TriBall (Calle Ballesta and the two parallel streets next to it) is the red light district off Gran Via which has been rebranded. The regeneration of the area is being spearheaded by new artists and designers.
Casa Perico, (Intermediate A), 18 Calle Ballesta, Tel. 91 532 8176
Great place in a dodgy area, enter from the other end of the street from Gran Via if you want to avoid the hissing hookers on Calle Desengano. Supposedly open at 9 but they weren’t ready for me and I had to come back at twenty past. Only two other customers (Monday after San Isidro) but expect it to be rammed at weekends, people travel a long way for the food here.
They have a four course Menu Degustacion for €36 but there needs to be two of you. The first course component changes every day. Sadly I was by myself so couldn’t take advantage of this bargain. Instead I had the Reuvuelto de Morcilla de Pinones con Trigueros, scrambled eggs with black pudding and wild spinach which was wonderful (A). Next were the Filetes de Tapilla de Cebo, two very tender and rare (poco hecho) fillets of beef (A) accompanied by the best chips so far on this tour (A+). My only complaint was the plate was cold.
To finish Natillas Caseras (B), custard with cinnamon. A wonderful half bottle of Rioja Crianza ‘Vina Salcida’ ’05 (for only €5?!) and a fragrant orujo des hierbas provided the liquid refreshment. Pleasant service and bizarre decor: collections of soda bottles, wire baskets, castizo (a word used in Madrid to mean the rough local equivalent of a cockney) outfits on the wall. Will definitely come here again when I’m in town next.
L’Ardosa, 13 Calle Colon, Metro Tribunal
A beautiful old tiled taverna (since 1882) with great atmosphere just up the hill from the Perico above. The front room is decorated with old lithographs and shelves of dusty bottles and there is a secret back room which can only be accessed by ducking under the bar, although you will probably be beaten to it by a romantic couple, the place was full of several of them when I went.
A chupito (shot) of orujo costs €2 and they have draught beers, including Guinness.
Anthony Bourdain shot a video about Tortilla here apparently so that might be something to try.
There are many other good drinking spots along nearby Calle Paz including one of my favourites, El Pez Gordo at #6 which is a chilled jazz bar. They have great olives!
Taberna Agrado, (Intermediate C), Calle Ballesta 1, Tel: 91 521 6346 www.tabernaagrado.es
Really don’t understand all the fuss is about this place. The fact the chef is British and cooking Spanish food seems to have caused something of a stir in the food press, especially Time Out who pile on the praise in their 2012 guide.
There were a few people there when I arrived, mainly British tourists who, like me, were clutching their TO guides. You’d think with so many Brit customers that they’d start serving food a little earlier to feed them, but nope you have to wait till 9pm for the kitchen to open, despite most Spanish places opening at 8.
The bare unadorned underground room had nothing attractive about it so I sat outside on the street terrace waiting for the waiter to finish his cigarette and stop texting his friends. Twenty minutes later I was starting to get a bit hungry and thirsty so I went inside to see if I could get some service.
When he finally came I ordered their famous Hamburguesa de Buey Corta made with Iberico ham and overlaid with cheeses, as recommended by my adoring travel guide. It was too greasy for me to finish more than half of it (C) and the slightly overdone fries it came with seemed to have a strange after taste (C). It took me a while to realise it was the house ketchup, seemingly laced with turmeric and other spices that was causing this (D).
For the pleasure of eating this in a plss-stained alley surrounded by middle-aged hookers, I was charged an extra 20%, taking the total to €18 for a burger and chips. My fault, I should have looked at the small print in the menu, but as far as I’m concerned this place is extortionate and crap. You can go elsewhere and easily have a much better experience for your money.
Public at 11 Calle Desengano is probably best avoided. For reasons why, see my review for La Finca de Susana here.