I used to think that the British did the best roast dinner but you can’t fault the Spanish really. We do roast beef really well of course, and our lamb is pretty good too but when it comes to suckling pig, los españoles have pretty much nailed it. These next two places draw on centuries of tradition and will press all the right buttons. I think the first is my favourite of the two but it’s a close call.
Los Galayos (High Intermediate A), 5 Calle Botoneros and Plaza Mayor, www.losgalayos.net
This famous old place (since 1894) has two entrances and two terraces. The terrace on Botoneros (Buttons Street) is usually quieter but the San Isidro festival was on when we went and these characters were causing a bit of a ruckus.
These old timers are known as Castizos, original Madrilenos, who wear their traditional dress for special occasions like this.
My friend Ethel and I fancied slightly quieter surroundings so we opted for a table on the Plaza Major terrace. The square was still pretty busy with the preparation for a big concert that evening with the occasional sound check interrupting our reverie.
We started with a media racion (half portion) of two kinds of croquetas; ham and also blue cheese and brie, served with blue potato chips (all A).
The came the main event, the speciality of the house; Cochinillo Asado, suckling pig slow roasted in their ancient wood-fired oven. It was incredible, quite possibly the best I’ve ever eaten (A++).
Traditionally this is accompanied by just a bit of lettuce tossed in salt and oil but we pushed the boat out with the Ensalada de la Casa con Lechugas Variadas, Rulo de Queso de Cabra Gratinado, Crujiente de Bacon, Pasas de Málaga y Almendras Tostadas (house salad with various lettuces, grilled goat’s cheese, crispy bacon, Malaga raisins and toasted almonds) which was excellent (A).
With this we drank a bottle of a good roble Ribera del Duero by Protos, a red wine both of us are big fans of (B+).
To finish I had Torrijas de Leche con Helado de Turron aka bread pudding with nougat ice cream (A) and a glass of PX to go with it.
Finally a complimentary flask of aguardente with apricots and cinnamon (B+).
This was as near as damn it a perfect meal. The final bill came to €102 between two which is excellent value given the quality of everything we had.
One of my top recommendations in Madrid, please go if you can.
Apologies for the quality of the photos in the next one. They date from 2011 when I didn’t have a very good camera on my phone.
El Sobrino de Botin (Advanced B+), 17 Calle Cuchilleros,. Tel. 913 663 026/668 494, www.botin.es
This is Europe’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1725, and inevitably full of tourists, but the food is good and the building is very photogenic.
The restaurant has many artistic connections. Apparently Goya was a waiter here for a while and Graeme Greene had one of his characters suggest that “before buying purple socks, we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch at Botín…”.
Ernest Hemingway described Botin as “one of the best restaurants in the world “ in his novel The Sun Also Rises. Ever the man of appetite, he wrote that “We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta”, in fact “three bottles of rioja alta.”
There are lots of nooks and crannies where you could sit. Perhaps the best spot is on the ground floor so you can see all the action in the kitchen, or one of the many seating areas on the upper floors by the windows.
On my visit in 2010 I was lucky to get in during a busy Saturday lunchtime (they don’t take reservations), so I accepted a chair down in the slightly musty cellar with its high brick-arched ceiling.
The house specialities are garlic soup, clams, roast lamb and suckling pig. You can see the piglets on plates stacked up on shelves in a larder next to the bustling kitchen.
I started off with a breakfast of Sopa de Ajo con Huevo (garlic soup with egg, and also ham and bread) (B) before moving on to lunch proper.
I had Cordero Asado, two huge hunks of lamb sharing a plate with two small spuds in a pool of oil. It was exceptional (A).
The lack of veg is due to the fact they should have been eaten as a first course.
As I didn’t feel like drinking the house red, I had a nice house rose (Gran Feudo ’09).
The Tarta Botin (B-) was a slightly boring yellow slice of cake with vanilla cream and baked egg white blancmange, but it served its purpose.
Botin is definitely worth a visit for the historical experience and the food is pretty good too. You even get to keep the menu as a memento.
Photos uploaded February 2017 and April 2011.