Apart from short periods of time in my misspent youth, Spain was just a passing flirtation. Someone I had a few drinks with.
But recently as a grown-up I discovered a few choice locations in Spain and fell head over heels.
As we couldn’t cover the entire country on this visit we stopped short of a whistle stop trip and picked the eyes out of culture, gastronomy and a little history and some time for reflecting on the cult of gluttony. Gluttony was my failing in Spain – but hey! The country has no mercy and takes no prisoners – just eat!
Arriving in Madrid on a pleasant end of summer day, we drove along tree-lined boulevards and were delivered to Villa Magna in the elegant Salamanca barrio (precinct). This is the time when jet-lag kicks in but it’s too exciting being in a new city and it’s afternoon – lunch time, yay.
And this is when the eating frenzy began.
First stop was a five-minute walk from the hotel to the beautifully restored and beloved Platea Madrid (featured image at top). The old art deco theatre has had new life breathed into it and has become a fragrant complex of tapas bars, Michelin starred restaurants and snack bars with rustic market-style décor. A cooling ale and a plate of potatas bravas (fried chunks of potato with spicy, paprika ridden tomato sauce) and small bites of battered cod – I was hooked.
And an early dinner eschewed.
Mercado De San Miguel, undercover market housing dozens of gourmet food producers.
This was the disjointed part of the trip – our timing was not always conducive to being ‘hungry’. Breakfast isn’t a big deal here. Coffee and a little pastry maybe or two coffees. Lunch is from anywhere between 2pm and 4pm and if you are on a schedule, you’ll find yourself having dinner within a couple of hours after a banquet at lunch.
So after a quick change in my room and a studious count of the threads in the cotton sheets, we were off to nearby Tatal, a fancy restaurant owned by Rafael Nadal and Julios Ingelsias (both of them stood us up for the shared plate). The restaurant began to fill up and by the time we left at 10pm (early by local standards) the place was packed with well-dressed patrons – and on a week night too.
Next day we fitted in a visit to the mighty Prado, and soaked up Velasquez, Goya, Van Gogh and the major Spanish artists; sashayed through a couple of the BIG squares, walked the gardens and snacked along the way on creamy, sexy pastries and cakes. The divine Plaza Mayor is portico-lined and tiny shops offer up traditional goods and cafes will take a lot of money from you to enjoy a café con leche.
Moving again and it’s to the Buen Retiro, a popular city park for locals.
Churros is almost the sweet national dish and the best place to eat this is at Chocolateri San Gines where you will be served by grumpy staff – if they feel like it. But jump right in and join the Madrilians who are stuffing their faces with vast amounts of this beautiful chocolate-dipped stripey doughnut.
In this tiny tapas bar, mushrooms and green peppers are the hero ingredients.
We finished off our short time in Madrid with a Tapas tour. Our host was a vivacious American woman who had come to Spain with her Spanish boyfriend. The boyfriend is gone, but the woman studied the language and stayed as she fell in love with Spain – who is treating her very well indeed. (During this trip, I met three women, one an Australian, who had the same story – left home for a Spanish bloke, ditched the bloke but stayed)
It was short, it was sweet, but after Madrid there were windmills to tilt at further afield.
The writer Bev Malzard reignited a long past food love affair in Madrid – garlic prawns. They are back in her life again. And several pairs of espadrilles were purchased in Madrid too.