Cheap & local seafood in Madrid

What do you think about when you think about the food of Madrid? That’s a curly question that tends to stump people on our food tours. Often guests say paella, or perhaps tapas (which assumes – incorrectly but understandably – that tapas is a food group) or they head for safe ground and simply suggest jamón. The thing is, Madrid’s gastronomic identity is a bit of a conundrum for many new arrivals. Which means they get a hell of a surprise when we tell them that this city has the second largest fish market in the world. In a landlocked city? What gives?!

Well, we Spaniards (me being of the honourary sort) eat a hell of a lot of fish. And Madrid, being the capital of Spain and the centre of power, has long demanded – and been able to pay for – a lot of excellent fish. And that means that the capital is a fabulous place to get your seafood fix. Of course, there are lots of pricey places to chow down on fresh octopus or big ugly monkfish, but there are also a number of rough-and-tumble, cheap-as-chips joints where the locals get their seafood fill. And those are the places I wanted to celebrate in this video.

So, without further ado… My favourite places to eat cheap seafood in Madrid!

(p.s. The largest seafood market in the world is in Tokyo. And p.p.s. No you can’t visit the Madrid one, it’s only for trade customers unfortunately.)

Descent into La Bodega de los Secretos

My father has three rules:

1. Never trust a man who uses the change purse in his wallet;
2. Never trust a man who doesn’t swear;

and, most importantly for our purposes,

3. Never ever eat in a revolving restaurant.

That final rule has held me in good culinary stead (as have the first two when it comes to making friends). You see, restaurants with spectacular views (particularly ones that rotate 360 degrees every hour) tend to get very excited about their view, and rather forget about their food. And my father’s third rule can be applied to any eatery with a spectacular, quirky or original space. Which is why I was skeptical when I read about La Bodega de los Secretos, a new Madrid restaurant ensconced in the vaulted, subterranean tunnels of a seventeenth century wine cellar. Would it all be about the bodega and its secrets, and not at all about the food?

Last week, my wife and I checked it out for lunch. But before we get to the grub, let me describe the descent. It was 2:30pm on a Madrid Friday in July. Hot enough to fry an egg on your forehead. The restaurant is tucked down a Huertas backstreet, and as we descended the stair, the temperature dropped mercifully and dramatically. The interior is a ring of brick and stone tunnels used by monks centuries ago to age and store wine. Now tables fit snuggly into the lamp-lit alcoves that once housed clay vessels.

We began with a pair of bitter-sweet vermouths on ice (one white, one red, one Spanish, one Italian) and our bouches were amused with a cool, slightly sweet melon cream. The menu is happily short and the wine list happily long. We picked a bottle of Remelluri Rioja Reserva 2008, reasonably priced at €26.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, melon cream

And soon came the food proper. First, luscious, buttery slithers of Carpier smoked salmon and eel paired with two glasses of Rimarts Rosae cava, a pink sparkler shot through with a smokey smack. There’s smoked fish and then there’s smoked fish, and this was the latter (which is the better kind). ‘Twas a fine start.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, smoked salmon

On its heels came the steak tartare, a dish regularly so disappointing in Madrid that I’ve given up ordering it. But here the meat was rich and flavoursome, yet still light. And it was served in three mounds, one topped with anchovies, one with wasabi, one with truffle. The tang of each topping was perfectly judged, complementing, but not overpowering the excellent beef.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, steak tartare

Roll on the mains. We ordered secreto ibérico, a juicy grilled cut from just behind the foreleg of the Iberian pig, served with nicely-balanced honey and sweet potato sauces. But it was the bull tail that had me at hello. A little like steak tartare, any food featuring the words rabo de toro is a risky prospect in Madrid (simply because it’s everywhere, and so, according to the law of restaurant averages, is usually bad). Rabo de toro should be densely flavoured and the meat should collapse at the sight of a fork. But too often it’s a tough, flavourless cock-up. Not here, no sir. This bull was as it should be – powerful, meaty but with a mashmellow-like consistency,  and served in a bang-on creamy grenache and truffle mousseline sauce.

The Rioja – elegant and packed with dark fruit – was now starting to kick, and the vaulted ceiling was starting to swim.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, secreto iberico

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, bull tail stew

I generally heed Giles Coren’s dictum that dessert is for fools, but work is work. So we rounded things off with vanilla ice-cream served in a tart, refreshing strawberry ‘soup’ and a slice of cheesecake that was bloody good (I’ve also given up ordering cheesecake in Madrid, so this was a pleasant surprise).

Bodega de los Secretos, madrid restaurant, dessert Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, cheesecake

But what about the secrets? What went on within these walls? As well as a wine cellar, it’s been used variously by Napoleon’s troops when they captured Madrid in the early nineteenth century and as a bolt-hole during the Spanish civil war. Three tunnelled passages run from the bodega to other parts of the city, including one, visible from the dining room, that used to run under Calle Atocha and come up somewhere near the Reina Sofia. During recent excavations a 1920s pistol was discovered in the passageway, an artefact from the civil war when Madrid’s kilometres of underground passageways were chokka with skulduggery and intrigue. The rust-eaten revolver now hangs on the wall.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, tunnel 3

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, tunnel 4

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, table 2

Long story short? It’s my two thumbs up for La Bodega de los Secretos. And I should add a third thumb up (one of my wife’s I presume) for our two waiters, who were both knowledgable about the food and attentive to our needs. Take your wife, take your lover, go alone with a book (a civil war thriller would pair nicely). Clearly this restaurant is proud of its unique space, but thankfully it’s not simply trading on it.

La Bodega de los Secretos
Calle San Blas, 4, 28014
+34 914 29 03 96

The hottest patatas bravas in Madrid

They’re utterly ubiquitous and invariably average. Patatas bravas are a Spanish bar staple of supposed spicy red sauce over crunchy cubes of double-fried potatoes. Yet while the name (“brave potatoes”) promises an in-mouth hot-sauce Big Bang, a gob full of stock standard salsa brava usually winds up as little more than an insipid, ketchupy whimper.

Until now. Brava deliverance is here and it’s within retching distance of the Plaza Mayor. The tasca in question is La Villa del Pescadito, an establishment so impossibly narrow, so unceremoniously mashed between two cavernous bars, that it avoids detection by the all but the hungriest human eye. In fact, once I’d discovered it, I feared I may not find it again. Was it a dream?

Anyway, I stumbled into La Villa del Pescadito with a hunger hole that only a plate of fried starch could fill. And content to quickly down a pile of utilitarian bravas and be on my way, I ordered a plate from Paco (I think that’s his name). Paco’s wife does all the cooking, but Paco makes the brava sauce. And he’s a proud father.

Fiery gobs of true-blue brava sauce

Fiery gobs of true-blue brava sauce

The perfectly-fried potatoes wore deep red, chunky, peppery, vinegary wads and even to my self-styled sturdy palate, this sauce was hot, delivering that lingering and long-missed mouth burn and nose run. Don’t expect to tear up – they’re not that hot. But for Madrid’s timid palate, these little taters are seismic.

I complemented Paco on his sauce and we briefly discussed the sorry state of bravas in Madrid. Paco said that a true brava sauce does not contain tomatoes (his doesn’t) and that many bars simply blend commercial ketchup with tabasco. Madre mia.

So if you’ve got a hankering for the hottest patatas bravas in Madrid, hit up Paco and let me know what you think (also, let me know if his name’s not Paco).

James Blick

A tasty pit-stop in Madrid’s Antón Martín market

Two things I adore in this world: bars and markets. Each is a great leveller; a place where people crowd together, drawn by the most basic human needs – food, booze and the chance to see and be seen. In Madrid, Antón Martín is one of my favourite markets; its aisles are packed with traditional booths manned by lippy vendors hawking jamón, cheese and Galician beef and its modern stalls do everything from fresh sushi to craft beer and LPs. And like all Spanish markets (in fact, like all of Spain), there is a bar or two.

Chef Omaira at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Omaira, in her tiny bar side kitchen.

Tiny and family-run, Antón Martín’s Bar Omaira is run by Omaira – chef, hostess and a lovely lady to boot. She whips up a few different dishes each day, fusing Madrid’s culinary traditions, her own Venezuelan background and injecting it all with modern verve. There’s no menu as such, simply ask what’s fresh and eat what she’s prepared. Last time we swung by, Yoly and I sipped excellent albariño by the glass, ate a free tapa of ensaladilla rusa (one of the best I’ve had – with celery and mustard to give it the zing this dish usually lacking), and ordered grilled pork with a perfectly-balanced blue-cheese sauce and a naughty but nice chicken schnitzel sandwich doused in not-too-sweet BBQ sauce.

Albariño wine, ensaladilla rusa at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Grilled pork and blue cheese at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

And if you’ve got a taste for offal, you’ve hit the entail jackpot. Omaira’s hubby Luís runs one of the city’s best casquerías (offal stalls) one aisle over, and Omaira is a whizz with the stuff. She always has a pot of gluggy, delicious callos a la madrileña on the go, and regularly prepares dishes featuring hearts, livers and rooster crests et al. Got a hankering for grilled pigs’ ear or something done with brains? If Omaira’s got the time, she’ll nip over to Luis, bring back the goods and cook it up for you.

Iván at Bar Omaira, Antón Martín market, Madrid

Omaira’s chipper nephew Iván works the bar.

Remember: you’re in a market, so this is not a night spot. Check their Facebook page for  hours. And hit up Bar Omaira mid-shop (many of your fellow patrons will have a shopping cart in one hand, a caña in the other), or roll up on a Saturday morning when the Antón Martín is buzzing with pre-prandial barflies who feel less like drunkards if they’re drinking in a market.

And if you’re keen to make a day of it, one aisle over is DondeSánchez, a wine bar run by Paz (ask to try her excellent cured goats cheese from Madrid).

James Blick

 

Marisquería La Paloma – Fresh seafood in La Latina

A selection of seafood at Marisquería La Paloma, La Latina, Madrid

Calle Toledo is one of those streets. Gagging with fumey traffic, lined with a grungy potpourri of odd-bod shops, internet cafes, open-all-hours fruit stores and bars so crusty, so unkempt, that a dose of life-changing botulism is virtually guaranteed.

But there are a few surprises. Enter Marisquería La Paloma. Like all good castizo Madrid bars, these guys do one thing, and they do it well. Here it’s seafood. Behind the aluminium bar, fresh anchovies soak in briny tubs and whole crabs are stacked belly to back. The short menu includes oysters, cockles, gooseneck barnacles and langoustines, each sold by weight and served variously fresh, pickled or grilled in a jiffy.

What did we try? Take a gander at the photo above. The whole anchovies in vinegar (gutted, deboned and sans head) were fabulously fat and sharp (we were given two as a free tapa). The clams were subtle (you’re eating a live clam, without adornments) and weren’t cheap (€7 for a small handful). The langoustines a la plancha were plump, salty and sweet (€3.5 for 5) – remember to suck the brains out… it makes you smarter (relatively speaking).

The prices are fair for fresh seafood in La Latina. Any cheaper and you either live seaside or are risking a 12-hour session driving the porcelain bus (a nearby establishment with a long-standing offer of ultra-cheap razor clams always gives me the heebie-jeebies).

What to drink? In bygone days, Madrid bars were divided into those that served wine and cured meats and cheeses, and those that did seafood and beer. At a bar like this, functional, no frills, standing-room only and unchanged for decades, it’s best to cling to tradition. Stick with cañas (beer on tap) or vermouth.

Nowadays eateries dabble in a bit everything. What will it be, sir? A pickled anchovy, an aged ox-steak or a red-hot poker up the jacksy? The beauty of specialisation is that establishments like Paloma know their supplier, know their product and know how to prepare it. And, what’s more, specialty bars are the lifeblood of a successful tapas crawl. Start with beer and seafood here, the hit Casa Dani for wine, jamón and manchego, before winding up chez Almacén de Vinos for a hot leak and mushroom tosta.

La Latina, as the old sea shanty goes, is your oyster.

Marisquería La Paloma
Calle Toledo, 85
913 65 31 3
Closed Wednesdays

James Blick

 

Review: Is Bahía Taberna worth the hike?

Boiled beetroot dish at Bahía Taberna, Madrid restaurant

Some restaurants are a two-minute walk from home. Easy, comfortable, local. Others are a destination. A pilgrimage. If foreplay begins with the first course, then for a restaurant on the other side of town, the first course begins the moment you leap on the Metro.

And, unless you live out by the airport, Bahía Taberna is a trek. But I’d been told young co-founder and head chef Daniel Vangoni was cooking up creative, interesting and reasonably-priced food. So we humped out on a dark, cold November day.

The restaurant was a beacon in the gloom. Bright, warm and zinging with conversation. The comfortable clatter of cooking drifted from the open kitchen.

Our waitress – lively and knowledgable – suggested the tasting menu (there are also raciones and pinchos) and we submitted, deciding to push the boat out. For each course there were two options, and in each case we ordered one of each.

First up, a cocktail. Of sorts. Two mugs of spicy, rich mulled wine. A brew so heady the fumes made me gag. It bode well.

And then the food. The thick, earthy mushroom broth (a go-to seasonal dish that’s so often cocked up) was bang on. The small beetroot in a spicy sauce wasn’t very spicy, or very interesting. The baby peas with burrata was fresh, clean and sharp. The grilled scallop was, well, a perfectly fine grilled scallop.

Award-wining pizza, Taberna Bahía, Madrid restaurant

Next, the pizza. The waitress mentioned – unfortunately – that the pizza had won an award at Madrid Fusión 2012. Expectations ballooned and it sounded naff hearing that the slice of pizza we were about to eat had won an award. It was a piece of so-so focaccia with sobrasada, grilled zucchini, baby squid and a few other bits and bobs. Sadly, it didn’t add up to much more than the sum of its parts. Nice but not award-winning.

The dishes kept on coming. Each good, but none a knock-out. The slow-baked cod, the raw mackerel on a spring roll, the lamb and the steak tartare were all fine, with elements that were very good. But each dish lacked that extra touch, that inspired twist, that element of surprise that burns a mouthful on the memory. And the meal lacked consistency – the burrata with peas was delicious, the cod neither here nor there, the lamb fabulously flavourful but unfortunately lukewarm.

Steak tartare, Taberna Bahía, Madrid restaurant

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. This is a very good neighbourhood restaurant serving creative, fresh, seasonal dishes. The space is beautiful, the service was casual but razor-sharp and there are clearly talented people in the kitchen. But I left feeling frustrated. The food – close to being great – ultimately came off a little tame. A little underwhelming.

Was it worth it? At €110, including wine pairings, the meal was a fair price.

Would I go back? If Bahía Taberna were in central Madrid, I’d swing by for raciones and a drink. But I’m in no rush to make another pilgrimage.

www.bahiataberna.com
Calle Bahía de Palma, 9
Metro: Alameda de Osuna (line 5)

James Blick

Best places to eat in the Rastro flea market, Madrid

It’s Sunday morning in Madrid. And you have a choice. You could head to mass and beg forgiveness for whatever godforsaken things got up to the night before. Or you could head for the Rastro – the city’s sprawling flea market – and tie another one on.

Many people think the Rastro is about shopping. Oh no. It’s about eating and drinking. But where are the best places to eat in the Rastro? Watch, learn and drool.

James Blick

Review: La Tortillita

Tortilla de patata or Spanish omelette from La Tortillita restaurant, Madrid, Spain.

Everyone has a food they don’t get. For instance, my wife Yoly doesn’t get hamburgers. You could serve her the juiciest flame-grilled, breast milk-fed, Nuru-massaged Wagyu beef burger, and she’d still shrug. Strike that. She’d eat it, she might even kind of enjoy it. But she’d never get it. She’d never crave it. By contrast, I desire a good, beefy burger about once every two months. And until I’ve gotten my fix, I dream of greasy rivulets trickling down my jowls and running up my wrists.

Which brings me to the Spanish food I don’t get. The tortilla de patata. What’s the big deal? Potatoes, egg, salt and – if you’re lucky – onion. It can be sort of yummy, but I’m never going to kill to get my hands on one. I might not even cross the road.

Let me say it. Spanish omelettes bore me.

So, it was interesting to try the tortillas de patata at La Tortillita. It’s a recently-opened tortilla temple (in fact, the first Madrid iteration of a Galician franchise) on Calle Preciados. They do thirty variations on the classic (they also do the classic), including tortilla with Cabrales cheese, tortilla with prawns, tortillita with gulas, tortilla with garlic confit and onions, tortilla with bacalao and Piquillo peppers… you get the idea. Prices are reasonable, omelettes are cooked to order and you can build your own, mixing in a variety of ingredients.

The menu includes other Ibero-comfort foods like ten variations on huevos rotos (fried potatoes draped with two fried eggs and your choice of toppings), croquetas, patatas bravas and the like. But here the tortilla is king.

So, are their tortillas any good? I tried one called La Gallega (grelos, tetilla cheese and chorizo), one with caramelised onion and Cabrales and one with roasted vegetables. And dare I say, they were pretty good. La Gallega was my fav, stuffed with more ingredients than most tortillas see in a lifetime. The egg was nice and runny and I could imagine myself dashing in for a quick meal or a snack (they do takeaway). The tortillas (in fact called tortillitas) come in two sizes (€4.50 and €5.30) and are apt for a one-person meal or a few shared between enemies.

Tortilla de patata or Spanish omelette at La Tortillita, Madrid restaurant, Spain

La Gallega, rammed with grelos, tetilla cheese and chorizo

La Tortillita is part fast food, part restaurant. It feels like a franchise, which makes it fine for a bite or takeaway, but a terrible place to propose to your future wife. Having said that, if you think it’s acceptable to pop the question over a tortilla de patata, then you don’t deserve her anyway you cheap bastard.

Verdict: I still don’t get tortillas, but the variety of ingredients (including the ability to build your own) means I can imagine swinging by La Tortillita to fill the hunger gap. If you’re a tortilla freak (shame on you), then you should give La Tortillita a whirl.

Disclaimer: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.

Calle Preciados, 34
910 165 615
latortillita.es
Metros: Sol, Callao, Gran Vía

Review: El Apartamento

Bar in El Apartamento, Madrid restaurant bar

I like a man who’s frank. And Daniel was graphically so. Within minutes of sitting down in El Apartamento, the restaurant near Puerta del Sol that he recently opened with four friends, we were discussing childbirth. Specifically, his wife’s upcoming parturition. But rather than put us off our beef cheek, his easy-going personality paired perfectly with his restaurant: modern, relaxed, light – the kind of place that can swing both ways: sharing plates at the bar with friends, or a sit-down meal with the in-laws.

I glanced at the menu and liked the mix as well as the prices. Daniel suggested we try four dishes: the croquetas and the foie to start, then the carrillera de ternera (stewed beef cheek) and caballa en escabeche (mackerel in brine).

Let’s cut to the chase.

I’ve never been a big champion of the sacred croqueta – like the tortilla de patata it’s a Spanish comfort food that’s regularly overrated and usually disappointing. But these ones were excellent – creamy with strong, sharp flavours (we were served a selection of jamón, mushroom and goat cheese and caramelised onion croquets).

Croquetas de jamón, mushroom, goat cheese and caramelised onion

Yep, they’re croquetas. Good one too.

The foie – caramelised on its wee head and served with side of apple and pear jam – was a touch too sweet.

Caramelised foie with apple and pear jam.

Foie (and my wife Yoly’s polkadot fan).

But the carrillera de ternera rolled back the years, sitting me at my grandmother’s   table. It had a wonderfully meaty flavour, and collapsed under our forks. Delicious.

Beef cheek at El Apartamento, Madrid restaurant bar

Bang-on beef cheek.

The caballa en escabeche was intriguing, but didn’t totally work. The vinegar overpowered. A smaller serving would have been better.

Caballa en escabeche/mackerel in brine at El Apartamento, Madrid restaurant bar

Caballa en escabeche/mackerel in brine – €13.50

Finally, one of the waitresses suggested carrot cake for dessert (€5.00). Baking, and specifically baking carrot cakes, has become desperately trendy in Madrid. And, as it is with any food tainted by trend, most of the cakes are piss poor – too spongy or too dry. Happily though, El Apartamento’s cake was among the best I’ve had in the capital.

So, where does that leave us? The dishes that were good were very good and there’s something beguiling about El Apartamento, something drawing me back. The menu strikes a balance between dishes you know and dishes you’d like to get to know. There are plates for sharing, plates for individuals, and a number of dishes are available as half portions. You can grab a table, or simply sip and pick at the bar. The space is inviting and the location, five minutes by foot from Sol, is ideal.

Dining room in El Apartamento, Madrid restaurant bar

That’s Yoly, my wife. Though she looks bored, she’s actually having the time of her life.

Also, for hot and hungry tourists, the €14 lunch menú del día (three courses, plus wine) makes El Apartamento an excellent entre-museum stop for reasonbly-priced, modern Spanish food.

Verdict: I’ll be back as a paying customer.

Disclosure: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.

Calle Ventura de la Vega, 9
917 554 402
www.el-apartamento.es
Metros: Sol, Sevilla

James Blick