Old. Spanish. Luxury! I was only in Madrid for 36 hours so every minute counted. I wanted to treat Missus Tasty to a little extra luxury for this leg of our Spanish vacation so I started with old world, Spanish luxury right from the airport with a private driver. He whisked us from the modern Madrid airport to the historical and opulent Ritz Hotel. Madrid oozes old world from the architecture to the food to the people. Whether you’re here for a week or a quick layover slip yourself back to old Spain and soak up the traditions and history.
Mercado de San Miguel: This market was a working wet market just a few years ago. Now it’s been converted into a food hall serving the best of central Spanish cuisine. Make an afternoon of it working your way from the beer to the ham to the seafood to the wine. Leave room for coffee and dessert because this market has it all.
Pza. de San Miguel, Madrid, Madrid
Oita Café: This cafe, on the thin, quaint, Hortaleza street, is a perfect mid-afternoon stop for a cake (or pastry) and a cafe con leche.
Calle de Hortaleza, 30, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid
Caoba: This experience is partly why I occasionally stay in expensive hotels. Besides the luxury, a 5 star hotel concierge is your key to the city and in this case reservations in the private room of one of Madrid’s best restaurants. So amazing was this meal that it deserved a more detailed explanation which I share below. As one of my top 10 meals in life the modern twist on old Spanish classics is an adventure with every course. The adventure starts from the second you sit down with a menu that simply outlines three options for your meal in which you are to choose one. The obsure and obtuse names only allow you to see how many courses you’ll be served but not disclose what those courses will be. I went for the most coursed which they dubbed, Surprise Me.
Pintor Rosales, 76 Lisboa, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid
El Barril de las Letras: This is a hip and younger crowd with many ex-pat students bellying up for a beer or glass of vino in the early afternoon. A good stop for a sip and snack before returning to your hotel for a nap before dinner.
CH&CH: A combo like no other. This cafe focuses on Hot chocolate and fresh churros. Get a seat at the bar towards the back and watch the churros squeeze from the pastry bag and into the hot oil. Dip the fresh churro in your chocolate and enjoy the smiles that fill the shop.
Pza. de San Miguel 1 C/ Mayor 54, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid
Uvepan: Need a sweet. This bakery has it. With the largest selection I saw in all of Madrid this is a stop you can’t miss. If nothing else get a picture of the endless glass display counters containing the prettiest and sweetest of Madrid’s baked goods.
Paseo de las Acacias: Breakfast is simple in Madrid. Usually a cafe and pastry. We fancied the chocolate croissant. They can be found everywhere but finding the best is a tough challenge. We had our best at this cafe along with delicious cafe con leches. The pastry was light and flakey and the chocolate rich and creamy. The key was it’s proper distribution across the croissant. Many bakeries only provide a chocolate ribbon down the center but here the cocoa sweet permeates the entire inside of the pastry. That with a perfectly dipped chocolate end makes this a must stop for breakfast. 22, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid
El Barril de las Letras: A great spot for dinner but a better spot for lunch. Amidst the spanish elite this is as close to a power lunch as you can get in MAdrid. The space is a white washed interior designers dream. The food is uber fresh and quinticenssially eastern Spanish. the seafood is what you come for. From razor clams to octopus there is not bad choice. Cervantes, 28, Madrid
Hotel Ritz: If you want to go big there is no bigger n Madrid than the ritz. With gold woven throughout every guest room and communal space you feel like a Spanish king or queen from the second the house mercedes drops you at the front door. Be sure to request a non-smoking room. The old school still exists on the top two floors which are still smoking rooms. Make sure to have a cafe in the main lobby and admire the decor and guests alike. While we were waiting for our room to be prepared the Spanish elite, with press in tow, had a morning meeting at the table next to ours. Pza. de la Lealtad, 5, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid
Aeropuerto de Madrid-Barajas: It’s not often you include the airport as a place to see when visiting a city. MAD is an amazing, modern, yellow structure complete with art, shopping and eating that rivals some city greats. arrive a little early upon your departure to soak up the best of what they have to offer.
Av de la Hispanidad, s/n, Madrid, Madrid
Plaza de Santa Ana: This plaza is much smaller than some of the main spots in Madrid but well worth the trip. Around the circumference of the 1 block square are some great cafes and restaurants worth sitting in and watching the square. Off the east side is a narrow street that eventually leads to Plaza Mayor. Along the way are some great small shops and off the tourist path curiosities.
Pza de Santa Ana, Madrid, Madrid
Plaza Mayor: You can’t go to Madrid and not walk through this plaza. Not just because it is majestic and filled with great Spanish culture but also because it’s so immense that you can’t walk around Madrid without stumbling into it.
Pza. Mayor, Madrid, Madrid
Museo Nacional del Prado : Arguably my favorite museum in Europe and perhaps the world. Partially because it contains work by my favorite artist, Hyronomous Bosch and partially because of the simple but beautiful permanent collection I find this a tangible, digestible amount of art to incorporate to any Madrid stop. With in 2 hours you could peruse the three floors of mostly spanish works and have time for a snack at the cafe.
Cuchillerias Simon: A great store if you’re looking for some sharp kitchen tools of all sorts. From chef’s knives to nail clippers this men’s cutlery haberdash has what you need.
Calzados Toledo: $40 handmade shoes. Need I say more? Stop by and check out the simple styles and artisan craftsmanship on their zapattos. Although, check the store hours before you go, they have random hours. The location right off plaza Mayor helps because you’ll probably pass by a few times during your stay.
C/ Toledo, 20, Madrid, Madrid
Ask the concierge
Missus Tasty likes to believe this experience was augmented because they thought we were Italian mobsters. I say it had everything to do with Alejando, the Ritz concierge, hooking us up with the private dining room. Either way, when we arrived we were escorted to a private room with a long 15 foot table in it. Seated at the far end of the table the other overlooked the kitchen through an enormous picture window.
The menu contained only three items, none of them mentioned food details. The last “Surprise Me”, was a 9-course menu that we decided to order along with wine pairings. Not that there was a shortage of wine to choose from. In stark contrast to the food menu, the wine menu came on an iPad and was 1000’s of bottles deep. The interactive exploration divided up by region and then grape made for an entertaining and addictive decision process. After 5 minutes perusing the idea to ask for chef pairings seemed extremely intelligent.
The window became filled with bustling chefs preparing many of the dishes we just ordered. We were mesmerized by the orchestrated movement beyond the glass. Our stare was broken when the first wine came to our excessively large table. Cava for the missus and a crisp white for me. That was followed by our first course which was made up of three bites. First a smoked mussel with chipotle pepper on a small dollop of polenta. The next bite was a cream of vegetable soup poured around fresh ricotta. The 50/50 split of soup to cheese provided an interesting consumption. Switching off between a sip from the glass and a spoon of the cheese provided a different set of flavors and balance with each bite. The third in the set was a simple caprese salad made with local tomatoes and fresh cheese.
Our second course was a beautiful presentation. On one end of a long rectangular plate was a perfectly spiraled rabbit terrine sitting on pear confit. A purple violet and spoon of pomegranate seeds balanced out the other end of the plate.
Third was the soup. This evening it was an artichoke soup with shrimp, tomato and basil basil. A perfectly toasted and shaped black bread crostini accompanied this delicate course.
Our next course was split because Preethi is not a huge fish lover. She had a fois gras risotto. This I had never heard of before. The visible chunks of fois made this the richest and most opulent dish of the evening. My counterpart to her risotto was an equally decadent papperdelle with pheasant ragu. It was plated atop a truffle cream cheese sauce that was fresh pea green.
By this point in the evening we were feeling the food but still ready for more. The one thing I asked the concierge at the Ritz was to send us to a restaurant that specialized in amazing pork but I didn’t want the standard old skool roasted pig. Expecting the pork to be next we were surprised when once again two different plates came to the table. For Preethi a slow, braised veal with an olive oil potato canaille. For me, sea bream with vegetable hash and celery root slaw. Finishing that and our 5th glass of wine challenged our stomachs as we knew there was still an entree to come.
As our veal and fish plates were cleared our waiters brought in another table and placed it at the end of our underused dinner table. We were dumbfounded and couldn’t image why more table space was necessary. The answer was an entire slow braised pig knuckle carved table side. The roasted pig leg was plated with a bed of mashed potatoes laced with melted gruyere. To finish a rich and silky smooth red wine reduction sauce was drizzled liberally over the meat.
Finally on the other side of the big dishes we slowed this up with a four part cheese course. Of them the a super stinky sheeps cheese took the crown for most aged. A hard yellow sheep cheese covered in pig oil made by an old woman in a small village was definitely the most unique of the four. The chef imported this special from the village in which it was made making monthly visits to get the best picks.
Dessert was yogurt and grilled pineapple with dolce de leche ice cream. Each component had it’s own dessert wine bringing my total upwards of 12 glasses.
Even the petit fours were amazing. The mini creme brulee was the best of them but the lightly dusted sugar cookie has an elegant simplicity as well. As we sipped our cafe the kitchen wound down. The lights dimmed and then went black in the previously bright bustling kitchen. The rest of the restaurant had emptied out leaving the entire staff at our beck and call, not that we had much more in the way of needs. We were taken care of quite well at Caoba. Our waiter and educator on what we had consumed finally brought the check. As he subtly placed it on the table he thanked us for dining with him. He also asked that we thank Alejandro, the concierge which brings us to the moral of this experience. Hook up with the people who know the city and ask them to send you to their favorite place. Sometimes staying at the ultra lux hotel has built in and unforeseen perks. A reservation in the private room of a restaurant in this caliber is not something anyone who rolls into town would know to book let alone have the connections to make it happen. Like the cab driver-tour guide trick, the concierge-maitre D tip is equally effective.
A stand in mercado de San Miguel
A random street while lost in Madrid
The wine list at Caoba
Hot chocolate and churros
In the Prado museum