Getting off the beaten track in Madrid – restaurants

I’ve been reading a travel blog called Nomadic Matt for a while now. It’s about travelling on a budget, and getting off the beaten track. Recently however, I went to his page of Madrid recommendations … I was not impressed! At all. The list of things to do included all the big hitters (don’t get me wrong, the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums and the Plaza Mayor are great, but they are not exactly getting off the beaten track) but not a single non-touristy recommendation.

In terms of food, for those on a budget, he recommended MCDONALDS. MCDONALDS!!!!!! In Madrid!!!!! A city where a ginormous pincho of tortilla can cost less than 2 euro. Where there are numerous bars giving out free tapas with drinks. Where food in general is cheap. And delicious. If you come to Madrid, DO NOT GO TO MCDONALDS.

Phew. Glad I’ve got that one off my chest. But reading that made me not trust the blog anymore. If he had gotten Madrid so wrong, who knew what he’d gotten wrong about other places. It also made me start thinking about where I would recommend…. A fuller version of this blog post will come at the end of my time in Madrid because there are still hundreds of places that I’ve been recommended and am yet to try out…. But here are my favourite-so-far restaurants in Madrid. In no particular order. <updated a month later at the end of July 2015>

La Maquina – on the wonderful Calle Ponzano – a large restaurant with a buzzing bar at the front. This place specialises in seafood but also does the best croquetas I have eaten since moving to Madrid. It’s part of a little Madrid chain with pop-up restaurants in the Gourmet Experience section of Corte Ingles. Mains are between €10 – €15, with steaks and some fish more expensive and a good choice of sharing dishes.

Sala de despiece I’ve written a whole separate review post about this restaurant as I love it so much, one of my favourites in Madrid, and again, on Calle Ponzano. Reasonable cost, innovative and delicious tapas, all in a bustling bar where you will have to squish in and might have to stand up to eat. It’s one of the coolest places in Madrid right now 🙂 IMG_7219 Contraseña – again, guess where?! Calle Ponzano. A beautiful bar area with fantastic tiles on the tables, it is famous for its gin and tonics. But go round the bar into the back and you will find a light and airy restaurant, serving delicious tapa around the €10 mark and a selection of meat and fish between €15 and €20. Don’t go for the meat and fish though, its good, but nothing special. Gorge out on the tapas, especially the berenjenas (fried aubergines, served with honey – a traditional Andalucian dish), the anchoas and, perhaps surprisingly, the huevos 63.

Paraguas – a beautiful, more traditional restaurant on Calle Jorge Juan – just east of Calle Serrano and north of the Retiro park. It’s a really pretty street, quiet and cobbled with numerous small restaurants, and Paraguas has a terrace with fairy lights in the bushes. It’s not cheap, more of a special treat restaurant, but you can still eat well for €50 – €60 a head, including some cava to start and wine (speaking from experience!). I had the albóndigas de Rabo de Toro – oxtail meatballs – and they were absolutely incredible, perhaps the best meatballs I’ve ever had. The meat was succulent and tender and bursting with flavour.

Cava Baja – this is in fact a street, not a restaurant, and its just south of tourist central (Plaza Mayor). It’s a street lined with tapas bars and is packed on weekends by Madrileños, especially at the southern end of the street where the narrow road opens up into little squares filled with chairs and tables from the nearby restaurants. It’s in the La Latina area. In terms of specific restaurants, Casa Lucio is well recommended as is Casa Lucas. La Concha is always ridiculously busy and La Chata has beautiful tiles and delicious tapas. I’ve eaten in the Posada del Leon de Oroin the bar area, but the restaurant also looks awesome with a glass floor looking down to the wine cellar below. And the walls around the bar area were also filled with wine bottles. It’s a place to go for gin & tonics with a ridiculously long list of gins, and the croquetas  were also delicious. Also right at the end is El Viajero which has an awesome roof terrace – I ate up there with my friends this weekend and the burrata, while expensive (€11 which we shared between 3), was to die for. The house salad was great as well (a tuna mayonaise potato salad). And delicious croquetas. IMG_7572 Plaza Santa Barbara – is a square just south of Alonso Martinez metro, at the northern end of Chueca. It has Burger King on it … don’t go there! There are a row of nice tapas bars, all with outdoor seating. The food is cheap and good, with quick service and nice wine. Its a fantastic spot for people-watching and a favourite of mine for when I’m eating alone on a sunny evening. IMG_7480 Lady Madonna – I stumbled upon this cute restaurant one sunny lunch time with my mum – it’s on a side street just off the Plaza Santa Barbara (by the way, this whole square, just south of Alonso Martinez, is a great spot to grab a chair in the sun, have a drink and some cheap tapas and watch the world go by).  I’ve only eaten there once, but would definitely go back as the tables outside were lovely and the restaurant looked very cool indoors. Mum and I both had hamburgers for just less than €13 and they were DELICIOUS. Really, really good burgers.The food is delicious, presented beautifully and has a great choice between small dishes, fish, meat and those burgers. And then the pudding … I went for lemon tart and it came in a beautiful little jar, lemon-y and sweet and yum. Actually now I’m thinking about going back just for that pudding. IMG_7059 Whitbys – trendy, laid-back, the kind of place you can get through numerous gin and tonics and spend all evening with your friends, take your mum for a quick dinner, or even sit with friends and a baby (seen, not something I’ve done!). The service isn’t fantastic but its incredibly busy and the bar staff are always rushing around working hard, just raise your hand in the air and shout when you see them (politely!) and you should be okay. It’s a lovely light restaurant, with glass walls all round and a comfortable terrace outside, situated on Calle Almagro, in between Alonso Martinez and Ruben Dario. Pinchos are less than €5 and the foie con manzana with goat’s cheese is an incredibly rich, delicious paté that’s well worth trying. IMG_6986 The “compartimos” (to share) section ranges from €5.60 to €17 (for the jamón iberico, of course) and includes tasty croquetas, a cheese board (even my mum who hates blue cheese seemed to like this blue cheese) and my favourite dish – tallarines de calabacín – courgette noodles, mixed with real noodles, sundried tomatoes, parmesan, truffle, and a hell-a-lot of garlic. It is one of my favourite dishes in Madrid – light, healthy, garlicky and still filling due to the actual noodles. Perfect. IMG_7478 Poncelet Cheese Bar – I wouldn’t recommend going here unless you LOVE cheese. And I mean, really love cheese. Luckily I do 🙂 Every dish on the menu comes with cheese, and although there are a few you can ask for without the cheese, you’ll then be paying quite a lot of money for something you could have much cheaper elsewhere. Another tip – don’t get the main meals and instead go for some tablas de queso. We started with croquetas made with goat’s cheese and shared a parmesan salad and a roast beef dish (topped with cheese, obviously), before moving on to a cheese platter. Six cheeses of varying strengths and locations around Spain were served to us, and the waiter explained in great English exactly what each cheese was. The cheeses were INCREDIBLE. Then we decided to treat ourselves to pudding, having the most ridiculously cheesy cheesecake I’d ever eaten (but it was coated in white chocolate, mmmmmm) and an apple pie served with stilton. Clever. Cheesy. Delicious. IMG_7578 Mercado de San Anton – this is an awesome food market in Chueca, just south of the Chueca metro stop. The ground floor is a proper Spanish market, with legs of ham hanging from the ceiling, goggly-eyed fish staring at you from their beds of ice, and rows upon rows of cheeses. Up to the next floor, and there are food stalls lining the walls and lots of places to sit. But if you go up to the top floor, you come out onto a roof terrace over-looking Chueca, We had three tintos de verano for a total of just over €10 (my friends were shocked, thinking that was the price for one!) IMG_7559

Once inside, the seafood stall serves incredibly cheap tapas, at €1 per item. It’s absolutely delicious and their anchoas are wonderful. I’ve also shared a huge cheese platter – cheese is always great and this was a nice mix of hard, soft, goat’s (with a caramelised top) and blue cheese. The atmosphere is lively and bustling and it’s a great taste of Madrid life.

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Platea – another food market! This is a posh one in a converted theatre. The deli section is incredible (although expensive compared to Madrid prices), but push your way through the Spanish abuelas and you end up in a huge space with a stage right in front of you. There are food stalls all around the side of the theatre and a long bar. I still haven’t eaten there but am desperate to go back and try the cheese platter (10 cheeses and you can choose exactly which ones you eat). Platea hosts music and various shows on the main stage, so if, for example, you fancy some homemade croquettas while drinking a g&t and listening to live jazz, it’s a great place to go. IMG_6649 Lateral – a Madrid chain with relatively cheap (around 4 euro) tapas dishes – all very tasty and cleverly done. The risotto is always delicious although incredibly unhealthy. Tempura vegetables were battered so lightly and served with yoghurt for dipping and the tostas of pork and brie are incredible – rich, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. The croquettes are nothing special however, and the service can be awful…. But the one near me on Castellana has an outdoor terrace perfect for enjoying the sun. It’s a big hit with the Spanish and so if you get there before Spanish eating times (try 1pm for lunch or 9pm for dinner) you’ll be looked at slightly strangely but should have no problem getting a table. Cocktails and tinto de verano are great, and the house red is a lovely Rioja. It’s a favourite for a quick post-work dinner with friends, where we might all turn up at different times and want to eat different amounts of food.

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Corte Ingles – I’ve just put this one on the end because it has a nice roof terrace that overlooks central Madrid (I am talking about the Corte Ingles at Callao) and the gourmet food section has lots of little pop-up restuarants, including one from La Maquina (mentioned above). A good spot for a few glasses of white wine and some croquetas I would suggest.

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