[Madrid] Three dinners, two lunches
A quick trip, mainly intended for visiting a couple of art galleries and having some nice food.
The Botin is reputed to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Which means they must be good at something. And, I presume, that’s making profit for the owners. It certainly isn’t from providing good food. This was about to be one of the most disappointing meals we can recall anywhere (not just in Spain, which we visit almost every year). Not vile, you understand. Just really disappointing. I guess it’s that, as with other tourist traps, there’s really no incentive to do better – there’ll be bums on seats whatever they do.
We both went with the same starter – cod and red peppers. You’d hope for sweet unctuous peppers and a good savoury contrast from the fish. What we got was a plate of bland boring peppers, that you could easily believe had come from a tin, served fridge cold so that any flavour there might have been was well and truly killed off. And, topping them, almost a paste of cold, almost raw fish. Now that might have been exactly how it was supposed to be – but it wasn’t at all nice. The only saving grace here was the bread.
For one main, there was a generous portion of well cooked hake. This was very tasty in itself, but it was let down by the flabby batter coating. A couple of boiled potatoes sat alongside.
Suckling pig is a house speciality and a personal favourite of mine. I’ve eaten it many times in Spain and I think of it as my defining dish for a restaurant and, here, it just wasn’t very good. Yes, it was a generous portion. And, yes, there was crispy skin. Well, of course, there was crispy skin – it had been cooked for so long that it was just dry with any of the succulent flavour you’d expect to be there from young meat and sweet fat had been cooked out of it well before it got anywhere near the plate.
We ordered desserts and two plates of instantly forgettable food arrived. Both were just “sweet” with no discernible flavour or interest beyond that. Even coffee managed to be poor – bitter and, oddly, being served with the dessert not after it.
The real regret here is that, if we’d taken a different route to the restaurant, we’d have passed the San Miguel market, just up the road. And, we’d have had dinner there just cruising the tapas stalls. It would have been cheaper, better and a heck of lot more fun than the Botin.
Miau is on the Plaza Santa Ana and offered up a bargain €11 two-course lunch. I guess you’d call that purr-fect. Miau, eh – geddit?
At 1.55, we walk in and are the only customers. Ten minutes later, the place is packed with every table occupied by Spanish office workers, shoppers, etc. There is not, of course, going to be anything fancy about and €11 lunch.
A salad brought perfectly ripe tomatoes, which the kitchen had taken the trouble to skin, cubes of a very fresh soft mild cheese (similar to mozzarella), a scattering of black olives and a few slivers of red onion. My partner had kicked off with an absolutely delicious and simple dish of runner beans, garlic and potato. Perfectly balanced and, thankfully, none of the “squeaky beans” that were fashionable in northern Europe a few years back (and which still crop up now and again).
One of the main courses was the Spanish classic of scrambled eggs and prawns with an indeterminate green veg chopped through it. The other plate involved griddled cured pork loin, accompanied by chips with a little garnish of Padron peppers. Both perfectly fine.
Coffee was very passable. Almost needless to say, service was fast and efficient – they are used to customers being on their lunch break.
There’s something of a starched formality to the layout and furnishings of the restaurant that reminded me of the dining room of a grand “railway hotel”, circa 1975. Service is also entirely formal which, perhaps, befits a certain style of Michelin two-star place.
As you sit down, you notice that, at each setting, there’s a business card with the restaurant’s name. You move it out of the way. A very soft peanut butter dip is put on the table. There’s a couple of seconds pause – perfectly timed so you’re just wondering what you’re going to eat it with – and the waiter tells you to use the business card. Pause. As it’s edible. And that’s the end of any thoughts of 1970s formality. Food is provided by way of one of three tasting menus of varying complexity (we went with the middle one) and the chef, Diego Guerrero, visits each table to take your order and establish any allergies, etc.
There’s good bread on offer – half a dozen different ones and, thankfully, it continues to be offered throughout the meal. We tried most and found the bacon, tomato and olives ones were the stand-outs.
The first of the three “snacks” is a game and mushroom mousse, with shreds of foie gras and mushroom in the bowl. Rich and delicious.
Then there’s what looks like a Babybell cheese but is, in fact, whipped Camembert surrounded by a red savoury jelly.
The final “snack” was a bit tricky to eat (or, perhaps, we were just clumsy). A small bowl of sukiyaki broth was delicately balanced over another bowl holding a tea light. It was topped with a disc of agar which held a small piece of butterfish (no, me neither). The trick was to break through the agar without spilling the broth over the tablecloth. We failed.
Next up, the first of three “starters”. It arrives in a cellophane bag which is snipped open in front of you. In it, a light broth holding large chunks of two differing wild mushrooms and small pieces of asparagus. Perhaps not entirely seasonal with the asparagus, but lovely nevertheless.
There was then a dish that we didn’t feel worked too well. A light potato cream sauce, in the bottom of the bowl, topped with bread and then egg with a few shards of bacon. A sort of breakfast thing, I suppose. It actually sounds better than it was (everything just sludged together in a fairly unappealing way).
The final starter brought another broth-based dish (perhaps there had been a slight excess of broth in the meal). This was an intense saffron infused one. There was smoked barbel of salmon. At least, we understood it to be “barbel”, with the waiter gesticulating towards his cheek. But perhaps the fish was called barbel (and was supposed to be like salmon – although it wasn’t). Who knows – it was delicious anyway and came topped with a very cheffy coconut foam.
The main fish course was skrey. Nope, no idea what that was either. Certainly a cod-like white fish. It sat on some bread which quickly soaked up yet another light brothy sauce and was pretty much superb.
The meat main course was a triumph of skill. A very rich stew of long-cooked hare was served with a mini taco and afew blobs of guacamole. Sounds simple, but wasn’t.
Pre-desssert was also very skilful – a shot glass formed from a cucumber sorbet, holding a white gin-flavoured sorbet. A little scattering of cucumber dice and rose petals completed the palate cleanser.
“The Fishbowl” was pure fun. There was an edible seabed, coral made from raspberry flavoured chocolate, a mussel shell also from chocolate, edible rocks and a pink marshmallow fish.
The last item on the menu was introduced simply as “an egg”. White chocolate had been coloured to imitate the shell. It enclosed a coconut pannacotta representing the egg white and, in the centre, oozing out was a delicious mango coulis. Just fab.
The fun was not yet over. With the coffee came a plate of petit fours. It sat over a bowl into which was poured a liquid which activated dry ice, spilling a cloud of smoke across the table. It was impossible not to chuckle. And the petit fours were pretty good as well.
An all-round great experience, certainly matching other two star meals. One of the best meals of the year – as we told the chef when he came to talk to us after the meal.
MERCADO SAN MIGUEL
A lunch time grazing through the tapas stalls saw us try:
Selection of stuffed olives
Empanadas (chicken, salt cod, beef)
On toast – octopus, cod with green peppers, anchovies)
Langoustine wrapped in potato shreds
Bellota ham sandwich
Quality varies and it seems fair to say that the items intended to be eaten cold worked better than those heated up, often unevenly, in the microwave.
And, yes, we had been greedy and had over-eaten.
POSADA DE LA VILLA
An old traditional looking building with a short traditional looking menu.
Bread was already on the table as we sat down – half a loaf of very tasty white bread with a crisp crust. Arriving soon after was a freebie dish of olives and one of croquettes. Nothing fancy here – the croquettes just filled with béchamel, but none the worse for that.
We ordered a starter each but they arrived separately and were placed in the middle of the table, intended to be shared. First, Padron peppers – quickly fried and tasting of themselves, oil and a heavy sprinkling of salt. It used to be said that one in ten would be spicy hot one but you rarely seem to come across one these days. But we did here - just the one. The other dish, which had to be chased up (the only slip in service) was a simple of mix of vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, onion, carrot, green beans and aubergine. Simple and delicious.
Grilled sole formed one main course. Presented on the bone, but then taken off, it was perfectly cooked. The accompaniment was also classic old-time Spain – a single boiled potato.
The other dish was hen in a Madrileno sauce. No, me neither. And I checked the Castilian version of the menu and this was definitely hen, not chicken. Not that I really needed to check. This was really well flavoured with the dark meat being really dark – the taste and look that you only get from an old bird. The sort of bird my mother used to call a “boiling fowl”. Not sure what the sauce was – there was certainly wine in there; perhaps a little brandy. And a good stock which had reduced to a thickness that would just cling to the meat. A timbale of paella rice was a perfect carb. to sit alongside.
We passed on dessert. Coffee was good – my partner pleased to see a proper cafe con leche, rather than the North American/Italian cappuccino that seems to be everywhere these days, including many parts of Spain. . It came with a lovely crisp almond tuile and an exceptionally rich chocolate truffle.