After ten days in Galicia it was time to head to Madrid, the city I have visited more often than anywhere else in Spain, where my heart is and to me the most Spanish city in the country. What a joy to unpack in our apartment in La Latina go out into the busy streets on a warm Sunday evening and to discover that the area is holding a Pincho Week. A total of 37 bars are participating and all are offering a pincho, small tapas usually on bread, and a small bottle of Estrella beer for 2.50 Euros. This was a great way to find new places in an area that we know very well as lots of the names of the bars were new to us and it was only 2012 when we last spent time here.
Calle Cava Baja is probably the best know street in the area, when we first started to visit regularly about fifteen years ago the street was full of traditional Madrid restaurants such as Casa Lucio, still a favourite of the royal family and visiting dignitaries. There were two excellent wine and tapas bars and both are still there. The best and my favourite is Casa Lucas where Jose, Pablo and Javi preside over an excellent wine list, various pinchos, great for sharing between two and larger dishes. There are only a handful of tables so booking is advised particularly at the weekend. The other place still going strong is Tempranillo with a wider selection of wines by the glass and specialising in cold meats and cheese, while good to visit for the wines the welcome is never as warm as in Casa Lucas.
The street has changed over the years with many tapas bars opening up, some staying, some closing but more recently many bars specialising in copas, or drinks such as G&T, which has become a Spanish obsession. This has lead to the street changing in character, attracting a younger drinking crowd instead of the more mature food and wine fans from a few years ago but the two stalwarts should definitely be visited.
In some ways this is good for us, we have spread our net further in the area and have discovered great places, many are traditional Madrid bars, others newer arrivals but loads worth a visit.
Calle de Calatrava has a couple of gems of bars, Casa Gerardo at 21 is an institution, fantastic wine selection, great tostas, toasted bread with a selection of great toppings, and a large local following. Vinos 11 Casa Dani, is at number 11 and a great find this trip, another traditional bar. Café Aroma at 27 took part in the pincho week and this unassuming looking place produced a treat of asparagus, quail’s egg, ham and tomato bread.
Nearby in Calle Angel at No. 7, is Casa Mateos an old taberna but recently taken over by Alex, who is friendly, knowledgeable about her wines and produces some excellent food. Viuda Vacas, Calle Aguilla 23 is just along the street and is a restaurant that has a good local reputation, in the Pincho Week it produced aubergine tempura with a salmorejo sauce, proof of the quality.
La Cabra en el Tejado, Calle de Santa Ana 31, is just the other side of Calle Toledo from Calatrava and also took part in the Pincho Week, it specialises in crepes and offered a rolled crepe stuffed with minced chicken, the bar had a nice feel to it. Calle Don Pedro had a couple of bars taking part Maria La Lia at No.6 and D.Baco at No.4, both were very busy with a younger crowd but still produced great pinchos. La Rosa, Calle Oriente 4 had a great pincho of langoustine, mushroom and rose petals. Two more on the list for the next visit are La Nieta Carmela and La Parrala, both in Calle Humilladero, both featured in Pincho Week and although we did not get time to try them the dishes they were doing make them musts for our return.
Moving away from pinchos, the Spanish menu del dia, a three course lunch usually with a glass of wine still goes strong, however in many places while the food is fine for the money you may not be excited by what was on offer. An exception this time is, incredibly, just five minutes away from the Puerta del Sol, the centre of Madrid. Venta el Buscon, Calle Victoria 5 offers a three course lunch for currently 11.50 Euros and for two people that includes a bottle of white or red. There was a good choice of dishes and everything we had was excellent, the service great and on top of this bargain price we were given a glass of liqueur on the house to finish.
A more modern place altogether is “el b_US” , I know, what a funny way to do the name, in Calle Duque de Rivas 5, they are open for breakfast, do a limited but excellent menu del dia and have a lovely list of wines by the glass.
For a traditional Madrid meal try Malacatin in Calle Ruda, it is a grand Madrid taberna and the place to try a cocido, the Madrid dish of stewed meats, chickpeas and vegetables, go with an appetite.
More from Madrid later in the year.