|Jamon Iberico at Mercado San Miguel|
Tapas bars bursting with noisy locals line the maze of narrow, sunbaked streets, plates of thinly sliced Iberico hams are washed down with sherry and chilled Rioja at 3am and chunks of salted cod are lightly battered and fried to perfection for an afternoon snack over a cold, refreshing beer. And it's 32 degrees Celcius and sunny every single day. Madrid would now have to be up there with my favourite European cities to visit. The whole time we were there, we were planning our next trip back.
TPG and I arrived late on Friday night and ventured into the city streets at 1am. Last drinks may have been called long ago in London, but here the Spanish are still prowling the streets in droves, mooching from bar to bar until about 3am, at which time they move on to cocktail hour at the clubs. We stumbled upon a tiny, apparently nameless place, "a bar for freaks", as our new friends Nacho and the Matador told us as they introduced us to local spirits Mama Juana (a deliciously sweet, herby rum) and Zocca (a light sweet, ouzo like drink). Many blurry riojas, beers, shots and plates of potatas and roasted peppers later, we merrily ask for the bill - a grand total of 15 euros. This is my kind of city.
We're based in the centrally located Hotel Emperador on the Calle Gran Via, a short stroll from all the bits you want to be in - like tapas bar central, around the Plaza Major and Puerto Del Sol (which is an ugly bit, but the surrounding streets are a tapas bar gold mine). Our hotel is chosen for the roof top pool overlooking the Madrid skyline - perfect for a sobering morning swim, or taking a few hours of (again, sobering) downtime in the late afternoon to recuperate for the night ahead. At a last minute deal of 105 euros per night, this hotel is an awesome find - we'd stay here again, even if the rooms are nothing special (although perfectly fine and the beds are huge).
By the time we haul our hung over arses out of bed and then out of the pool on Saturday morning, it's nearing midday as we arrive at the bustling Mercado San Miguel. This is a large indoor food market, packed with gourmet food and wine stalls. It's a must - we went at least 3 times. We perched at wooden tables drinking fabulous riojas at 3 euros per (large) glass and eating plate after plate of nutty Bellota Iberico ham, fresh octopus, oysters, seafood pinchos, stuffed olives and peppers bursting with luscious goats cheese. We also came back twice for excellent coffee and only seconds after declaring to TPG that "I don't do desserts", I was hoeing like an Iberican pig into a massive, gooey, coffee flavoured meringue that made me want to weep for joy. Other sweet highlights included bite sized baked custards and chocolate covered flaked almond clusters.
And all this before official lunch time.
We graze our way around the city, past the beautiful, white palace, dropping into free photography galleries along the way. After a spot of shopping in the posh, leafy streets of Salamanca, we head back for siesta and pool time. But not before afternoon tea - beer and superb fried cod at the excellent Vinos Revuelta (another must), a bar teeming with locals who throw their greasy napkins on the floor as they leave, then fried calamari and potatas bravas at seafood specialist, Bar Postas Cerveceria.
At 9pm, its time to hit the bars, starting with La Venencia, a superb sherry bar. We found this one on Chowhound, where Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos recommended it a few years ago as his favourite sherry bar in Madrid, and we have to concur (although I'm happy to continue the search...) It's a small, narrow, utterly charming room with high ceilings, paint peeling from the concrete walls and dusty bottles lining the shelves. We try 6 types of sherries at 2 euros or less per glass - from the lighter manzanilla, to fino, to silky dark olorosso (my favourite), to Amontillado and Palo Cortado. With each round we eat tapas of olives, hams, marcona almonds or cheese.
From there, we meet a friend living in Madrid who takes us to a fantastic little pincho bar in the busy area near Tribunal station, followed by a roof top bar for cocktails and then an outdoor bar for more rioja. Another 3am finish - and we're the early birds.
On Sunday, we head to the Ribera de Curtidores market area, where we browse through cool antique shops and more busy tapas bars, like Los Caracoles, which specialises in snails.
|Botin, for some roast suckling pig and ham with artichokes|
|This is half of the full serve (we split it to fit in more tapas!)|
Shops are generally closed on Sundays, but not on the last Sunday of each month - a spot of luck for us.
We arrive back in London's tepid so called "summer" feeling like we've had a beach holiday. The Spanish know how to live. This is one 2 hour flight I'll now be taking more often.