Monday, 11 July 2011

Madrid, Spain - Greedy Diva's Gluttonous Travels

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.

The roof top pool at Hotel Emperador
View from the pool area

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).

Mercado san Miguel

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.

Gooey coffee meringue heaven

And all this before official lunch time.

Fried cod and beers at Vinos Revuelta

Calamari at Bar Postas Cerveceria

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.

Sampling the goods

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!)
 For lunch, we decide we can't go home without making a meal of some roast suckling pig - and Botin is the right place for that. Although it's touristy (in the way that Rules is touristy for London), it's not tackorama - it's retained the charm of its long history and is a great place to rest in the cool over a long meal of crisp crackling and juicy pork of the highest order. We also share jamon with artichokes and mixed green vegetables, and some Ribera del Duero. At over 30 euros per head, it's by far our most expensive meal, but a good place to try on your first trip to Madrid (another tip from Simon).

That's what we're here for...

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.


  1. First you made me go to Puglia, now Madrid. DAMN YOU DIVA. (That's what my credit card is shouting. My stomach is shouting 'HOORAY!')

  2. Suckling pig! Suckling pig! It's been a good few years since I've ventured to Madrid, I need to go back for some porcine goodness!

  3. Ahhhh your post brings back great memories - I visited Madrid for the first time in May and the Mercado San Miguel was a definite highlight. I remember the jamon stand and I had one of those meringues, but the pink one instead :)

  4. I LOVE La Venencia. My cousin lives in Madrid and it was the first bar anyone ever took her to, so we visit often for the sake of good memories when I visit. Not far from there is a great place for garlic shrimp. Sherry and shrimp. I love Spain!

  5. Oh my god that Coffee Meringue thing looks like the most delicious thing on earth. I keep getting tapas cravings but this is a whole new level.

  6. Hotel with a roof top pool - such a great idea in the land of siestas and heat. We stayed at hotel with amazing roof top pool in Bangkok and being able to dive into that refreshing water after canvassing the city in hot and sticky weather was PRICELESS.
    Last time I visited Madrid was in November and it was freezing cold! But the scene was still warm and lively.

  7. Looks amazing, esp that cracklin. I'm so jealous.

  8. Love, Love Madrid and it has been far too long since I have been there. Although GD I think you have an obsession for hotels with rooftop pools.

  9. Great post- we went in December and I think it's a very different city in winter. Had an amazing time (spent far too much time in a few of the museo de jamon) but now I can't wait to get back there in Summer. Did you get any of the churros?

  10. I only fell in love with Madrid on my second visit in March, mostly due to the fact that on the said visit I found Mercado San Miguel! We also went at least three times - as well as the perfect place to graze on food all day it's a excellent place for late night Rioja too. I'll definitely be back - this time instead of our Hostel (which was very good too) I'll be opting for that swimming pool option

  11. Madrid is one of my favourite European cities, the tapas bars and the laid back way of the Madrilenos make it so special. I feel at home in Madrid! Lovely post Carly.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  12. I'm heading to Madrid next week and I look forward to it :-) Have a great Easter :-)


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