Madrid food markets, tapas and the world’s oldest restaurant

During my short visit to the two main cities of Spain, I have got to say I was a lot more impressed by Madrid. Maybe because there seemed to be less tourists (and consequently less tourist traps and scams), but the culture and food was also much better. There are restaurants scattered throughout the place, but thankfully the ones near the city centre are actually all very good.

My first stop was an accidental stumble across the San Miguel food market (Mercado De San Miguel) located at Plaza De San Miguel. Only just a short stroll from Sol, the market houses many small stores which sell everything from fresh produce, meats and seafood, tapas, dessert and drinks. Open from early to late (past midnight), I went in during lunch time to try some local delicacies.

€5.80 for two from a choice of many

The first one was a prawn with a herb butter cream on toast. The prawn was fresh and juicy and goes well with the cream. I could not really identify what flavours were in the cream exactly but it had a very light taste. It could use some lemon but otherwise it was still a nice small snack. The other toast was with crab salad and fish. It was extremely creamy with a lot of mayonnaise. Generally, I’m not that big a fan when there’s so much mayonnaise that the crab stick flavour gets drowned out.

Onion croquette / Chorizo croquette – €1.50 each

Normally the croquettes I am used to are filled with a potato filling with some additional ingredients. Instead, the croquette here is filled with a flavoured mousse which comes as a surprise. I’m guessing that they’ve churned chorizos and onions through until they became a mousse, but the flavour is spot on and it is an interesting and delicious take on the croquette. Personally, the onion one was much more flavoursome than the chorizo.

Mixed paella – €3.50 (tapas size)

When I got my paella order, it was towards the end of the lunch period and there wasn’t much paella left in the giant pan. Needless to say, it wasn’t that fresh anymore but it was still a lot more flavoursome than the ones in Sydney. The mixed one contains both chicken and seafood (mussels and squid) but tastes a lot more of seafood rather than chicken.

Mixed burger tapas of beef and pork – €12

This one was a wild order as I pointed at the Spanish sign and tried to converse with the person behind the meat counter. The result was me choosing beef and pork and four small rolls/burgers appearing on my plate. In essence, it was just a mini grilled snack with well cooked meat in a plain mini bun.

Scallop mornay/gratin – €5.50

When eating this, I noticed that the layer on top was extremely thin and not apparent at all in my mouth. What I could taste were bits of fresh scallop enveloped by what appeared to be a creamy mornay or gratin. A bit overpriced for one but still nice.

After my food adventure at the food market, my next two restaurant dinners would occur just a couple minutes stroll down the road. Restaurante Botin is a deceptively large restaurant (four storeys) that holds the Guiness World Record for the oldest restaurant, having been in operation since 1725! They’re known for their good hearty food so of course I had to try it out.

We were seated downstairs in a small room off the main area which was highly reminiscent of a castle dungeon. The restaurant has quite a good atmosphere and was packed full when we arrived at 10pm. Later in the night, there was even a guitar quintet (a bunch of local uni students) who came and did a live performance for everyone to enhance the mood.

Roast suckling pig, specialty – €23.45

This was a dish I had read online and is what Restaurante Botin is allegedly famous for. When the dish arrived, two large pieces of pork sat in front of me with a side of roast potatoes. The crackling on the pork was very thin and delicate – excellent because this meant that the layer of fat was also very thin. Despite this, there was still a lot of crunch and the pork meat was extremely supple and tender. With limited added seasoning, this pork oozed all the natural flavours and was not too oily at all. An absolutely standout!

Roast baby lamb, specialty – €23.45

Another specialty of the restaurant was the roast baby lamb. I’ve never had lamb served with the skin before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The skin and the meat was both soft and juicy and strangely enough tasted just like chicken. The meat was chewy and lots of it fell right off the bone. It also lacked much fat and so displayed every quality I would expect of roast chicken…except the meat smelt like lamb. This caused a massive conflict in my mind, but nevertheless it was still a tasty meat dish.

Pitcher of sangria – €11

Our pitcher of sangria was deceptively large and filled our glasses several times. Light and fruity, it did not contain a heavy wine taste at all, which is what I like.

The next night was spent on the same street at a nearby restaurant called La Bodega Bohemia. A friend on exchange had joined us and still hadn’t had Spanish food so we made sure our last night was spent indulging in some good tapas and paella!

Prawns in oil and garlic sauce – €12

At last we got to eat garlic prawns and boy was it delicious! Brought out on a steaming hot plate, the prawns were succulent and juicy, still bubbling away in the garlic oil. It contained a very strong garlic flavour which went extremely well with the prawns.

Arroz negro (prawns, mussels, cuttlefish, broad beans, artichokes, cuttlefish ink, peas and peppers) – €12

Not your conventional looking paella, I thought I’d give one coloured in ink another go. Essentially just a seafood paella in cuttlefish ink, as usual it tasted a lot better with the wedge of lemon. I found that this one didn’t really have that cheesy ink taste but nevertheless it still tasted good. This one was not as generous in terms of seafood portions as previous ones however.

And to top off all our dinners, we had to try some churros of course! Chocolateria San Gines is a famous churros house and is said to serve the best churros. The walls are adorned with celebrities who have visited, although I did not recognise any of them besides Naomi Campbell.

Hot chocolate with 6 churros – €3.70

The churros here are extremely affordable and are soft yet still crispy. They are served with a thick dark chocolate mix which still has some sweet flavour. Personally, I think it tastes a bit boring. San Churros in Sydney is still the best churros I’ve had so far since their churros are crunchier and they have a wide range of dippings (here there is just the one). If this place is famous for churros, I would say thank goodness someone brought them to Sydney and discovered how to improve them!

Overall the quality of food at Madrid is extremely high. And it’s all convenient too – if you map all the restaurants I visited they are all within 5-10 minutes walking distance of each other. Definitely do try the suckling pig, tapas and paella if you come here along with the food markets but the churros can be missed.

In Madrid I dined at:

Mercado De San Miguel
Plaza De San Miguel (next to Plaza Mayor)

Restaurante Botin
17 Calle de Cuchilleros, Madrid
Ph: 91 366 42 17

La Bodega Bohemia
Cava De San Miguel 7, 28005 Madrid

Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 11  28013 Madrid
Ph: 913 656 546


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