We’ve been meaning to get to Spain for some time and finally the moment arrived when AT and I agreed that it would make the perfect spot for our 2013 trip without the kids. The main reason we chose Madrid was to see the art and spent roughly half of each day wandering the halls of the Prado, The Reina Sophia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza and being confounded, moved and amazed by the work of guys like Goya, Bosch and Picasso. Of course the food was of interest. I am a big fan of snack food and so to visit a nation that has made it their culinary calling card, was a treat. To be honest, I didn’t eat anything I haven’t tried before – with the exception of the ham and cheese croquettes at Cerveceria Cervantes. I’ve carved my own slices of sweet, nutty Iberico jamon at a Codorniu masterclass, and I’ve grown up eating plates of sliced hams, cheeses, olives and various deli treats. So while the food wasn’t new to me, the way they served it certainly was. Every bar, tavern, brasserie and restaurant has a counter where they serve up wine and beer and a selection of tostadas, canapes and racions. It’s not fancy, and in some cases it’s downright shabby with cold bain-maries full of saucy meatballs with a dried crust and I was not surprised to discover that tapas has been turned from something very common into an exclusivity by the Aussies and English food juggernaut. Not every cerveceria does tapas well, and we tried several different places in our area, but mostly it’s a joy to behold, the trays of tiny bread rolls filled with slices of Iberian or duck ham, slices of crusty bread spread thickly with Cabrales cheese, which is like Spanish Roquefort, plump white anchovies marinading in little pools of oil and vinegar. And it’s the details that impressed me the most. Every time you order a drink you get olives or a little tapas kebab. The bread rolls have been smeared with fresh tomato that might not seem worth the trouble but adds a juicy sweetness to the mouthful, the creativity of the tostada menu a tell-tale sign of quality.
Sadly there weren’t many sweets to speak of. However, I did find a very traditional old cake shop in the city with rotating displays of sugared biscuits and honey-soaked crisp-fried crepes. They were all a little dry for my taste, and reminded me of the snowball sweets in Rothenburg but with a hint of citrus. I found a lovely little French-style patisserie near our hotel and they sold the mini-choux eclairs I’d seen in other places alongside caramel tarts, flaky pastries and a seriously thick vanilla slice.
I’d read about steering clear of paella anywhere away from the coast, so we abstained from that delicacy and stuck to tapas which ensured that we never really needed to eat a full restaurant meal the whole time. My favourite place was Taberna la Dolores on the corner of Calle Lope de Vega and Plaza Jesus. The guys who ran it were really friendly and the atmosphere of the place just felt right. Lots of tiles and wood and no contrived displays of jamon and tinned fish, Taberna le Dolores was small, plain and offered only a limited menu, but what it offered was excellent, and this extended to the beer and wine. Good prices and a top spot for people-watching, we spent our last hours in Madrid watching the world go by from the window seat.