Madrid – La Latina – top tapas along Calle Cava Baja

Calle Cava Baja is the best street for top quality tapas bars and restaurants in La Latina, although there are many more nearby (see second post).
The first is my favourite:

El Tempranillo (Intermediate A+), 38 Calle Cava Baja

El Tempranillo

El Tempranillo has a big range of fantastic wines from all over Spain (‘solo vinos españoles’) as you can see from their huge wine rack on the wall behind the bar.

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On my first visit in 2011 I asked for guidance from the friendly barkeep who gave me two glasses of Verdejo; a wonderful medium-dry white wine from Rueda. I love fruity whites with an intense nose and this one from Finca la Colina ticked all my boxes (A), so much so that I have had a couple of boxes sent to me via www.vinossanz.com

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As well as having great wines, El Tempranillo is an exponent of excellent ‘cocina creativa’; imaginative, modern Spanish cuisine. I had two large canapés, The first was Ventresca de Bonito (A), ‘ventresca’ being the oil rich belly of the tuna (the best bit).

Ventresca de Bonito and Queso Azul

Also Queso Azul, a blue cheese from Valedon. It’s a blend of cow and goat’s cheese which is wrapped in sycamore leaves before ageing to give it a complex earthy flavour that offsets the tanginess, similar to Cabrales but slightly less pungent (A).

In 2015 I made two further visits, the first time to try their white wines and seafood, and the second time to work through their reds.

In terms of white wines the subtle Albarino was very good (B+).

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My beloved ‘Finca la Colina ‘ Verdejo was as good as it was four years ago (A).

This 2014 white Rioja from Viura called La Emperatirz was also great (A) and had an amazing nose (A+). I managed to order a dozen for less than €6 a bottle from www.decantalo.com

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The Brut Nature was very good (A) but I don’t have a photo and I’m sure the Godello was good too although I forgot to score it.

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However the stand out for me on this visit was the award-winning 2014 Spanish Gewurztraminer from Vinas del Vero (A+). (This was available from Majestic for £6 a bottle but sadly they’d sold out when I tried to order). www.vinasdelvero.es/ingles

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With these a Tosta de Gambas, prawns on toast with alioli, which was sublime (A).

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And a couple of other canapes, the Tosta de Chipirones con Alioli y Cebolla Caramelizada (A) and another I think called Bacalao semi-ahumado con Salsita de Tomate (A). Sorry my info is vague, I was too busy enjoying chatting to my neighbour to take proper notes!

The next time I came back for the reds including an excellent Ribeira Sacra from Bodega Regina Viarum (A).

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Followed by a Toro called ‘Vetus’ (A).

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Also this Monastrell (A) from the Jumilla DO with a wonderful nose (A+) and a wonderful name (pictured). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a single company who could import this to the UK.

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To eat I had a canape with Pate con Mermelada de Zarzamora, or pate with blackberry jam (A)…

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…and the Pechuga de Codorniz a la parilla con Salmorejo’ (quail breast on bread spread with tomato and bread soup) (B+).

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I got good service from the excellent bartender again. This place will be a regular pilgrimage for me every time I’m in town.

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El Tempranillo features in this Guardian article, as does the next place.

Casa Lucas (Intermediate A), 30 Calle Cava Baja www.casalucas.es

Another great place for cocina creative, not to be confused with Casa Lucio below.

I had their sublime ‘Madrid’ canape made from Morcilla de Cebolla en Revuelto sobre Tomate Confitado’ aka black pudding mixed with scrambled egg, pine nuts and raisins over tomato confit and served with fried potato sticks to give it some crunch (A+).

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Their modern Spanish wines are excellent too. My favourite was the Campo de Bora ‘Bole’ (A).

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I also liked the Toro ‘Matsu’ (B+).

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La Concha (Low Intermediate B), 7 Calle Cava Baja, www.laconchataberna.com

Another good little place with a small upstairs bar and more seating in the basement. The service was shambolic but pleasant.

I had the Tosta de Bacalao Ahumado; smoked salt cod with roe (B+) for €4.50.

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As well as my beloved Lunatico (A) (picture above), I had a glass of white Rioja cosecha called ‘Luberri’ (A) which had a great nose (A+). I bought a dozen bottles for €6 a bottle from www.decantalo.com

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Casa Lucio (Advanced A), 35 Cava Baja, La Latina, Tel. 91 365 3552 or 8217. www.casalucio.es

This venerable establishment is one of Madrid’s most famous restaurants and is old school in every way with a dark, woody and rather gloomy interior staffed by hordes of white coated waiters. It’s friendly enough though (except for the manager who seated me) and I was well attended to when I visited in 2012.

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One of the benefits of being an Englishman in Spain is that you’re usually one of the first to show up at a restaurant (1pm for Sunday lunch in my case) so it’s easy to get a table. The disadvantage is you probably won’t get the best spot as they might not be ready for you, which was what happened here.

The place is huge, several rooms spread over a couple of floors but I ended up by the front door by the kitchen on a tiny table so everyone could have a good nosey at what I was eating when they came in. I was effectively told to like it or lump it, but no matter, I was only here for the food.

Apparently the King of Spain comes here for his egg and chips so that seemed a good way for me to start as well, although it wasn’t on the menu. They were fine, as good as egg and chips can be, two lightly cooked eggs with the yolks broken so they dripped all over the skinny fries (A).

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For my main I went with the Time Out recommended Solomillo (sirloin steak) which was excellent (A), slightly blackened on the outside and dripping with blood on the inside (poco hecho), sprinkled with rock salt and served sizzling on an earthenware platter with three boiled waxy spuds.

However at €25 it wasn’t cheap. In fact it cost the same as a three course meal with wine in Puente Genil, a small town I’d just come from in Andalusia. But then this was Madrid, and at one of the city’s most famous restaurants.

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The steak was helped down with a glass of Marques de Velilla (a 2008 Crianza); the house Ribeira (A).

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For dessert, the waiter strongly recommended the Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) and the Flan for dessert but I wanted something different. I’d never heard of Hojaldre con Crema Pastelera, a slice of dry flaky pastry filled with yellow pastry cream but it was pretty good (B).

With this, a large glass of PX (Solera Reserva), a superior ‘sherry’ from Lustau (A) which was so viscous I nearly choked on it!

The bill came to €54, overpriced in my opinion, although the food was unarguably very good. If I came again, which I probably would, I’ve been told the Rabo de Toro is excellent. If you want to go to a similar place with a lot of history, I’d recommend El Sobrino de Botin (see my Plaza Mayor post) or for a great wine selection and good tapas, just go over the road to El Tempranillo above.

Photos from April 2011 and February 2016.

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