Ten Con Ten. Calle Ayala, 6

The idea to go to this restaurant came from advance notice of a friend’s stagette weekend group: their remit was to try out the classiest places in town. Ten Con Ten topped the shortlist. I had previewed their longlist a month before and taken La Alta to a cute place off the Castellana called Tomate (briefly reviewed earlier). This time though, the meal wasn’t on me – family had descended on Madrid, and in two days were determined to taste and drink the best of Madrid. Stakes were high, but it was a risk worth taking, especially as the name had conjured some gasps when mentioned to certain people in town. Many have heard of it, fewer bother to try booking a table. But I was determined to make this a night to remember.

Ten Con Ten is one of the few restaurants to call you back twice in order to confirm your reservation, especially – or maybe only just – because it was a Saturday night and the group was relatively large. I assured them that we would be there, that we wouldn’t flake on them.

It was the first time I’d had to wait for my dining companions for close to thirty minutes, affording me an opportunity to watch the other diners tucking in to their oversized plates and sipping their pricey plonk. The bottle of red was chosen prudently, using a remembered recommendation from a student – which I’ve now promptly forgotten. And the second recommendation was acted on too: Chicken Pie for starters. It’s a bizarre dish to have on a menu in an upmarket Spanish restaurant – well, any restaurant, really – but it was a winner. We all dug into it, and it was demolished quicktime. Such great, flaky pastry and stringy chicken with a rich creamy sauce. And then the risotto arrived.

If there is a better risotto in the world than the one we had that night, I’ll pay for it and travel far to eat it. Ten Con Ten’s risotto redefined taste and texture for me, and proved that when it comes to well-prepared Italian food cooked with pride and integrity, life is really worth living in an epicurean manner, chasing flavours and being adventurous. Each grain of the short-grained rice melted in our mouths with the buttery truffle sauce enveloping our tongue in a duvet of rich dairy delight.

Dessert was great too, and so was the wine. But did I mention how great the risotto was?

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CaffĂ© dei Poeti. Calle del Prado, 4. Madrid

This is the first Italian restaurant I’ve tried in Madrid – after nearly three years here – and we only chose it out of desperation. On my London family’s first Madrid sojourn, a few hours after they arrived, we drank wine and ate tapas in Plaza Santa Ana. But at 11pm they started feeling hunger pangs again and we ended up at CaffĂ© dei Poeti, a one minute walk off the plaza.
It resembles a school library, or an ersatz bookstore, with a rarefied air; Such a unique space that I’ve only seen replicated a couple of times, probably in New York. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we all certainly thought it was special: mobiles hanging from the ceiling, interesting clusters of framed pictures, beams and pillars. Service is excellent, and the food is not only rich, filling, but also reassuringly fresh and wholesome. Recommended.

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Metro Sol/ Anton Martin

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Taberna Alhambra. Calle de la Victoria, 9. Madrid

Fun and rowdy, though not too loud or overwhelming for the older clientele, the Alhambra serves its drinks quickly and offers very reasonable prices for tasty heartily-sized portions of food. The paella was surprisingly good, the rabo de toro (bull’s tail) was succulent and perfectly balanced, and the prawns were well above average. A great sharing plate was the fried goats cheese with blueberry sauce: crumbly, warm nuggets with a slightly tart, yet still refreshingly fruity dipping pool. Go in a group and make some noise.

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Metro Sol, Sevilla

Tomate. Calle de Fernando ‘El Santo’, 26. Madrid

Thanks to a recommendation from a London foodie soon to descend on Madrid, I find myself cancelling Curry Club on Sunday night in order to have a late lunch at this breezy, busy restaurant off the Castellana, a stone’s throw from Plaza de Colon.

It was the first time I’ve been asked to wait twenty minutes for a table in this city – with nowhere to really hang out inside – which was fine, as we just walked to Colon, sat on a bench looking at the enormous, confrontational flag of the nation, then walked back to the sunny dining room.

Selecting four pescatarian dishes was quite easy: croquetas involving aubergine, some assortment of asparagus tempura, and a delicious truffle ravioli which was the real star of the afternoon. If I’d been able to blow the budget a bit, I’d arrive starving and order a full three-course meal. The quality of ingredients and friendly service, beautifully lit room and choice of food and drink, was just perfect. I recommended it to the stagette group coming to Madrid in a few weeks and promised myself I’d be back here too.

Phuket Thai. Calle de Atocha, 115. Madrid

This is a relatively smart and swanky place, in spite of its location on what can be, at times, a shabby street. Phuket was our local Thai before we discovered Pad Thai, on Paseo del Prado, less than 300m away.
The main problem here is that portions are small and prices are high. The constant complaint about SE Asian food in the city is that there are just no budget options yet – though it will happen inevitably – but this restaurant banks on snazzy furni and glass fittings to encourage us to pay more for food which could be at least 30% cheaper.
A fine choice if you’re dressed up and want to hold hands and hear the tinkling of glasses.

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Metro: Atocha

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