Archive for the Madrid Comunidad Category

Comunidad de Madrid – San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Posted in El Escorial, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , on October 8, 2017 by gannet39

entOn my free day, 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 sats 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.

Comunidad de Madrid – Colloda Villalba

Posted in Colloda Villalba, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , , on April 18, 2017 by gannet39

Colloda Villalba is a fair sized town to the north east of Madrid, within the Comunidad de Madrid. While there isn’t much to see or do in the town itself, there are a couple of attractions in the nearby area. A short train journey, or a €25 taxi ride, will get you to the neighbouring town of El Escorial and its famous royal palace (see next post). Google map here.

Also not far away (€12 in a taxi according to a cabbie in 2016) is the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), the last resting place of Francisco Franco; the leader of the fascist Falange Española party and former dictator of Spain.

It’s supposed to be quite a sight, especially the huge cross that towers above it which is the largest in the world. I didn’t have time to go but my father has been and says it’s a very eerie place, built as it was with the forced labour of Republican prisoners, many of whom died during the construction. Exact figures are hard to arrive at as there is still very little information available as to what happened here.

My colleague Mark and I stayed for six nights in the Hotel Galaico www.hotelgalaico.com, the only hotel in town. It was unexceptional but the reception staff were nice and the Wi-Fi worked fairly well. The breakfast table is pretty bare; cornflakes, bread, processed cheese and ham, and if you’re lucky, the occasional fresh tomato.

There are a few restaurants within walking distance which were okay, but again, nothing to write home, or a blog, about, but I will anyway for the benefit of my colleagues.

El Cortijo Casa Andaluz (Low Intermediate B), 1 Calle Cervantes, www.elcortijo.es

A plain space with portly unsmiling old male staff but with decent Andalucian food, albeit mostly fried. Their house wine, an Albarino with no label from Galicia, is very drinkable and a snip at only €8.64 a bottle.

All the raciones on the menu can be ordered as medias (halves). We had four ham croquetas (B), chopitos; aka baby squid (B), a parrillada (mixed grill) of vegetables (aubergine, onion, red and green peppers) which was good (B+).

Also deep fried Chanquetes, a quite rare tiny fish known in English as the transparent goby, which was something I hadn’t eaten before (B).

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All this food was perfectly good, and very reasonable. With two bottles of wine and a couple of chupitos of Orujo de Hierbas, the bill came to a paltry €44 for two.

La Pescantina (Low Intermediate B), 17 Calle Batalla de Bailén

This is a seafood specialist recommended by two different teachers. Mark and I had the Mariscada for €47.50 which involved scallops, small prawns, king prawns, huge ‘carabineros’ prawns, razor clams and crayfish (B+), along with an unspecial mixed tuna salad (C+).

Salma (Intermediate B), 10 Calle Batalia de Belen

This is a Middle Eastern restaurant that sells alcohol. It makes a nice change if you’re tired of just eating Spanish food.

I came twice and had their set menu. You get a starter of pita with Hummus, Aubergine Baba Ganoush, Couscous and flatbread (B+) . The main course for me was always lamb (B).

La Sueno de Laura (Low Intermediate B), 11 Avenida de Honorio Lozano, Madrid, Spain www.elsueñodelaura.es

This is essentially a handmade burger joint but they also sell salads and egg dishes and they have an okay choice of wines. It was the Tripadvisor #1 at the time of writing (May 2016) and also had the most reviews, which is the criterion I generally look for.

The décor is modern café style and quite quirky with a collection of old TVs and other bric-a-brac. The staff are very friendly and the food is okay.

I had the ‘Hamburguer Gourmet’ (B+) con Queso de Cabra a la Plancha, Cebolla Caramelizada, Champiñón a la Plancha y Salsa de Miel y Mostaza (with grilled goat cheese, caramelized onion, grilled mushroom and honey and mustard sauce.

So no culinary stars in this town, just a few average restaurants. If you want somewhere really good you should jump in a taxi to El Escorial (please see next post).

Madrid – Vallecas – Puente de Vallecas

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Puente de Vallecas, Spain, Vallecas with tags , on April 17, 2017 by gannet39

Vallecas is a working class district just to the southeast of the centre, Puente de Vallecas is one of the six barrios within it.

Vallecas is home to Madrid’s third football team, Rayo Vallecano, who play in the second division. The club and its fans, the Bukaneros, are famous for their left leaning politics.

For example, in 2012 the squad decided to take one day off from training to join the anti-austerity demonstrations. In 2014 the club helped support an old lady facing eviction from her home. Numerous other examples of solidarity exist.

For me this is truly a club to be inspired by, much more so than Athletico or Real.They have a new fan in me.

Casa Doli (Intermediate B+), 96 Avenida de San Diego, casadoli.com

I came here with my friends Ethel and Nick and we were joined by their friend Paloma who lives locally. The owner of the restaurant was very warm and welcoming.

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We had lots of good food here, mainly meat, including…

Torreznos de Soria (A); deep-fried panceta for which the town of Soria in the province of Castile y León is famous.

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And some lovely Chuletas de Cordero, lamb chops (A).

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My favourite was the Pluma de Iberico (A), sorry no photo. Plumas or ‘feathers’ are a cut from just behind the neck of the Iberico pig and are very tender.

To drink, a few ‘Cruzial’ beers by Cruzcampo, a new one on me (B).

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And with dessert a sweet 2012 Moscatel from Gran Fuedo (B+).

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A nice neighbourhood place I’d be happy to go to again.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Recoletos – Stuff to See in Plaza de Colón

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Plaza de Colón, Recoletos, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2017 by gannet39

At the bottom of Calle Goya, where is meets the Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo de la Castellana is Plaza de Colón, now a very busy road intersection.

At the centre of the intersection is a Neogothic monument to Cristóbal Colón in white Italian marble. The Monumento a Colón was erected between 1881 and 1885.

The statue, along with the fountains further down Paseo de Recoletos, is a favourite spot for celebrating football fans.

I was fortunate enough to be in town when Spain won the world cup in July 2010. The scenes of rapturous joy were pretty wild as you can imagine!

A rather unattractive but quirky building known as the Torres de Colón towers over the square where it meets Calle de Genoa. Constructed in 1976, it was designed by the architect Antonio Lamela.

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My favourite feature of the square however is below the Torres de Colón on the traffic island in the middle of Calle de Genoa.

The statue, dating from 1987, is called ‘Woman with Mirror’ by Fernando Botero.

It’s very easy to walk right by and totally miss it.

In the paved area of the square by Calle de Goya is the Jardines del Descubrimiento.

This part of the square is dominated by a huge brutalist monument, the Monumento al Descubrimiento de América,, which is decorated with with reliefs and inscriptions dedicated to the discovery of America.

It’s formed by three statues known respectively as Las profecías, La génesis y El Descubrimiento (The Prophecies, The Genesis and The Discovery).

It was erected in 1977 and is the work of sculptor Joaquín Vaquero Turcios. I have no idea what he was thinking when he created these concrete beasts, but I admire him for it!

Click on a picture to go to full-screen slideshow mode.

A huge Spanish flag flies above this part of the square which is beloved by skateboarders and BMX bike riders.

On the other side of Calle de Goya, in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, is a small ignominious square suitably named Plaza Margaret Thatcher. There are no statues here thankfully!

However this statue on the crossing of Paseo de Recoletas could be considered to be a younger likeness of the former British Prime Minister. I think she might have lost her keys in this depiction.

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Photos uploaded April 2011 and February and April 2017.

Madrid – Chamberi – traditional cuisine in Arapiles

Posted in Arapiles, Chamberi, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , on April 15, 2017 by gannet39

A new part of town for me but I’m always happy to travel for good food. Nicky and I started with a glass of wine and a quick tapa sitting outside a nice old bar called La Nueva at 7 Calle de Arapiles, just around the corner from Quevado metro station. Google map here.

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Casa Ricardo (Intermediate B+), 31 Fernando el Catolico

Listed in ‘1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die’ this is an old school restaurant with bullfighting connections.

They are especially famous for ‘criadillas’ (bull’s testicles) but they didn’t seem to be on the menu when we were there. They are best in the bullfighting season which is from April to September.

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As usual when I’m with friends I was too busy talking to mark the dishes, but it was all really good. I’ve included links to recipes which look quite similar.

Menestra de Verduras; vegetable soup

Habitas Fritas con Jamon; fried broad beans with cured ham.

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Alcahofas Naturales Rehogados con Ajo; fresh artichokes sautéed with garlic and served here with green beans, carrot, peas and Swiss chard.

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Media racion de Rinones de Cordero Lechal al Jerez; a half portion of lambs kidneys cooked in sherry.

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Gallina en Pepitoria, similar to chicken fricassee but made with an almond sauce rather than mushrooms.

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Rabo de Toro; stewed oxtail with chips.

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The house red was okay but we upgraded to a 2011 Rioja Crianza from Martinez Lacuesta which is what the food deserved.

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For dessert; Filloas; A Galician pancake similar to a crepe but made most typically, I think, with pork lard rather than butter.

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And a glass of a good PX crianza.

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With two brandies the bill came to €98 for the two of us which seemed fair. Definitely a place I’d recommend for delicious and very authentic Spanish cuisine.

Madrid – Chamartin – Market Cuisine in Hispanoamérica

Posted in Chamartin, Hispanoamérica, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , on April 14, 2017 by gannet39

My first time in Chamberi, one of the northern districts of central Madrid. Barrio Hispanoamérica is one of its central wards. Google map here.

First stop was the excellent Mercado de Chamartín at 9 Calle Bolivia, www.mercadodechamartin.es which has some fantastic ingredients on display.

The fungus stall was pretty amazing. Some things I’d never seen before were Criadillas de Tierra, a type of fungus also known as the Desert Truffle. Usually criadillas are bull testicles!

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Then I went to this wonderful place nearby…

De la Riva (Advanced B+), 13 Calle Cochabamba, restaurantedelariva.com

Listed in 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die this classic taberna is a very popular lunch place for the well-heeled Chamberi set (not a tourist in sight) so you must definitely reserve. They are only open for lunch (1 till 5pm).

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The cuisine is ‘cocina de mercado’; all top quality ingredients from the market nearby. There is no menu, the owner will come round and tell you what there is and help you make your decisions, so some knowledge of Spanish is required.

The media racion of Esparragos Blancos; white forced asaparagus, I began with was pretty huge (B+).

As was the one of Mollejas; sweetbreads (B+). But no problem, I was here to eat.

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For my first main, Pecho de Ternera; veal breast, which is very typical. It looked overdone but this is normal and it was very tasty (B+). Their recipe here.

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With this a side order of Alubias; haricot beans with chunks of chorizo (B+).

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With some pickled chillis on the side (B).

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To drink, a half-litre of 2011 Vina Eizaga Cosecha; the house rioja, poured from a big jeraboam (B+).

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I had an appetite so I also ordered the Rabo de Toro served with rice (B+).

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For dessert, Cuajada aka junket with honey and pine nuts (B).

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To finish, a large Duque de Alba brandy (one of my favourites) which was topped up by the waiter who also gave me, bizarrely, a couple of choccy biccys for good measure.

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The macho owner owner is a Real Madrid fan and quite unexpectedly in the middle of our meal a few bars of one of their signature songs was played over the sound system! This took the atmosphere up another notch as most of the customers joined in the song, except for my friendly neighbours who were Athletico supporters.

The final bill was just under €70, which was fine for what I had.

Everything was very simply presented, nothing fancy, just good, plain ingredients. My marks seem harsh in retrospect but they are only reflecting the lack of finesse, not the flavours.

This is one of the best traditional restaurants in Madrid, a definite recommend from me.

Madrid – Chueca – Cocktail Bars

Posted in Centro, Justicia (Chueca), Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , , , on April 13, 2017 by gannet39

In Spain I tend to be a G&T drinker, partly because that’s what the weather calls for and partly because they do them so well. Some places have as many as a dozen different G&Ts on the menu with a wide selection of gins and garnishes. Of course all these bars do other cocktails as well.

So, here are a few favourites…

La Cocina de San Antón (Intermediate B), top floor, Mercado San Antón, 24 Calle Augusto Figueroa, mercadosananton.com

I’ve reviewed this restaurant elsewhere and it’s okay, but I much prefer to come to their roof top bar for a drink rather than to eat. It can be hard to find a seat, and the service can be frustratingly slow, but otherwise it’s a good place to be on a sultry summer evening in Chueca.

La Terraza (Advanced B+), sixth floor, Hotel Principal, 1 Calle Marqués de Valdeiglesias, theprincipalmadridhotel.com

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The tiny reception area gives little clue as to the wide expanse of the rooftop terrace of this newly opened hotel (in 2016). The neo-Renaissance building is much older of course, built in 1907.

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You get great views of Gran Via including the Circulo de Bellas Artes opposite which also has a great roof top bar.

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It was the weekend of San Isidro when my friend Ethel and I went so we got to watch the fantastic firework display in El Retiro park from the comfort of our chairs.

Food is also available by famous Michelin Chef Ramón Freixa, but it ain’t cheap. Bear in mind most roof top bars will be more expensive than elsewhere. eg €19+ for a G&T.

Bar Cock (Advanced A), 16 Calle Reina

The name sounds like it should be a gay bar, especially as it’s in Chueca, and indeed the venue was once a brothel, but in fact this is a venerable old cocktail bar which first opened its doors in 1925. Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne, George Clooney and Pedro Almovadar have all drunk here.

It’s most famous proprietor was Perico Chicote who also owned the equally famous Museo Chicote www.museo-chicote.com around the other side of the block at 12 Calle Gran Vía.

Cock can be hard to get in… so don’t arrive looking too scruffy or wearing trainers. There’s a nice chilled vibe though once you’re there though.

Diurno (Intermediate B+), 37 Calle San Marcos, www.diurno.com

This is a very cool, modern, low-lit bar with lots of seating. A favourite spot of mine for a nightcap.

I had a great G&T made with Puerto de Indias gin and served with strawberries and a cinnamon stick for €6.

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D’Mystic, (Intermediate B), 5 Calle Gravina

A friendly gay bar a couple of doors up from Taberna Angel Sierra (see my Chueca – Tapas Bars post). Great mojitos for only €6.50. You get free hugs from the staff when you enter!

Madrid – Centro – Cheap Places to Eat in Embajadores

Posted in Centro, Embajadores, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , on April 12, 2017 by gannet39

This next place is just over the road from Atocha station so a good spot for a snack if you’re getting on or off a train. Google map here.

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El Brillante (High Elementary A), 8 Gta Carlos V and 7 Calle Doctor Drumen, www.barelbrillante.es

This is a famous place (listed in ‘1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die’, amongst others) where you can try another Madrileno classic; the Bocadillo de Calamares, aka the fried squid sandwich.

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El Brillante claim to sell ‘los mejores calamares de Madrid’. No doubt there are others who claim to be the best but this one is certainly very good (not too greasy) and fills a large hole (B+). It’s pretty cheap at only €6.

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Of course they sell many other things such as sandwiches, salads, meatballs, churros etc. I also tried their Café Asiatico, a coffee made with Licor 43, coffee beans, lemon peel, cinnamon and foamy milk (B).

Café Asiatico was invented in Cartagena, the home of Licor 43, Spain’s most popular liqueur. The recipe for Licor 43 has forty three ingredients mainly fruit and herbs although the principal flavour is vanilla. The recipe comes from a 1,000 year old formula dating back to Roman times.

Freiduria de Gallinejas (Elementary B+), 84 Calle Embajadores

When it comes to offal I’ll give most things a go at least once because I hate to think I’m missing out on something. For instance I’ve tried  Callos a la Madrilena a few times, which most Madrileno’s would cite as their city’s signature dish, but it wasn’t until the third attempt that I actually enjoyed it (at Bodegas Ricla to be exact, see my ‘Tapas and churros around Plaza Mayor’ post).

This next place has been serving up lambs innards for more than 100 years so I figured if I was going to try other Madrileno offal dishes, this would be the best place.

Freiduria de Gallinejas

Freiduria de Gallinejas represents the last of a longstanding local tradition, the only survivor of sixty shops selling various kinds of innards that used to surround the local abattoir in Embajadores.

The friendly young guy who served me was very helpful in explaining what everything was on the menu and even gave me a mixed racion of Gallinjas (slices of lambs small intestine) and Entresijos (more of the same but with spleen and pancreas still attached).

Menu

Both are fried in the fat from the animal and served with chips. Once you get past the frilly tubular appearance it’s just like eating any other kind of deep-fried fritter, a pleasant crunchy texture with no particularly strong taste. I put them to bed no probs.

Entresijos y Gallinejas

My man’s next recommendation was a bit harder to finish. Mollejas Blancas are tender, juicy nuggets of ‘neck sweetbreads’ aka thymus glands. They looked good, hot and glistening in oil, and tasted fine, but I couldn’t finish more than ten, about a third of the plate. They have two other kinds of mollejas on the menu which would be interesting to compare.

Mollejas

According to my waiter, the best drink to go with this is Tinto de Verano. They give you a chilled bottle of cheap red wine, and another of lemonade to mix together yourself.

Baked apple but not as we know it

All this, along with a mixed salad and a large piece of French stick and a baked (actually burnt but still tasty) apple, came to a mere €21.20. All in all a very cheap and enjoyable experience.  Eat first ask questions later.

Pics uploaded Feb 2017 and April 2011.

Madrid – Centro – Eating Cheaply in Cortes

Posted in Centro, Cortes, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , on April 11, 2017 by gannet39

Barrio Cortes is the easternmost barrio in the Centro. The Paseo del Prado is its border to the east and Barrio Chueca (Justicia) is to the north and Barrio Embajdores is to the south. Map of the barrio here, map of Madrid here.

El Lacón (Intermediate B-) 8 Calle Manuel Fernández y González, www.mesonellacon.com

A pretty old tiled bar on a back street. It’s a good place to come if you’re on a budget and quantity is more important than quality.

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The food is fine, all B/C, but it’s not a place for gourmets. Five of us came here one evening and ate and drank very reasonably.

Los Chanquetes (Intermediate B), 2 Calle de Moratin, www.tabernaloschanquetes.es

A bullfighting themed place which I was tipped off about by a colleague who recommended coming here for the Rabo de Toro. It was good (B+) but I’ve had better.

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I tried a bottle of local Vinos de Madrid red, a Tagonius Roble (B+) For dessert Queso con Membrillo, manchego with quince, always finds favour with me (B+).

Especially with a glass of sweet Moscatel. This one was called Lagrimas del Jabalon (B).

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I incurred a reasonable bill of €26.70. It was ok but there are other better places to go to.

And finally a place I’m less keen on:

Tierra Mundi (Elementary C), 32 Calle Lope de Vega

If you’re on a budget I can’t fault this pseudo-Galician place but if you want good quality food, I’d go elsewhere. It’s marked as inexpensive in the Eyewitness Guide so I tried it in the interests of research.

In the spirit of eating cheaply I went for the Menu Nocturna for €10.50

I had a mixed salad with tuna to start which is hard to get wrong although obviously the tuna was not the best (B).

For my main, an only slightly chewy but quite oily veal steak (C+), with a sometimes soggy, sometimes slightly raw portion of patatas fritas (C+) on the same plate.

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After tasting a glass of the undrinkable (D) house red (a very young Ribeira Sacra) I thought I’d upgrade to the only half bottle of Rioja (Alta Rio) on the wine list which was marginally better but unfinishable (C+). This seemed to confirm the opinion of some that half bottles are often used to sell inferior wine.

Finally, a slice of apple pie which was mainly dough with a sniff of apple (C-). I opted out of the cream but it might taste better if you had some.

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Even my most beloved Spanish digestif Orujo des Hierbas was the most sub-standard version I’ve ever had (C+).

The decor is brash and modern and the service is just ok.

There are lots of other much better places nearby but come here by all means if saving money is important to you. The empanadas and octopus are good according to Eyewitness.

Total cost €25.10, which is hard to beat in expensive Madrid.

Photos from April 2011, February 2014 and February 2016.

Madrid – Sol – Roast Meat Restaurants around Plaza Mayor

Posted in Centro, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Plaza Mayor, Sol, Spain with tags , on April 10, 2017 by gannet39

Please see my separate posts on ‘Tapas and churros around Plaza Mayor‘ and ‘Things to see around Plaza Mayor‘. Google map here.

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.

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These old timers are known as Castizos, original Madrilenos, who wear their traditional dress for special occasions like this.

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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.

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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).

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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++).

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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).

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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+).

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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.

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Finally a complimentary flask of aguardente with apricots and cinnamon (B+).

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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.

Botin ground floor

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.

Botin cellar

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.

garlic soup

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).

roast lamb & potatoes

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.

Madrid – Retiro – Jerónimos – Out and About

Posted in Jerónimos, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Retiro, Spain with tags , , on April 9, 2017 by gannet39

The best thing about staying in Barrio Salamanca is its proximity to Parque De El Retiro; Madrid’s largest park. The park is in the ward of Jerónimos which is in the district of Retiro.

El Retiro path

It’s one of my favourite places to go for a walk or a jog, have a cold beer in the shade or lie on the grass in the sun after a big lunch!

El Retiro skater

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There is a big boating lake should you fancy practising your oarsmanship.

Boating lake

El Retiro lake

El Retiro folly

If you are a jogger it takes about 30 minutes to run around the edge of the park, if you take in all the corners, but it’s much more fun to explore the small shady internal paths which are full of unexpected sights.

There’s an outdoor gym near the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, the only statue I know dedicated to Lucifer. I love the imps on the base!

Statue of the fallen angel

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There are many other beautiful statues in the park.

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El Retiro statue

El Retiro has given it’s name to the local district which has many other things to see.

To the west of the park, at the bottom of the Paseo de Recoletos, is the Plaza de Cibeles, a rotunda with a fountain featuring Cybele, the Roman goddess of fertility and a symbol of Madrid. When I took this picture, a mass rally of nude cyclists just happened to be passing by!

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Towering above the rotunda is the Palacio de Cibeles, formerly the Palacio de Comunicaciones (Post Office HQ), but now it’s used as an art gallery. The building itself is stunning both inside and out.

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You can still see the post office counters on the ground floor and the ceiling is very nice.

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There’s a bar on the top floor which has terrible service and mediocre food but you do get a great view from the roof looking up Calle de Alcala towards the Circulo des Bellas Artes, itself an even better viewing spot.

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Pics upload April 2011 and Feb 2017.

Madrid – Retiro – Eating & Drinking in Barrio Ibiza

Posted in El Retiro, Ibiza, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , on April 8, 2017 by gannet39

Barrio Ibiza is a neighbourhood in the Retiro District, to the east of El Retiro park, south of Calle Alcala. It’s a bit of a walk from the Hotel Catalonia Goya (about 20 mins walking quickly) but only three streets if you map it right. Or you could take the tube to Metro Ibiza.

La Castela (Intermediate A), 22 Doctor Castelo, lacastela.com

Love this place. It’s on the pricey side but we (my friend Ethel and I) got loads of freebies in the tapas bar, more than we could eat.

We ordered four things off the menu. The first was the Merluza al Aceite Oliva Virgen, hake in virgin olive oil, was possibly the best either of us had ever had (A+).

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Secondly we got the Ensalada de Cecina, air dried beef, probably Cecina de León, served with asparagus.

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And also off the menu; Croquetas Marisco, seafood croquettes.

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In addition we got all the below for free, even when we hadn’t ordered a drink. This included… Chorizo with piquillo peppers.

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Some stewed boletus.

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Gem lettuce with mussels.

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And various kinds of marine life.

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20160517_204345The free stuff came so thick and fast we eventually had to beg them to stop!

With three jarras and three canas of beer the bill came to €66.50 between two which was very good given the quantity and quality of what we had.

One of my favourites…

Casa Portal Sideria-Restaurante (Advanced, A) 26 Dr. Castello, Tel 91 574 2026 or 91 409 1553 GEM ALERT!

This trad spot (specialising in Cocido Asturiana since 1939) is a favourite restaurant of mine and a good place to go on a chilly evening when your cockles need warming.

Casa Portal

There is a tapas bar with lots of smelly, cheesy delicacies under glass at the front, and a posher restaurant at the back which is usually empty around the time I go (just after 8pm) so no reservations required.

Casa Portal interior

The specialities are various kinds of fabada (butter bean stew), seafood and Asturian cider which should be poured from a great height in order to aerate it.

The service is formal but friendly and has always been good, especially the nice older chap who seems to be a permanent fixture. The atmosphere is quite sedate with paintings of Asturian valleys and erm… an oil refinery on the walls.

A great starter is Esparragos Trigueros Salteados (A+), wild asparagus (in season May/June) dressed in a wonderful reduction of wine and oil. The Foie-gras de Pato with a balsamic reduction is excellent (A) too.

It’s best if you go with a companion as the classic (A+) Fabada Asturiana (with ham hock, chorizo and morcilla and butter beans in a thick rich sauce) is big enough for two, although I have been known to manage it by myself. They’ve been making it for decades and it’s the best one I’ve ever had.

Casa Portal Fabada

The Leche Frita ‘fried milk’ (kind of like bread and butter pudding) and Tarta de Queso (‘cheesecake’ but not as we know it) are ok but straight out of the fridge (C+) but the icecreams are sublime (A) so just get one of those.

Leche Frita

Be careful of the price if you go for one of their classic brandies (perhaps a Larios 1866 or a Cardinal Mendoza) at the end though, or at least ask how much it is first! This is a place I always return to.

A Japanese Kirikata (Advanced B), 19 Calle de Antonio Ancuna, www.adearzabal.com

Every now and then I need a break from local food and Japanese is my default setting if it’s available.

This is a posh Spanish wine bar that serves food from both cultures. The Guia Repsol recommends the Arzábal croquettes with sheep’s milk but I was here for the sushi.

I sat in their dark but comfortable and stylishly decorated cellar and had…

Some complimentary Capocollo, Italian ham, with bread and homemade butter (B).

Atun Picante (B).

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Kimchi Salmon (B).

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The seared scallops, Vieras, tasted ever so slightly of the blowtorch fuel which detracted a bit (B-).

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The chef, a good English speaker, recommended the Gambas Picantes and they were indeed my favourite (B+). I loved the Ito Togarashi (literally ‘thread pepper’) garnish they were topped with.

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The white wine was a Verdejo called Terrible which sounded ominious but it was actually quite good! (B+).

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Total €80, a price you have to pay for sushi here I guess, sometimes you just have to do these things. It was fine but I’ll keep searching for an authentic place.

Pics uploaded May 2012.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Bars in Recoletos

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Recoletos, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , on April 7, 2017 by gannet39

Recoletos is the southwesternmost ward in Salamanca, bordered by Paseo de Recoletos to the west, Calle de Don Ramon de la Cruz to the north, Calle Principe de Vegara to the east and El Retiro park to the south. There are heaps of good bars in the area. Please see my separate post for places to eat. My Google map here.

El Pabellon del Espejo (Advanced A), 31 Paseo de Recoletos

A famous art deco style bar, although it was only built in 1990.

El Espejo

It’s more expensive than elsewhere but it’s a great spot to sit in the sun with a cold beer and watch the world go by on the paseo.

El Espejo terrace

Cafe Gijon (Advanced B), 21 Paseo de Recoletos

A famous literary cafe since 1888, artistic ‘tertulias’ (gatherings) are held here regularly. Just down the hill from El Pabellon above, it also has a nice summer terraza on the Paseo.

Gran Cafe Gijon

It has a beautiful mirrored mahogany ground floor interior and an old school formal restaurant in the cellar which I have yet to try.

Bar at Gijon

Inside Gijon

To watch sports the James Joyce pub at 59 Calle de Alcala is an ok spot (on the site of the once famous Cafe Lion). The staff are friendly and you can also eat outside. Or alternatively for sports fans there’s the Marca Sports Cafe at 18 Paseo de Recoletos. I’ve never been in but I noticed it as I was walking past the other day.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Eating in Recoletos

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Recoletos, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , on April 6, 2017 by gannet39

Recoletos is the southwesternmost ward in Salamanca, bordered by Paseo de Recoletos to the west, Calle de Don Ramon de la Cruz to the north, Calle Principe de Vegara to the east and El Retiro park to the south. There are heaps of good restaurants in the area. Please see my separate post for places to drink. Google map here.

A great new place at the bottom of Calle Goya that everyone should check out is Platea at 5-7 Calle de Goya, www.plateamadrid.com. It’s an old cinema which, as their website puts it, has been converted into the ‘largest gastro entertainment space in Europe’. It’s like an indoor street food market where you can choose what you want to eat and drink from several stalls and consume it in the communal seating area. I’ve only had the tapas (croquettes and a chistorra for €2.70 a pop), which were very good but there is also a restaurant, a cocktail bar and a patisserie. Entertainment on the stage varies from classical concerts to DJs. What’s on is here.

Street XO (Intermediate B+), top floor of El Corte Inglés, 52 Calle de Serrano, www.elcorteingles.es

This tapas bar in a department store is the street version of Chef David Muñoz’s restaurant DiverXO. Three Michelin starred Muñoz is the enfant terrible of Madrileno cuisine and you’ll have much more chance of getting in here than DiverXO which is booked out months in advance.

To avoid queuing for too long it’s best to arrive twenty minutes before they open for lunch at 1.30pm or in the evening before most Spanish people eat (they close at 12am). Don’t confuse their queue with the place next door which has the terrace at the front. They can serve you wine in the queue which makes the wait more tolerable.

As it was a sunny day we sat on the terrace but if I went again I’d like to sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. I’d describe the food as Jackson Pollock on a plate and it’s a lot of fun watching it being made. The music is pretty loud though so you may want to sit away from the speakers.

We had…

Dumplin Pekines; Oreja Confitado y Hoisin de Fresas, Alioli y Pepinillo, or in English, a Pekinese dumpling made with a confit of pig’s ear with a strawberry hoisin sauce, alioli and pickled gherkins.

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Lasaña Koreana de Wonton y Vaca Vieja Gallega con Shitakes, Tomates Escabechados Picantes, Bechamel de Cabra- Cardamomo aka Korean lasagne with aged Galician beef, wontons with shitake mushooms, spicy marinated tomatoes and a Bechamel sauce made with goat milk and cardamom.

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Pichon Japon Marinado en Miso Rojo de Remolachas y Yuzu en Robata con Migas de Pastor al Vapor y Chorizo de Leon Ahumado, or marinated and charcoal grilled Japanese pigeon in a red miso of beetroot and yuzu with steamed breadcrumbs and smoked Leon chorizo.

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Saltado Peruano; Presa a la Robata y Aliño de Mojito, Crema de Ají Amarillo, or charcoal grilled pork shoulder with a mojito and cream of Amarillo chilli dressing.

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We shared a bottle of called Rebisaca, a blend of Albarino, Treixadura and Loureira grapes from the Rias Baixas DO which was fine.

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The bill for two came to €91.50. I didn’t grade the dishes as I was busy talking with my friend Nicky but our overall conclusion was that while everything was visually spectacular (A) the flavours weren’t always in evidence, so the food scored A or B overall. Definitely an experience worth having though.

A mediocre place from 2012:

Wagaboo (Intermediate B), 14 Calle 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.

And one to give a miss…

Al Mounia (Advanced D), 5 Calle de Recoletos, Tel. 914 350 828, www.almounia.es

This is probably the most famous Moroccan restaurant in Madrid with over forty years of history. Unfortunately though in my experience it seems to be living on its reputation and the food just isn’t up to scratch. The beautifully tiled interior just adds to the feeling that it’s all about form and no content.

We shared a mixed starter of four dishes including hummus, aubergine in yogurt, and a salad, all of which were unbelievably bland but at least edible (C).

My friend Nicky ordered a Lamb Tajin however the ‘meat’ was mainly bone and fat, and was swimming in a greasy sauce, which she just couldn’t bring herself to eat (D).

My lamb had a little more meat which was ok once you discarded the skin (C). At €25 a dish, we felt ripped off and we refused to pay for my friend’s course.

The service was pretty appalling too, they constantly made mistakes and at one point dropped a handful of cutlery all over our table.

Although we had real problems ordering the wine, the saving grace was the stunning 2006 Rioja Baron de Ley so thankfully we didn’t completely waste our money.

A better place for Morrocan food is Al Jayma in Chueca (see my separate post on International Restaurants in Chueca).

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Eating in Castellana

Posted in Castellana, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , on April 5, 2017 by gannet39

Castellana is the northwesternmost ward in Salamanca, bordered by Paseo de Castellana to the west, Calle de Maria de Molina to the north, Calle Principe de Vegara to the east and Calle de Don Ramon de la Cruz to the south. There are heaps of good restaurants in the area. Please see my separate post for places to drink. Google map here.

Lavinia (High Intermediate B+), 16 Calle de José Ortega y Gasset, www.lavinia.es

Lavinia is principally a wine retail shop. They claim to have Europe’s largest selection of wines under one roof. This is the Madrid branch, they have a shop in Paris too.

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The shop has its own restaurant on the mezzanine floor above the wine shop so you can taste the wines with the foods they go well with, and then buy the wines in the shop. This was perfect for me as I’m always on the lookout for wines to sell at my pop up restaurant, ClandesDine (see separate posts on Sheffield).

There are tasting menus of various sizes. I had the Menu Pequenos for €75; ten dishes and six wines from small producers (there’s also a €95 menu with premium wines.

My excellent young waiter was called Javi Jadraque.

We kicked off with Champagne Francis Boulard ‘Blanc de Blanc’, a virtually odourless and tasteless champagne (B).

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To eat a piece of brittle deep-fried pig skin with some kind of crunchy fruit similar to christophene, a combination which didn’t work for me at all (C).

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Next a glass of ‘Clos de Tuffiers’ by Domaine de Belliviere from the Jasnieres Appelation Controle (B).

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This went well with the Ventresca de Lubina con Espuma de Jingebre Fermentado sobre Capuchina, which was unsightly but tasty (B). Javi described this as seabass on ‘frog leaf’ but I think he confused a nasturtium (edible) with a lily pad (which isn’t). Capuchina is nasturtium in Spanish.

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After this something described to me as seaweed, which might have been in the puree, but sweet and purple potatoes seemed to be much more of a feature. It was really good though (A).

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La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada (A) by Navazos in Jerez. Manzanilla is essentially the same as a Fino sherry but only produced and matured around Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Manzanilla Pasada is a richer, older Manzanilla, and this is perhaps the oldest on the market. I liked it so much that I included a bottle in the wine order I made after the meal.

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This was followed by some fantastic Espárragos (A+) which Javi informed me was from Aranjuez, a town to the south of Madrid which is famous for asparagus.

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Then a glass of Garnacha de Bernabeleva called Navherreros from the Vinos de Madrid (not a famous appellation) which grew on me the longer it was out of the bottle (B to B+) to the point that I later ordered a couple of bottles to take home.

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We went on with some of my beloved Mollejas (sweetbreads) which were excellent (A).

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Then a 2010 Ribera del Duero called Corimbo I which was ok (B).

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Next some green beans with mushrooms which were really good (A).

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The confit of bacalao didn’t do much for me unfortunately (C).

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But the small square of Cochinillo Asado, roast baby piglet, transported me to heaven (A+).

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Can’t remember what this pre-dessert was sorry. Membrillo quince jelly perhaps?

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The Chocolate with Apricot was enjoyable (B).

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I had this a glass of a 20 year old Pedro Ximenez called Don Guido by Williams Humbert which was so good (A) that I ordered a bottle to take home.

Javi informed me that PX is a mosto or a mostella (essentially unfiltered grape juice) because it’s not fermented and the alcohol is added later.

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To finish, an excellent Oloroso Viejo brandy from Lepanto (B+).

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We also debated the merits of drinking brandy with ice or in a warmed glass. I prefer the latter because for me the aroma adds to the taste but purists like Javi say the alcohol is being lost in the vapours.

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So mixed results for both the food and the wine but I enjoyed myself and learned a lot at the same time, which is all I want really.

After thanking Javi for his great service I went down to the ground floor and ordered all the wines I’d enjoyed during the meal, and a few more from around the shop. That’s my kind of shopping! I’ll certainly be back next time I’m in Madrid.

In 2016 it cost about €3 a bottle to post to the UK, if you got 12 bottles, or around €2 each if you ordered 24.

They are open from Monday to Saturday for lunch and the bar is open for tapas, every day until 10pm. The schedule can vary but they are usually open Thursday and Friday for dinner.

Many of the places below 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.

The above was written in 2016, the below in 2012.

Jose Luis (Advanced A-), 89 Calle Serrano, www.joseluis.es

One of the most famous tapas bars in Madrid. 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 brightly lit 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 female companion) by turning down the house special of various croquettes, fried brie and other calorific goblets in favour of a more healthy tapa of salpicon (prawns with diced onion and green pepper 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 ww.flg.es (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 restaurant. I had some standard Pimientos de Guernika (B)…

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…followed by the mediocre Hamburguesas Jose Luis (C+).

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To drink an absolutely stunning Protos Ribera del Duero Crianza 2004 (A+).

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To finish Tocina de Cielo, a very sweet version of flan from Jerez.

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In short, a bit poncey but worth checking out if you’re passing.

Pics uploaded again Feb 2017.

El Séptimo (Intermediate A-), 7 Calle Diego de Leon now moved to 29 Calle de Alonso Cano, www.elseptimo.com

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 had 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.

apple-croquetas

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.

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The house red, Cune Crianza starts off well but seems to lose its attraction towards the end of the bottle.

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Pics uploaded May 2012.

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.

And one to avoid from 2012…

Meson Cinco Jotas (Intermediate C/D), 118 Calle Serrano

We came here on the spur of the moment as the Menu-del-Dia on the blackboard outside looked good. However we took the plunge only to find they had stopped serving it! After this disappointment we only ordered starters fortunately namely the Foie con Jamon (took a while to find the foie under the huge pile of rocket) and Queso de Cabra con Espinacas which was a whole soft cheese in a deep-fried crispy pancake with raw spinach, not a good combo (D). The Montecillo Crianza 2006 Rioja was good (A) but not at €17. Avoid!

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – The Hotel Centro and around

Posted in Goya, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , on April 4, 2017 by gannet39

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Salamanca which I think is Madrid’s equivalent to somewhere like Kensington in London. The principal streets, Calle Serrano and Calle Goya, have some of the most expensive real estate in Spain and the side streets are crammed with pricey shops and boutiques. As you might expect, its toffee-nosed inhabitants aren’t generally known for their friendliness and the over-priced restaurants leave me cold (see my post on Posh Restaurants in Goya).

Much better I think to walk fifteen minutes or catch the metro to Chueca, in the old town, which is more down-to-earth, and being the LGBT area, a lot more fun, as well as having heaps of good restaurants and interesting shops.

On the more positive side, I have got to know Salamanca (and especially Goya ward, the forty blocks around the Hotel Catalonia Goya) quite well over the years and will concede that there are some okay places, and every year I go there’s always somewhere new to check out.

So with my colleagues in mind, my post on eating cheaply in Salamanca is here, the one on tapas bars is here and posh restaurants are here. The general Barrio Salamanca link is here.

My Google map for the whole of Madrid is here.

Here are some more redeeming features…

Hotel Centro Catalonia, 49 Calle Goya, Tel. 917 814 949, www.hoteles-catalonia.com

The Centro is one of my favourite work hotels, although it is starting to become a bit faded and worn. The front desk staff are friendly and efficient (Miguel is the man) although the restaurant workers can be overstretched at times. It has stylish suites (except for some dated modernist artwork), comfortable beds, great walk-in showers (only in the rooms at the front) and free wi-fi (much improved in strength as of 2014 due to a feedback campaign by my colleagues).

The breakfast buffet is fairly comprehensive; cereals, fresh bread, lots of ham and cheese choices, fresh pineapple, kiwi, melon etc and the chefs will cook you a fresh omelette if you ask. The coffee situation has gone downhill however. Once you could get a proper cup made for you but now it’s a choice of the filter stuff or queuing at the machine which is often on the blink.

Minibar prices on water, beer, snacks etc are extortionate just as they are in all hotels, but there’s a Carrefour around the corner (turn left out of the hotel and left again and it’s on the right) which is open till 10pm, although don’t forget to support the small grocers shop over the road on the corner if it’s open.

Transport connections are great with a taxi rank and the entrance to Velasquez metro station right outside the hotel’s front door, so you can hightail it into town for some better action in next to no time.

When you’re arriving at the hotel by taxi, the landmark to watch out for is the white church, La Basilica de la Concepcion de Nuestra Senora, immediately opposite.

If hotel room picnics are your thing, or you just like walking around markets, you should definitely check out the Mercado de La Paz, only about four blocks away from the Hotel Centro at 28 Calle Ayala. Read more about it and other food shops in my Barrio Salamanca – Food Shopping post here.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Food Shopping

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , on April 4, 2017 by gannet39

 

Best market in Madrid

One of the best things about Barrio Salamanca is the Mercado de La Paz which is only four blocks away from the Hotel Centro at 28 Calle Ayala (also hard-to-see side entrances on Calle Lagasca and Calle Coello).

Time Out says that La Boulette, the cheese store there, has the largest cheese selection in Spain with over 400 varieties.

La Boulette

Please see my ‘Buying Cheese in Spain’ post for more info. There are plenty of other fresh veg and charcuterie stalls in the market, and good tapas bars where you can sit outside at the Calle Ayala side of the market.

cake shop at Mercado de la Paz

For a spot of wine shopping, head two blocks north from the market to Lavinia www.lavinia.com at 16 Calle Jose Ortega y Gasset which apparently has the biggest wine selection in Europe. See my ‘Eating in Castellana’ post for a review of their restaurant.

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Salamanca can be divided in to six wards all of which are walkable from from Goya as it’s the most central. For lots more restaurants, please see my other posts for Goya and also Recoletes, Castellana and Lista in Salamanca , and also posts on El Retiro and Ibiza which are in the Retiro district to the south of Salamanca. Map of Barrio Salamanca here.

Pics uploaded April 2011, May 2012 and Feb 2017.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Architecture

Posted in Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , on April 2, 2017 by gannet39

Barrio Salamanca is a relatively modern neighbourhood, built between 1860 and 1927, so there is very little here that is truly old. Some of these places are on my Google map here.

Guindalera is the barrio in the northeastern part of Barrio Salamanca where the neo-Mudéjar Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is located.

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Another famous neo-Mudejar building is Casa Árabe www.casaarabe.es at 62 Calle de Alcalá.

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A more colourful example of this architectural style is on the corner of Calle Goya where it meets Calle Alcala.

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On the north side of the El Retiro park at 83 Calle de Alcalá, is the Neo-byzantine Church of San Manuel y San Benito which contains some famous tombs. The church could easily be mistaken for a mosque.

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Back in Guindalera, Calle de Castelar has some unusual little villas known as ‘hotelitos’. Nearby Calle Roma and Calle Belluga have some bits of neo-Mudéjar architecture.

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South from here, at 47 Calle del Dr. Esquerdo, is La Casa de Abejas, with a swarm of bees on its facade. I’d be intrigued to know how much business this ‘apicultura’ (beekeeping) shop does in such urban surroundings.

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At 26 Calle de Goya is the brilliant white Basilica de la Concepción de Nuestra Señora concepciongoya.archimadrid.es/ (opposite the Hotel Catalonia Goya).

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Lots of other nice buildings dot the neighbourhood.

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Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Posh Restaurants in Goya Neighbourhood

Posted in Goya, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2017 by gannet39

Goya is in the central southern part of Barrio Salamanca, bordered by Calle Principe de Vegara to the west (see my Recoletos posts), Calle de Don Ramón de la Cruz to the north (see my Lista post), Calle del Dr. Esquerdo to the east and Calle de O’Donnell to the south (see my Ibiza posts). There are heaps of good bars in the area. Please see my separate post for places to eat. Map of the barrio here, my Google map here. Please see my separate posts for bars, stuff to see and cheaper places to eat in Goya.

As befits this wealthy part of town, there are more high-end restaurants in Goya than you can shake a fist at. I’m not keen on most of them but there are a few places that are okay so I’ve put them in order of preference with the ones I like first. The end of this post turns into a bit of a slag fest but that’s one of the joys of blogging, you can vent your spleen at the places that have done you wrong!

So, beginning with my favourites:

Punto MX (Advanced A), 40 Calle General Pardinas (corner with Calle Ayala), puntomx.es

This is the world’s only Michelin starred Mexican restaurant. Two of us went without a reservation but they let us in as we arrived as soon as they opened. We were given the table by the kitchen door, which is probably kept for last minute customers like us, but it wasn’t so bad.

On my last trip to Mexico a few months before I discovered the Margarita Tamarindo. I’m not sure what they do to it here but it was the best one I’d ever had (A+).

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Of course we had to have the Guacamole. A trolley was wheeled up to our table and they made it in front of us to our specifications.

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We can definitely recommend it with pumpkin seeds (A).

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Panuchos de Cochinita Piblil con X’nipek de Cebollita Morada y Chile Habanero. Refried tortillas (panuchos) with roast piglet and a red onion and habanero salsa. Video recipe here.

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Pibil refers to roasting underground. X’nipek (dog nose) is a Mayan name, although it now made with some non-American ingredients such as vinegar. It’s usually used as an accompaniment to other Mexican dishes, often with other ‘Pico de Gallo’ sauces.

Taco de Atun Rojo, Salsa de Chile Serrano y Limon Verde, a taco with Bluefin tuna and a salsa of chilli Serrano and lime.

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Tamal Colado de Rabo de Toro, Frijoles Hayos, or maize flour tortillas with oxtail and kidney beans.

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We also had a 2011 red called Salia from the Manchuela DO in Castile-La Mancha (a new one on me)…

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…and a beautifully presented dessert involving sweet avocado cream, lemon jelly and coconut ice cream, but I was too busy chatting to grade them, apologies.

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Suffice to say it was all top notch.

The total came to €119 for two which isn’t bad for a Michelin starred restaurant.

Not to everyone’s taste this next one, but I love it…

La Tasqueria (Intermediate B+), 48 Duque de Sesto, www.latasqueria.com

Javi Estevez the chef/owner specialises in ‘fine offal’. The name is a play on ‘tasca’ (a boozer) and ‘casceria’ (an offal restaurant).

It’s very popular so it’s probably best to reserve, or arrive as soon as it opens on an evening in the week as I did.

I had their €38 Menu Tasqueria where you can choose one tarro (jar), three small plates, a second course and dessert. I added a cheese board and a bottle of Finca Elez to take it to €58.

Things kicked off with some complementary sliced Lengua (tongue).

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The following jar of Morcilla spread was tasteless (C). Too long in the fridge?

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Then a taco in a roof tile. Not sure what this was as it seemed complimentary but it tasted really good (A).

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The Lengua, Atun, Alcaparras (tongue, tuna, capers) was nice (B) but I’d have enjoyed it more on a plate rather than a slate which couldn’t stop the mayo from going everywhere.

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The Manitas, Alcachofa, Cigala (pigs trotters, artichoke, Norway lobster) was very good (B+).

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The Rabito, Anguila, Queso (piglet tail, eel and cheese) for the main was the star though (A).

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The label on the 2009 Finca Elez (B) told me that it was the first wine to be granted it’s own DO.

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The Rhubarb & Cheesecake was excellent (A).

I had it with a PX that was new to me called Monteagudo (B).

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I also had their Cheese Selection which was disappointingly small (B-) and the waitress couldn’t tell me what they were. In fact the dour service from her and her male colleague scored a C overall.

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On the plus side I received a free glass of Torres 5 Anos Brandy to finish. A great spot! If you like that sort of thing…

La Cocina de Maria Luisa (Intermediate B-), 42 Calle Jorge Juan, www.lacocinademarialuisa.es

This mushroom specialist is recommended by the Guia Repsol and also a local headmistress. I so wanted it to be good but I can’t say we (my friend Ethel and I) were particularly impressed. They specialise in wild mushrooms but we visited in early May so they would probably have more to offer if you went in the autumn.

We were the first customers to arrive but were left unattended for such a long time that we had to go and remind the waiters that we existed. However Maria Luisa the chef and owner was lovely and very welcoming (unlike her staff) when she came out to tell us about the tasting menu (€54).

Everyone in the restaurant got an amuse bouche of cheese croquettes (A) and a big bowl of asparagus and tomato soup (B+).

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Our menu kicked off with a carpaccio of boletus (ceps)which were nice but Maria Luisa had been a bit heavy-handed with the vinegar (B).

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This was followed by two big spears of white asparagus (B+) with mayo and salad and served with a shot glass of the cooking water which was remarkably tasty (A).

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After this we had some Colmenillas, which translates as ‘little beehives’ (morels I think). They were wonderfully meaty but a bit over salted (A-) and didn’t go very well with the strawberry and mushroom juices sauce they were served with (C+).

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Next , two overcooked monkfish fritters (C) with a sauce reminiscent of Campbells mushroom soup (B); a rather strange combination we couldn’t get our heads round.

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Then I had stuffed the pig’s trotters, a staple of Spanish cuisine that I was interested to try but that did little for me (C-).

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We had all this with an excellent Priorat red (B+) which was very good good value.

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Ethel had venison (B) served with dollops of four rather unpleasant sweet sauces (C-) including one of very sweet chocolate.

To finish, a slice of blamange type cake (C) with some blackberry ice cream which Ethel liked but I didn’t (B/C). I had this with a glass of average Pedro Ximenez to finish (B).

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So a couple of highlights but otherwise quite middling scores. I would give it another try in the Autumn though.

There are also a few places to steer clear of in this moneyed part of town…

El Fogon de Trifon (High Intermediate A-), 144 Calle Ayala, elfogondetrifon.com

I actually like the food and service in this small place but it’s just a bit too pricey.

Recommended in ‘Where Chef’s Eat’ I felt I had to give it a try, and might do again if I’m feeling flush.

I had the complimentary gazpacho (A), entrecote and chips (B+). a half bottle of Emilio Moro 2010 Ribera (B+) and pastel manzana (B+) for €52.50.

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There’s a tapas bar out front and a small dining room in the back, both quite popular so it might be hard to get in without a reservation.

Teatriz (Advanced B-), C/Hermosilla 14, Tel.915 775 379, www.teatriz.com

As the name suggests, this place is in an old theatre which has been redesigned by Phillipe Starck. I sat were the stalls used to be but you can sit on the stage too, or upstairs in the circle if you just want drinks. I was quite disappointed by the plain decor with little evidence of Starck’s amazing imagination in comparison to his efforts in Beijing (see my 2010 post).

The front entrance area looks more like a cafe but it gets a bit better inside. The lighting very theatre like but a bit too dim for a restaurant, although it does add to the hushed atmosphere as you wait for the food performance to start.

This was a lunch time trip for relatively cheap menu-del-dia as I couldn’t afford the a-la-carte offerings. To start Gazpacho Burata which was a lump of ordinary mozzarella (not burata as it should be with buffalo cream injected into the centre) floating in the middle. Although the texture was interesting, I thought both main ingredients would have been fine by themselves but spoiled each other in combination (C+).

I chose a nice Verdejo to go with this which was probably the best part of the meal (B+).

Next a mushroom paella (looking quite moist like a risotto) which was very rich and tasty, if anything a bit too flavoursome (B+), certainly for my choice of wine (memo to self, buy by the glass for each course).

Finally, my unmemorable dessert came unexpectedly in the form of a milkshake and although it tasted fine, was a bit of a visual let down (C+).

The best thing was the glass of ten-year-old Pedro Ximenez sherry from Osborne (A).

In short, a poncey place to see and be seen, good for business lunches if you have them. Personally I won’t be going back.

El Buey (Advanced D), 9 C/General Diaz Polier, restauranteelbuey.com

The sister restaurant in Placa de la Marina Espanola has a great rep for its sizzling steaks, cooked on a hotplate on your table. Here, I found the meat tough and expensive for it was.

The worst thing though was the inedible seafood and some kind of vegetable ‘special’ they were offering that day which I have obliterated from my memory and don’t want to write about. Don’t go.

La Trainera, C/Lagasca 60, (Advanced D), Tel . 915 768 035, www.latrainera.es

A very posh seafood and champagne place, beloved by cabinet ministers and captains of industry with large expense accounts. It’s just opposite the side entrance to Mercado de la Paz, which boded well for the quality and freshness of the mariscos sold here. It’s a warren of rooms (I know because I turned the first two tables down and got a tour of the place). The decor of ‘The Drifter’ is lots of varnished wood with ship wheels in every alcove to hammer home the seafaring theme.

There are two ranks of waiters, lowly plate bearers in white and section bosses in blue. The chap who greeted me was fine but from then on the service was brusque and unsmiling in the extreme. Not sure if it was because I was a scruffy English sod in trainers and shorts or whether they’re like that to everyone who they don’t know (probably the latter given the negative reviews on TripAdvisor). The manager came in to our four table room and asked the Spanish diners if everything was ok but ignored myself and an English couple on another table which said it all really. I’d always thought that posh Spaniards could be awful snobs and this just hammered it home.

I asked whether all six of the Rueda whites where Verdejo’s (probably a stupid question) but just had the wine list read out to me in order by way of reply. The recommendation when it came was for the most expensive one (Marques de Riscal 2011) and I can’t say I was too impressed (C+). I’ve had some wonderfully fragrant bottles of this grape in the past but, although very dry, this one just didn’t satisfy.

I started with the Canapes de Gambas which were small slices of white bread with the crusts cut off and a slice of persimmon topped with a couple of shelled prawns and doused with what looked like Thousand Island dressing, but I was too scared to ask. They were very good though (A).

To follow a plate of Almejas al Natural, uncooked shucked clams in their shells, served on a bed of ice with wedges of lemon, again very good (A). I toyed with the idea of a main dish but by this time I was already pretty pissed off with the treatment I had been getting and thought better of it.

I was even toying with the idea of a negative review on Trip Advisor, not something I have ever done before but this place deserved every word of bile I could muster. And then the bill came. They wanted €56 for the clams!! The waiter had not even bothered to listen to me when I had ordered 200g, not a lot I admit, but I had only wanted to try them. I remonstrated with the manager and got it reduced to just over €20.

I calculate that in the last 12 years, I have eaten in over 300 hundred restaurants in Spain, and this was the worse treatment I have ever received in all that time. Looking at Trip Advisor I can see that I was not the only one to have been treated this way by “el Camarero de la pena de muerte”. Go to Marisqueria Ribeira do Mino in Chueca instead and notice the difference.

And on that cheery note I shall curtail this discussion on the love/hate relationship I have with this part of Madrid!

For other neighbourhoods in Salamanca that adjoin Goya please see the separate posts for El Retiro and the Lista, Castellana, Recoletos and Ibiza barrios.

Pics uploaded Feb 2014 and May 2012.

Madrid – Barrio Salamanca – Eating & Drinking cheaply in Goya neighbourhood

Posted in Goya, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , on March 31, 2017 by gannet39

Goya is in the central southern part of Barrio Salamanca, bordered by Calle Principe de Vegara to the west (see my Recoletos posts), Calle de Don Ramón de la Cruz to the north (see my Lista post), Calle del Dr. Esquerdo to the east and Calle de O’Donnell to the south (see my Ibiza posts). Please also see my separate posts for food shopping and posher places to eat in Goya.

Map of Madrid here. Map of Goya barrio here.

Here are a few medium-range bars and restaurants I can vouch for:

Cafetería Avanty’s (High Elementary B), 15 Calle del General Pardiñas

This is a favourite spot for my work colleagues as it’s cheap and convenient for the Hotel Catalonia Goya. It’s a fair sized bar with a large selection of Spanish standards which is fine if you’re not too fussy.

For me the food generally scores a C so I tend to just drink here and graze on their complementary tapas. When buying beer it’s good to know they charge nearly the same for a doble as a caña! But it’s still much cheaper than anywhere else I know in Barrio Salamanca.

Someone please tell me how I was supposed to eat these crabs.

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Taberna de la Daniela (Intermediate B+), 21 Calle del General Pardiñas, Tel. 91 575 2329, www.tabernaladaniela.com

Just a few minutes walk from the Hotel Catalonia Goya, this is one of a small chain of Danielas dotted around town. It looks like a good choice with its tiled walls, crowded tapas bar and constantly busy restaurant. I come here fairly frequently with my colleagues because it’s convenient, friendly and the food is fairly decent.

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And most importantly it is one of the best places in Madrid to eat Cocido Madrileno, a hearty chickpea stew that I adore.

Once eaten in winter, people now eat it at any time, especially for Sunday lunch, which is when I usually have it at Daniella’s. Traditionally it’s served in three stages, although it’s been narrowed down to two in modern times.

First the stock is used to make a tasty noodle soup.

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In past times you would then get the veg course (principally chickpeas, cabbage and carrot) and finally the meat, thus saving the best for last in poverty stricken homes. However, in these more affluent days the vegetables and meat usually come together.

At Daniela’s you get a chicken drumstick, a lump of bacon, a chunk of marrow bone, slices of black pudding and chorizo and some other hunk of meat (veal?) and a square of quivering gelatinous lard. The lard doesn’t look very appetizing but trust me, it’s actually the most flavoursome ingredient in the whole stew, just cut it very thinly and eat it in small slices.

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Couple this with a few glasses of decent red and you’ll quickly find it’s siesta time! You’re going nowhere after that lot.

Total cost before wine €26.50, worth every penny.

I’ve had tapas here a few times and they are ok (usually scoring a B) and the portions are generous (especially the morcilla!) but I’d avoid the Ternera con Castada y Puree de Manzana (C). Tapas are a euro cheaper if you eat in the bar.

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The servers in the restaurant, especially Paula, are lovely and have a good sense of humour. If you ask for a digestif they will leave the bottle on the table and it won’t appear on the bill.

Micota (Intermediate C+), Calle Costello 18, www.micota.com

This grill house is very near the Hotel Centro and serves ok food, although some dishes are better than others.

My options from the extensive Menu del Dia were grilled chicken with gravy (B), baked potato (C), coco de pastel aka coconut tart (B).

The waiting staff are very nice if a bit over efficient at times (different ones ask you the same questions all the time). It’s €2 extra to eat outside.

El Olivar de Ayala (Elementary B), 84 Calle 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.

Bars near the Hotel Goya:

I try to avoid drinking in the bar of the Hotel Goya. Canas are a hefty €3 and a Cuba Libre costs nearly €12, and that’s after I taught them how to make it!

If it’s open, which it hasn’t been for a while, a much cheaper and very nearby option is the Barley Bar (turn left out of the Hotel Centro and it’s on the first corner). Plain and simple, it looks small but there’s an upstairs seating area with a telly if you want to watch the match. The decor is on an English pub theme although the old couple who run it don’t speak a word of the language.

For an alternative to brandy, I find a glass of Anis La Castellana (the best stuff comes from Chinchon) to be a nice way to end the evening.

Pics uploaded May 2012

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