On my free day, I was faced with a choice between visiting a royal monastery or the tomb of a dictator. I chose the one with the best restaurant…
San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a small town a short drive from Colloda Villalba (20€ in a taxi).
You’ll find everywhere mentioned in this post, and more, on this map.
The town grew up around the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a royal monastery and palace founded by King Phillip in 1563, now a UNESCO world heritage site. It has been the burial site for all the Spanish monarchs ever since.
Personally I’m not a fan of the bleak, undecorated style of Renaissance architecture it represents (known as Escorialense). I can empathise with a friend who mistook it for a prison as they drove up the hill towards it. However I bit the bullet and went in for a look (entrance €10 in 2016).
The floor plan of the monastery takes the form of a gridiron which legend says was intended to honour the memory of Saint Laurence who achieved martyrdom after being roasted on a grill, which pretty much captures the mood of the place.
To my eye there is little of beauty to see. There are some statues on the roof in the internal courtyards.
The long austere corridors have some frescoes in their niches…
…and there’s some precise topiary in the gardens at the front, but no flowers.
The best thing I saw was a tapestry version of one of my favourite paintings The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
The original, which hangs in the Prado, was probably painted around 1503 whereas this copy, one of many, was made in 1566.
The rest of the town is nice enough…
…mid-eighteenth century architecture I would guess…
…and there is the odd architectural quirk.
For me the nicest things were the views.
Montia (Advanced A-), 4 Calle Calvario, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, www.montia.es
This is an excellent restaurant with a Michelin star. Generally I’m wary of fine dining places but the food here is great. It would cost three times as much at home in the UK.
For a treat I had the longer of the three tasting menus (40€, 60€ or 65€) with matching wines. Everything came so thick and fast that I didn’t always have time to grade and photograph everything, apologies.
Things kicked off with a trio of starters (all A); Baby Squid in its Ink, Black Olive Spheres and a Rabbit Croquette.
The first glass of wine was a Riesling from Granada called ‘Ring Ring’ (B+).
Then ‘Marinated Mussels, Beans and Mushrooms’ garnished with geranium leaves and a local herb called Montia after which the restaurant is named.
This was accompanied by a glass of Macabeu Penedes ‘L’Ermot’ (La Salada 2015) which wasn’t particularly aromatic but had good depth of flavour (B+).
Next, white ‘Asparagus from Tudela with Tartar’.
Then; a ‘Low Temperature Egg with Iberian Pork Tongue and Asparagus’ (A).
This was followed by a ‘Mousse of Foie and Turtledove with Hazlenut’. There was some chocolate in there which is a popular match with the local game but it’s not a favourite combo of mine (C).
My notes tell me I next had a local Orange Wine, but my photo says it’s Zerberos Vino Precioso. Whatever it was, I liked it (B+).
After this, ‘Sautéed Mackerel with Borage and Thyme Infused Consommé’, latter was served from a Japanese teapot.
I love mackerel but strangely I wasn’t too keen on this version (C).
Next a glass of very fruity ‘Groove’ 2014 Garnacha by Rubor (B+).
Then their ‘Buffalo Grill with Small Radish and Purple Carrot’ (A).
I had this with a glass of ‘Chat Zen’ Sauvignon Blanc from Languedoc in France (B+).
‘Goulash of Veal Beef Cheeks with Acidic Goat’s Cheese’.
I loved the ‘Chicken marinated in Beer with Crayfish’ (A).
With this, my favourite wine so far. ‘Passio’ by Cosmic Vintayers (A). It’s made with 94% Marcelan and 6% Sumoll grapes which give it an unusual dark purple colour.
‘Callos a la Madrilèna’, aka Tripe with Smoked Chorizo and Black Pudding, a dish I’ve had a half dozen times and only enjoyed once before. This was stunningly good (A+).
I remember liking the effervescent Festejar 2014 from La Boheme (B) for the cheese course.
The Degustación de Quesos included; Sheep’s Curd (Torremocha del Jarama), Cow’s Cheese (Rio Pradillo from Cerecedilla), Goat’s Cheese (El Barraco from Avila), Sheep’s Cheese (Miraflores de la Sierra), Goat’s Blue Cheese (Colmenar Viejo), Goat’s Cheese (Fresnedillas de la Oliva).
Each cheese was highly individual and very good (B+/A) but arranged in order of age and strength of flavour, from left to right, so they didn’t conflict. A bottle of a prickly pear cordial was also to hand for palate cleansing purposes.
To drink with the desserts an excellent Muscat by Julian Ruiz called De Sol A Sol Dulce 2012 (A).
The first dessert was the visually spectacular ‘Mandarin Cold Soup with Fennel Ice Cream and Peppermint Sponges’ (A)…
…followed by a ‘Blue Cheese Cornetto with Pear and Violet Cotton Candy’ (A)…
…and finally a ‘Rice Pudding and Watercress with a Potato Stick’ (A).
To drink I finished with a Licor Jengribre (Cueva 2014) which I loved (A).
After a slug of good Costa Rican coffee (A) I was also introduced to a new Pacharan called Baines, which I now think is the best commercially available version of this Basque sloe and aniseed digestif (A).
So a couple of misfires but lots of top scores too. The already dated modern décor didn’t do much for me but I enjoyed the Smiths soundtrack and the service was friendly and super-efficient. I definitely recommend it.