Flamboyant Barcelona is generally considered the Spanish city of fun and frivolity. Contradictory to popular opinion, I believe Madrid is where the party really happens; a city where one can eat, drink and dance for eternity. From fine dining to calamari sandwiches, Europe’s third largest city has an insatiable appetite. Its capital status attracts the best chefs and the finest ingredients, meaning eating out in Madrid can be a theatrical and unforgettable experience. Affectionately known as ‘Los Gatos’, the cats, Madrileños – Madrid’s inhabitants – are renowned for their love of the night and Madrid has plenty to offer its nocturnal citizens. Similarly, the Spanish capital is a city of students, playing host to numerous prestigious business schools and acclaimed universities, thus, Madrid is a city of party people. We saw some of Madrid’s most torrential November showers of the millennium during my stay, however, despite being sodden, my spirits were never dampened.
Formally recognised as the world’s oldest restaurant, Botín opened in 1725 and it signifies Madrid’s culinary tradition and quality. Head here for roasted lamb and cochonillo asado – suckling pig, which are cooked over a vine shoot fire in their enormous oven. Booking is a must at this historic eatery, if you can, reserve a table in the vaulted cellar which, although musty, gives a real sense to the age of the building. We ordered both the lamb and the piglet, eager not to miss out on the experience. The pork is cut effortlessly into portions with a dinner plate. This routine is a theatrical boast, demonstrating just how tender the meat is. As you can imagine the eating was splendid, but you would hope so after nearly three centuries of practice. I personally preffered the lamb because of its more complex, richer flavour. The meat is served with a no frills selection of sides – a mixed bowl of green vegetables, roast potatoes and wonderfully tasty gravy, made from the juices of the cooked meat. Admittedly, the food at Restaurante Botín is very tasty but it is little more than a very pricey roast dinner. Understandably, you are paying for their honourable title but the food, surroundings, atmosphere and company did make the experience worth it.
Mercado de San Miguel
This central city market, situated a short walk from Plaza Mayor, is frequented by tourists and locals alike. A food-lovers paradise, this former fish market houses 33 stalls offering a variety of fresh, traditional Spanish fare. My troop and I made a conscious effort to sample as much as possible. We began with some exhilarating oysters, topped with a chilli-citrus dressing; the fresh, clean flavours were a good start to the expedition. Opposite the oyster bar is a pintxos vendor who tops his slices of bread with a variety of different seafood, a logical next step after the oysters. The cod pintxo, topped with honey mustard dressing, was particularly tasty but the smoked herring and avocado option won my heart. Content we had consumed enough fish, we searched for carnivorous treats. I was told by a friend who lived in the city that I must try the traditional Callos Madrilenos. As the days get shorter and the weather a little cooler, the paprika fumes of this beef tripe and chorizo stew waft through Madrid’s narrow old-town streets. We easily found a steaming pot of Callos Madrilenos at the market, so I seized my opportunity. I did not fall in love with the offal dish; the flavour of the sauce is intense and delicious but the intestines were a little chewy for my liking. Mercado de San Miguel is also home to multiple mini bodegas and wine bars where you can find great local wines to accompany the food. I got quite sozzled on a very hearty Rioja. To avoid the crowds, visit early in the day or late at night as the market is regularly open past midnight.
If you can find some elbow room at a table in this bustling bar, do dive in. Order a beer or cider and prepare to be amazed when a free plate of tapas arrives with it. With every round you order the plates of food get bigger. It was my editor’s birthday the evening we went to El Tigre which meant we ordered many rounds, and therefore ate a lot of tapas. My favourite bites were the cheese and jamόn croquettes, the stuffed mushrooms and the juicy chicken wings. We spent a few hours in the bar and it was always bustling, an excellent way to spend an evening with friends – or if you want a free supper.
Coco – Madrid Lux
If, like me, you have a certain penchant for Latin music, Coco is a brilliant nightclub in which to dance the night away. We went to this vast sanctuary of late-night ravers with two Dutch guys we had met at El Tigre, one was studying in Madrid and assured us it was a fun night out. At €10 for entry, which included two drinks, it was very reasonable. Having studied in London I was all too familiar with expensive nightclubs that lacked any atmosphere, something Coco possessed in abundance. From house music to Madonna, everyone dismissed their inhibitions and danced freely, often with a partner. Being a prudish Brit, this was unfamiliar to me. A couple of vodkas later, however, I had soon embraced the cultural differences – and a dance partner – boogying until 4am, hopefully unlike your dad at a wedding.