Real Madrid

The Spanish capital has always been famous for its grand couture, football, monarchy and being the economic centre of the country. Yet more recently it has become a strong European gastronomic destination for locals and visitors alike.

The capital city has never had the cool reputation of its boho Catalan rival and although Spain’s capital city does not boast the skyline or statement attraction such as the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum, it more than makes up for with its gourmet offering and charm.

Now rivalling New York for the number of restaurants per head, Madrid’s options are vast and varied, from authentic Spanish cuisine to some of the most pioneering eateries in new age fine dining. Madrid is distinguished by its ‘barrios’, with a characteristic charm in each quarter. Salamanca is saluted for its high-end fashion brands, and nightlife. Stroll along the ‘Golden Mile’ and ebb and flow through the streets in its grid-like design.

Stumble across Platea Madrid (Calle de Goya, 5-7) in an old movie theatre. A striking and nostalgic venue, it is now turned into a gourmet market which certainly puts the theatre into food. The menus offer typical Spanish dishes but you will also find Mexican, Italian, Peruvian and Japanese food, and there are offerings from Michelin star restaurateurs such as Paco Roncero.

Madrid is also home to the oldest continuously serving restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botín (Calle de los Cuchilleros 17). ‘Cochinillo asado’ or roasted suckling pig are the specialities and it has even been mentioned by Ernest Hemingway. Opened in 1725 it still houses the original 18th century oven. These authentic Spanish restaurants carry the history, charm and culture of Spain’s heritage.

Located in Huertas, the truly Spanish El Rincon de Esteban (Calle Santa Catalina 3) is another firm favourite with the locals. The service here is warm and friendly. The neighbourhood is committed
to celebrating its rich heritage: Calle Huertas itself is inlaid with quotes from celebrated authors and Mr Esteban certainly celebrates his famous past guests, the walls are lined with past famous diners.

Overlooking Plaza de Santa Ana is the ME Hotel (Plaza de Santa Ana, 14), a perfect spot for an early evening aperitivo. It is potentially one of the most fashion-conscious venues in the city, yet, the vibe is laidback. This can sometimes translate into the service but the restaurant menu is strong with a mixture of modern tapas and an impressive wine list in a minimalist Scandi-designed lounge and restaurant. The rooftop at the ME is also one of the go-to spots for cocktails in the city with fine views over the city.

Hotel Urban (Carrera de S. Jerónimo), situated right in the heart of the city and in walking distance to many of Madrid’s top destinations, has a fresh and contemporary feel. Restaurant CEBO (Carrera de S. Jerónimo, 34) is located on the ground floor of the hotel and is home to a Michelin star. A sensory and Instagram- friendly experience, the 17-course taster menu is diverse and boundary breaking.

Food experiences are at the forefront of everyone’s mind now, yet food markets have long been a staple part of continental Europe. Located near the Plaza Mayor, San Miguel Market (Plaza de San Miguel) is one of the best and dates back to 1916.

Each vendor is specialised and this gives the market a strong artisan feel.

Extremely popular with tourists, try to visit during the week and not in holiday season (I visited on King’s Day!) to experience the variety it has to offer.

HanSO Café (Calle pez, 200), located in the hip Malasana district, is part of the flat white revolution which seems now to have reached Spanish shores. A hip coffee shop serving some of the best caffeine and cortados in the city. When in Madrid you best get used to going to bed post 4am if out partying and for something truly memorable step on down to the legendary, dimly lit basement piano bar Toni2’s (Calle Almirante, 9). People typically spend hours here. A grand piano takes centre stage and people of all ages and conditions gather to rest their gin and tonics and sing well into the evening... or morning. 

Matthew Farrell