Its status as the world’s oldest running restaurant tends to overshadow the fact that though it is rather good, it is hardly transcendent. This is a special-occasion place, a trad city eatery with a good steady reputation which has thankfully not let its history go to its head. We got a booking (early seating: ‘tourist dining hours’) with a few days notice and started the evening with a tinto de verano in Plaza Mayor. That wasn’t as expensive as expected, but the meal turned out to be a little dearer than we had planned, just a little bit so.
The lamb is actually better than the suckling pig, with rich succulent meat under a wood-fired oven-roasted skin that doesn’t dry out as much as the pork speciality. Green veggies on the side are crunchy and fresh, and just some basic herbs such as oregano and rosemary are used. I have no doubt that the meat is of a very good grade; I just wish that restaurants like this would offer a ‘wildcard’ treat – a fusion or nouvelle dish – on top of their traditional fare for the more adventurous amongst us. I really do believe that cooking has evolved in the last few hundred years, and though there is a place for exploring flavours of the past – such as Blumenthal’s recent London venture Dinner, plundering the fifteenth century English cookbook – traditional comfort food can develop too, as new ingredients and techniques are taken on with enthusiasm.
Botín remains an enjoyable night out, in a well-maintained old building (oven still roasting meat since 1725) with affable service and a famous name. Take some out-of-town visitors and take lots of pictures.
Metro La Latina / Tirso de Molina
We used to be regulars here due to their agreeable interior – unlike so many other Indian/Bangla eateries of the area – draped and furni’d with cosy wood and thick cotton. Service is very polite, and the bald manager has a good streak of mischief in him. Their dhaals are on the bland side, however, and curries get a little repetitive, as if there are only three sauce bases they’re using (rather than six or seven). Naans are perfectly serviceable though, not as fluffy as Moharaj’s but authentic nevertheless.
I like coming here in the winter. It somehow feels like a cabin or ski chalet. With tandoori trimmings, of course.
Far more austere than the small, funky Noches de Moscú (see review), Rasputin favours older middle-class couples and small quiet groups of diners. There is something other-worldly about its interior, seemingly lit by sodium lamps and candlelight, creating a rarefied atmosphere. Or maybe that’s just my memory of it. The selianka (Russian salad) is decent and there are four varieties of stroganoff. The golubsky – oven baked rolls of cabbage and meat with a bechamel sauce – has an interesting texture, but that is all that can be said for it.
I won’t be coming back here in a hurry.
Metro La Latina
Russian food is certainly not considered a world cuisine, for many reasons; the years of Stalinism, gulags and post-Yeltsin austerity for the masses projected a two-tier international image of upscale caviar starters – priced at $100 even back in 1998 – against the peasant food of borshch/borscht, smetana and cheap vodka. Even chicken Kiev, that mainstay of the British freezer and one of my childhood favourites, especially the herby-cream and spicy-sauce varieties, was grouped under vaguely ‘Russian food’.
The surprises at this restaurant came thick and fast, from the mixed starter platter to the ‘hanging kebab’ – Shashlik iz Barashka – the stroganoff and the blinis. The Shashlik iz Beluga is also worth trying, though not very filling. Krushon, a ‘sangria blanca rusa’ is great value and refreshing, while the kaipiroshka (a vodka-based caipirinha) is reassuringly fortified.
Las Noches de Moscú is in the heart of Malasaña just off Espiritu Santo, a stone’s throw from Plaza Dos de Mayo. That’s how great its location is. It’s on a quiet street, but there are drinkeries all around, so it can serve as the eatery for the start of your night of bar-crawling. Prices are very reasonable, and service, though brusque, is quick and efficient. I hope this place endures; it deserves to be a malasaña institution.