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Dealing with Late Dining in Madrid

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We'll be heading to Madrid later in the year, and we'd like some advice on how to deal with the rhythm of the day. Almost ten years ago, we last visited Madrid and the late dinner hours played havoc with our touring. We began by dining at 9:30 p.m. but it was too spooky being the only patrons in the restaurant for a half hour. Within two days, we were dining at 10:00 p.m. and noticing that we were still among the early arrivals. We ate extra-ordinary food, but...

Unfortunately, we're of an age that we con't go to sleep immediately after a full meal so we found ourselves staying awake until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. We were in no mood to wake up early for touring. Between our late night dinner habits and the Spanish siesta, if we managed to see one site each day it was a minor miracle. Now, I know that there are Hounds out there saying, "She ate well. What's the problem?"

For this trip, my husband and I assume we'll pull off a slightly earlier meal time by eating tapas/raciones as our complete dinner. If anyone can recommend a different strategy -- or offer any advice -- please do so! For example, should we consider treating lunch as our main meal? What's the lunch scene like at the authentic restaurants? Recommendations please.

Thanks.

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  1. Do like most people do, eat a hearthy lunch (1-2 pm) and do tapas in the evening.

    As I understand, Lunch is the main meal for most people; either have a "common" man "menu del dia" in smaller less expensive restaurants; or go all-out on more exclusive restaurants.

    If you really want a "real" sit-down restaurant in the evening, pick one in a nice neightbourhood where you can walk around, and if possible from the restaurant to your hotel.

    1. I know your difficulty. I have it too, and can offer a couple of suggestions from my experience over several visits in the past year. The first was a disaster: we never found the right rhythm, but during the other four visits I've found ways of coping that have enabled me to eat well and still do a full day's leg work.

      First you need to decide your priority. Is it food, or is it exploring Madrid and its marvellous wealth of art and other fascinations? If it is the former, you probably wouldn't be asking the question. But if it's the latter, as it is mine, I don't think you can make a sit-down evening meal (at a proper Madrid hour) your main meal - unless, like the Madrilenos, who eat and drink late and still manage to go to work the next morning, you don't need much sleep.

      It follows that lunch could be your sit-down main meal - but if you're like me in this respect as well, a heavy meal at midday with a couple of glasses of wine equals a wasted afternoon: the siesta is almost a necessity. Eating fairly lightly, if you can bear, to may be an option. And then, you've suggested yourself, tapas in the evening. Many tapas bars and cervecerias stay open all day, others open at 7 pm. One of my favourites, the Cerveceria Cervantes in the Plaza de Jesus, has plenty of tables, is always buzzing by 7.30, and is great fun to spend time in: good food too, mainly seafood but also jamon, cheese, etc. The tostadas are wonderful.

      If you really want to go out to a sit-down dinner, you could go to restaurants that take the peculiar early-dining habits of British and American tourists into account. Botin, for example, opens at 8 and within ten minutes is full up, so you'd have company and wouldn't have to eat in that dining-alone atmosphere that is so off-putting. As long as you don't mind the company of your fellow-tourists, you'd enjoy the food, which is still very good: their signature dish, the roast suckling pig is on the special 38-euro menu, includes gazpacho, wine and dessert, and is great value.

      Then there are places like Casa Mingo, which I posted about yesterday, that are open almost around the clock. Casa Mingo opens at 11 am and stays open until midnight. I think it's a great place: I've been there for both lunch and early dinner: it has always been lively, and the simple Asturian fare is very good.

      This brings me to my final suggestion. Have a good breakfast, do a full touring stint, and stop for a hearty meal at somewhere like that at around 4 - a sort of combined lunch and dinner. Then go for a long walk, and get to bed early ready for the next day.

      If you think this sounds like I'll never be a proper chowhound, you're right: I love my food, but don't put it first. I know this is sacrilege - but there is so much more to Madrid than eating. I'm sure you'll find a balance, and I hope this is helpful.

      Finally (really) the long walk from wherever you've eaten to your hotel is always a good idea: consider it part of your sightseeing while you walk off the meal.

      1. this info is a couple of years old but the theory probably still holds true.

        jfood stayed at the Felix a few blocks from the Prada and there were a lot of places in the grassy areas separating the streets that were primarilly bars but they did serve gambas.

        Jfood did not like eating at 1030 either so he would have a big plate of gambas every night and try to hit the hay by 1100. Not the best way to see the city but he was there on business and needed to be at his best during the day.