Madrid – Costly cuisine in Castellana, Barrio Salamanca
Castellana is the northernmost ward in Salamanca, to the North of Goya, which means many of these places are between ten and twenty blocks walk from the hotel. But then if you’re going to walk that far to eat then you may as well go to Chueca where, in my opinion, the restaurants are more interesting and the food is better value for money.
Jose Luis (Advanced A-), 118 Calle Serrano
One of the most famous tapas bars in town, it’s even been immortalised in a folk song. As the flagship of a national chain owned by a famous Basque chef, this is a good place if you like to rub shoulders with the well-heeled and be attended to by waiters in tunics with silver buttons. There is a restaurant too but the tapas bar next door is far more vibrant.
The canapés include caviar, smoked salmon, crab and a myriad of other delicacies. Think I upset the perky young guy behind the bar a bit (though he wasn’t averse to my blonde companion) by turning down the house special of various croquettes, fried brie and other calorific goblets in favour of a tapa of salpicon (prawns with diced onion and pimento in oil) which was much better than elsewhere (B).
We enjoyed a glass of Galician dry white with it too but only wanted a snack so the bill was relatively low. It can get very expensive here though if you’re not careful. It’s at the far end of Calle Serrano and not worth the walk from the hotel as far as I’m concerned, although it is opposite the interesting Museo Lazaro Galdiano (free on Sundays). Generally though I’d rather go somewhere a bit more down to earth.
I came back here in 2012 when somewhere else I was going to was closed and ate in the restuarant. I had some standard Pimientos de Guernika (B)…
… followed by the mediocre Hamburguesas Jose Luis (C+)…
and an absolutely stunning Protos Ribera del Duero Crianza 2004 (A+).
Can’t remember what the dessert was but it looks like Tocina de Cielo, a very sweet version of flan from Jerez.
In short, a bit poncey but worth experiencing if you’re nearby.
El Septimo (Intermediate A-), 7 C/Diego de Leon
Overly romantic decor (hence the minus) but they have several tables out on the pavement where you can sit and watch the world go by. There are lots of veggie options on the menu, including several kinds of salads that are supposed to be very good.
After a free entree of raw carrots and some rather tasteless cream cheese (C), I went for the ‘starter’ of apple croquetas which were great (B) but sizable (you get two so good for sharing) and seemed more appropriate as a dessert as they are quite sweet and come with a splodge of squirty cream.
The star of the meal was the Tournedo Iberico which is fantastic (A). Four slivers of lightly seared top quality pork overlaying a mound of tasty mash and decorated with swirls of raspberry sauce; a delight to the tastebuds and well worth the €15 price tag.
The house red, Cune Crianza starts off well but seems to lose its attraction towards the end of the bottle.
The bar next door has salsa dancing on Thursdays around 8pm.
Flash Flash Tortilleria (Intermediate A-), 75 Nunez de Balbao, Tel. 91 575 1010
Very popular with the locals, queues at peak times despite seating for 100+ upstairs, more downstairs and a terrace outside when it’s warm. The walls, banquettes and most of the decor is blinding white with silhouettes of a female model wielding a camera, the room lights replacing the flashbulb. It’s not so bad; the waiters are friendly and the food, although very plainly presented, somehow makes up for the brash surroundings.
To start, the three of us had Ensalada de Gulas (elvers with caramelised onion on a deliciously dressed salad of green leaves) (A), the good house Gazpacho (B+) and excellent Parmentier potato and leek soup (A). The mains were Albondigas con Arroz en Salsa (A), the Monty Burger which was very similar to steak tartar with fresh veg (A) and a disappointingly ironic ham and potato tortilla (C). The accompanying Taurus Tempranillo from Toro was great (A) and took the bill to about €25 each which is pretty reasonable for the area. There’s a big salad bar too. I’d definitely go back but not for the tortilla. Open Sunday.
El Olivar de Ayala, (Elementary B), 84 C/Ayala
This place was recommended by a teacher as a cheap place to eat fairly near the hotel and it didn’t disappoint. With the €11 Menu-del-Dia you get a wide choice of dishes. I had Salmorejo (like gazpacho but made with bread), Emperador a la Plancha (grilled swordfish with salad) and Mousse de Queso (a speckled blancmange) with a quarter litre of red. The decor is unremarkable, wooden chairs around barrels in the front tapas area, tables in the back, and the service is fine. A good deal all round.
Wagaboo (Intermediate B), 14 C/Ayala, Tel. 91 578 3368,
Part of a chain (one in Chueca too), it’s tempting to compare this place to Wagamama but the food is more pan-asiatic and international fusion with a strong Italian input, as well as Mexican, Jamaican and English influences. The atmosphere is more intimate with tables and booths rather than long benches, the decor is modern and its low lit with an ambient house soundtrack. I had the Hamburguesa Portobello (B) which was nicely rare and came with grilled goat’s cheese, tomato and caramelised onions (a good combination) and a meagre bowl of mustard mayo and not particularly nice chips on the side (C). Had a competent mojito with it (B) which brought the bill to €16.48 with bread, not too bad. Might go again at a pinch but with so many other good places in town it’s unlikely.
Meson Cinco Jotas (Intermediate C/D), 118 C/Serrano
The Menu-del-Dia on the blackboard outside looked good so we took the plunge only to find they had stopped serving it. We only ordered starters fortunately: the Foie con Jamon (took a while to find the foie in the huge pile of rocket) and Queson Cabra con Espincces (D) which was a whole soft cheese in a deep-fried crispy pancake with raw spinach, not a good combo. The Montecillo Crianza ’06 Rioja was good (A) but not at €17. Avoid!