00 p.m, they stay up to be with their families and eat.
A pincho: this is a small portion of something specific, for example, tortilla pincho. These dishes are paid for, not free with a drink. Same type of variety of foods on offer as tapas, but normally more bread involved to accompany the dish!
Places to eat and drink
A great place to fill up for cheap is El Tigre bar, Calle Infantas in Chueca. The tapas given with each drink is nothing outlandish, but substantial!!! On one plate you will receive; bread, meats, patatas bravas, and croquettes, with sauces aplenty, enough to keep any starving individual full all night! 4.50 euros per person for dinner and a drink, not bad to save those pennies.
Above: example of the tapas available at El Tigre.
On the same street as El Tigre is El respiro and El Pezcador. OK these aren’t cordon bleu either, but these have ample tapas on hand with every drink served too. Again cheap and cheerful to keep your wallet and tummy happy.
Museo del Jamon, highly popular with locals; a great place to get into the Madrid vibe! The reason it is popular; beer and food are cheap, atmosphere = great! With a drink you get the usual tapas offered; only as they are a ‘meat market’ too, hence the ‘Jamon’ or ham in their name, they serve up chunks of chorizo and speciality hams (yum!)
I usually order the croissant ‘mixto’, which is a croissant with thinly carved ham and cheese; the cheese and hams are all local. I think it is delicious; the sweetness of the bread and savoury of the filling is a perfect combo at roughly 2.50 euros. Madrid is famous for its bocadillos though, they are everywhere! The Museo del Jamon serve bocadillos too, which are basically baguettes with fillings in; Calamares being a popular choice. Again cheap enough to fill a hungry tum!
The Museo de Jamon also have formal dining areas, a ‘salon’ which serves more formal meals, but the bar offerings are all I have needed.
What I love about this particular bar is its mad, but fab atmosphere! You have to be prepared to be shocked by how different it is compared to anywhere else you will have ever been. Don’t be intimidated, join the crowd at the bar, speak up and order what you want! It is packed at night and in the day; crowed with people who stay to drink and eat in what looks like a bar amid a meat market! The one off Puerta del Sol is my favourite! Though there are others to choose from dotted about the city.
Check out their website, a bit formal, but gives an idea: http://www.museodeljamon.com/html/restaurante.html
Another cheaper alternative is Cerveceria el Diario, Calle de Jesús (Calle de Huertas). Apparently it has been open since 1879. It serves excellent pinchos and beer. They have various deals, for example recently 6 large pinchos and drinks for 16 euros. The pinchos vary and are accompanied with bread, olives and crisps/chips. Very large helpings!!! There are tortillas, some with peppers, thick pieces of smoked salmon with avocados, crab meat and king prawns, roasted veggies, and also miniature beef burgers! I enjoyed it here and the staff were very friendly. It is a typical Tapas bar, but the décor is not so gaudy, IE, no stuffed bull heads were mounted on the walls, as in some bars on that street!
Below: Cerveceria el Diario
If you want history then visit Café Gijón, Paseo de Recoletos; it is a culturally significant coffeehouse establish in 1888. After the Civil War it became a meeting place for intellectuals, writers and artists. It has an expensive reputation though; food has been said to be nothing special. Probably best to stick to the fixed menus, or Menú del Día (menu of the day) to save money.
Above: Café Gijón
El Restaurante Botin, located off the Plaza Mayor (a short walk from Puerta del Sol where Museo del Jamon is located). It is the oldest working restaurant in the world founded by Jean Botín in 1725. Famous people from all over the world have visited it; writers, politicians, film stars and so on. Historical it maybe, but it also has a reputation as an expensive tourist trap. I have heard mixed reviews on the food and service too. Personally I choose to keep away from the restaurants flanking, and on the Plaza Mayor, as they tend to be tourist orientated and therefore not worth the money. One such restaurant on the Plaza Mayor itself charged me 22 euros for a plate of roasted peppers!
Wonderful Strawberry Mojitos are served at the Taberna Chica, Costanilla de San Pedro. Nice chill out bar, suitable to meet friends and chat.
El Almendro, Calle del Almendro. Known for typical Andulician food; very packed at the weekends though, and you will have to wait in queue for tables, which once secured are very small (in size)! The food is good enough though, and it is a little taste of the Spanish night life, but it can be expensive.
El Viajero, is a very popular bar with a wonderful roof terrace, urban chic at its best! Good for cocktails, and Pacharan which is local aniseed schnapps.
Above: view from the terrace at El Viajero
At Plaza Olavide in Chamberí barrio there is what seems to be an inconsequential bar called Kybey 2. The bar is not elegant or chic, but it serves an award winning tortilla with green peppers. The menu also has the usual suspects; patatas bravas, croquettes and family size salads! It is very cheap though; we spent roughly 24 euros on the meal, very good value as we were full to burst upon leaving. Surrounding the Plaza are terraces where many other bars and restaurant’s reside; in summer this place is packed with people socialising, sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze.
Above: Plaza Olavide
A short walk away from Plaza Olavide is Calle de Alburquerque, where Clamores Jazz club is located. An excellent and authentic little club; it is like something out of an ‘old school’ movie. Atmospheric and worth a visit.
Check out their website for listings: http://www.salaclamores.com/
Casa Granada, Doctor Cortezo 17, just off the Plaza Tirso de Molina. It is a well-guarded Madrid secret!!!! Not on the usual tourist track at all. It is the view you go for, as it is basically situated inside a block of residential flats, which you have to buzz to gain entry to. It looks nothing special, but once up there the sunset over Madrid has never been so fantastic. They serve Andalusian food; generous portions but nothing fancy, try the ‘pimientos del pardon’ though. Don’t arrive after 7:30 or you’ll be queuing for a table on the terrace!
El granero de Lavapies, La calle Argumosa. This is an extremely popular choice of restaurant! You can be queuing even with a reservation. Reason being is that food is excellent, large portions and it is cheap; 10 euros for a 3 course meal.
Artemisa, Calle Ventura de la Vega; very popular and busy even on weekdays. Has a full menu to choose from of vegetarian and vegan dishes, plus a couple of meat options. Good portion sizes and excellent deserts too! The price of the food may seem a little expensive, but there is plenty of it, and of course you could opt for one of the sharing platters.
Check out their website for further details: http://restaurantesvegetarianosartemisa.com/
Hints and Tips:
When ordering any spirit such as Vodka and Whiskey check the prices before buying! A normal single shot in the UK is 25ml, here in Madrid the glass can be 250ml and they fill it half way with your chosen spirit! That explains the prices you will then pay which can be anything from 8 – 12 (plus) euros. We have paid over 50 euros for 2 drinks of Irish Whiskey in a bar in Puerta del Sol, so be warned!
Any imported alcoholic drink will be more expensive. With beer try to stick to the Spanish variety if you can, as that will be more like 2 euros a pint, whereas Guinness for example can be more like 6 euros a pint. Not too bad for one, but it will add up over the night!
Do you know about EL TENEDOR and RESTALO websites??? Both websites are useful for looking at where to eat for good prices. They allow you to search for what type of restaurants you want to eat in, and then also book the table! Ideal if you want to beat those queues! There are often great deals too, informing you what places have offers and discounts.
Food tastes: just want to mention that people often expect Spanish food to be laden with spices, perhaps chilies? Not the case, garlic yes, but chilies no. The food here is often mild to the taste-buds and not overly ‘hot’ and spicy. Patatas bravas (a tapas dish) often comes with a chili-esque sauce, but it is not exactly a Madras curry!
If however you want a ‘hot and spicy’ Madras curry, then there are many Indian Restaurants to choose from. Taj – La Taberna Del Prado Restaurant on Calle del Marqués de Cubas, and Bombay Palace on Calle del Ave María (near Paseo del Prado) are just two.
Chinese food is not overly enjoyed by the inhabitants of Madrid, but take heart as there are some Chinese restaurants out there! Buen Gusto is one located on Paseo Santa Maria de la Cabeza. This has been visited by the King of Spain, so if it is good enough for Royalty?! It is possibly walkable from the Atocha area (if you feel up to it!), but you can get there via the Metro. Head for Embajadores station, and walk towards the Calle de Embajadores (quite a long road), at the end of this street there is a roundabout, then look for the Paseo Santa Maria de la Cabeza. Enjoy!
There are plenty of Japanese restaurants to suit every purse though. Diverxo, Calle del Pensamiento, reachable via the Metro – station Cuzco. This restaurant has extremely good reviews.
Check out their website, as reservations will be required! http://diverxo.com/
Some of the Spanish food available, tapas especially, might be a bit of a shock to some people’s palates! For the health conscious be warned that for cooking and dressing food, lots of olive oil is often used, also many dishes are fried or have some batter coating. There is always plenty of bread on offer too! You can always explain you would prefer a lighter option as you are dieting or whatever, but if you are not confident to do so there are plenty of options available to suit everyone’s tastes, so look again at the menu! Alternatively, most restaurants have menus printed in English! Strange combos of food also appear, at first they might not seem to naturally go together, but they can feature in the realm of tapas; lots of eggs, tuna and onions can be used in a variety of dishes, and might not be everyone’s cup of tea! There are also lots of meat and fish hidden in dishes; ask if you are not sure, hence where a bit of Spanish comes in handy. As I have already mentioned though, there are usually menu’s printed in English. A few other items to look out for are; tripe, kidney and liver, suckling pigs and rabbit – all popular in Madrid!
Next blog I will be focusing on; Irish Bars, Markets, Cake shops and Chocolatiers and Supermarkets.
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© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.