Maisha. Calle Argumosa, 35. Madrid

Though it does look a tad forbidding inside, Maisha has a great terrace next door to Fantástico’s, on a part of Argumosa which just seems to widen out more and breathe a little on the approach to Lavapies metro. Service is sometimes quite dispassionate at a few of these Bangla-owned mini restaurants, and this is no exception. Crisps were served with our lackluster white wines, but then we decided to have a snack and ordered the prawn puri. Rather than serve a personal-pizza-style one like Moharaj do, Maisha’s comes as two separate coaster-sized confections, topped with fresh colorful coriander leaves, firm prawns and a tangy, chilli sauce that hasn’t just been poured on it like a gravy. It was the best culinary surprise of the week.

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Metro Lavapies

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La Mucca. Plaza Carlos Cambronero, 4. Madrid

This place has been called La Mucca de Prado,La Mucca de Pez, and sometimes just LaMucca. Locals swear by it, though rarely at it, and madrileños come from miles around to meet here, for this is a particularly social place, with varied sections and areas for groups of 5-15 diners at a time. The menu is pan-med, with an emphasis on funky pizza toppings. Starters are more varied, with mezze consisting of a trio of Leb-dips, croquettes and salads.
I had intended to come here years ago but have not been around the Pez area for a while, and it had slipped my mind. A farewell party was the perfect opportunity.
Great, affordable albariño wine at €12 a bottle kept us well-lubricated, and large pizzas were passed around and shared easily. The Euro cup semi-final was being shown on one of the best big projector screens I’ve ever seen in this city, and it didn’t spoil the vibe in the restaurant one jot. The lighting is warm, service is quick and friendly, and the crowd on that Thursday night were well-heeled and pretty thirty-somethings. I would definitely make this a regular haunt if I lived in this ‘hood. Oh, what the deuce – I will anyway.

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Metro Noviciado / Gran Via

Chirrión. Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 32. Madrid 2 reviews

Memories of my first time here – a year ago – were heavily influenced by the Mango Daiquiri that I savoured ever so slowly during lunch with an ex-colleague. The place was buzzing, bustling with a smarter Chueca crowd than Barriga Llega or La Panza es Primero across the street. Chirrión does things a little differently: an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I didn’t see that cocktail on the menu this time, but opted for a decent tinto de veranda as part of the lunch deal. I took along the man with the biggest appetite in Spain, who recently moved from Madrid to Mallorca in search of new, no doubt more bounteous, pastures. Infamous for once eating 24 cheap-grade albondigas in a free school lunch, he would unashamedly chow down on anything meaty and substantial. I thought that this would be the perfect Plan B since our original intended destination, SushiOlé on Calle de Válgame Dios, had long closed down.

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He let me down. Having plied him with wine the night before, I realised that his recent conversion to teetotalism was an Achilles heel; AL was suffering from his first hangover for 9 months. He made a game effort with the dry uninspiring paella for starters, sipping carbo water all the way through; but then he only managed two tacos and one fajita.
I managed four tacos and two fajitas. The pork meat was soft and stewy but with far too much fat to separate; the strips of chicken were hard and dry. However, their fiery salsa is a kickstarter. Warm CD-sized tortillas keep being brought to the table in round oven-glove-holders, and you can just keep on making your own tacos and fajitas to your heart’s content. Mole sauce costs extra, but we opted for the free sour cream which could’ve been thicker and, well, creamier.
Sure, this taco-munching with a limited range of fillings gets a bit repetitive but it is also great value: €9.90 for a menu del día including a drink, coffee and dessert. AL spent the best part of ten minutes attempting to ‘drop the kids off at the pool’ after taunts from me, but still came back from the bogs with no appetite for even a bite of the chocoflan. Next year, AL, stay off the sauce and bring your A game for a lunch buffet.

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Metro Chueca

Sala Penélope. Calle de Hilarión Eslava, 36. Madrid

This medium-sized club in a smart part of the city attracts some big names: I’ve seen both the drum’n’bass populist Roni Size as well as Dubstep poster-boy Joker here. The bar is usually quick to take orders and make drinks, and the stage is a decent size. The dancefloor is ill-defined but that doesn’t matter when everybody’s moving to a sound system that can definitely handle the low, low frequencies.

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Metro Moncloa

Feria de la Tapa. Palacio de Los Deportes. Madrid

This is a highly recommended four day event in the principal sports arena of Madrid: local restaurants run stands taking tokens (€1.20 each) for a tapa or beer.

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Highlights include ‘reconstructed tortilla’ and soft stewy beef in a Carrilla de ternera.

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Fun concoctions were designed such as a little shot glass of creamy liver pâté topped with a few pieces of popcorn, cocido served in mini-cones and fillet mignon stacked on hash browns.
The best part of this experience is being able to try everything, as they are all pegged at 1 token each. The only items costing more than €1.20 are the bottles of beer – cañas are still only a token each. There were no queues, no entry charge and no frustrations whatsoever. Music blasted and foodies gathered around waist-high tables without any seats comparing what they had just brought from the choice of 40 or so stalls. This event put Spanish food firmly in the top ten of world cuisines for me. Highly recommended: mark it in your diaries for June 2013.

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Elcano. Calle de Lagasca, 7. Madrid

Only a two minute walk from Puerta de Alcala and the entrance to Retiro park, Elcano is just on the right side of the city to attract a posher clientele; it’s young, but pricey tucked-in shirts abound, and local business students and bankers with some cash to burn are found congregating around the bar area. For some of them, this is the most pedestrian and downmarket they would go.
It’s comfortable inside, and the lighting sets off a moody ambience, as does the music which veers wildly from subtle to dancey. We ate the special, albondigas de rabo de toro (bull’s tail meatballs) which were dense and complex, flavourful and wholesome. Their caipiroska is commendable too, but the service can be non-existent, and when solicited, arrogant and indifferent. Reports have varied, with some regulars claiming that it is usually a warm, friendly place. I’ll definitely be back, and I hope there’s a different barman next time.

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Metro Retiro

Gaudeamus Cafe. Calle de Tribulete, 14. Madrid

2013 Update: Renamed ‘Gau & Co.’ with two separate terrace sides – one for drinks and snacks (burgers and hummus) and the other for a selection of excellent sharing platters – this has been a welcome mini-transformation. The menu is great, service is friendly and quick and there is a constant buzz in the summer. We would recommend the ceviche, fried aubergine, egg-combo dishes and rollitas vietnamitas with the chocolate dip.
Perched on top of the UNED building close to the heart of Lavapies, Gaudeamus has been popular for a few years now. This is the place I first tasted salmorejo, the cold creamy soup that is as ubiquitous in summer as its more well-known sister gazpacho. It’s a rich eggy mix, with a vivid orange colour complimented by mustard-yellow crumbled egg yolk. Surprisingly, this refreshing soup typically has no milk or cream in it, but this particular version is so akin to a dairy-smoothie that you’ll be surprised by its ingredients.
Drinks really do taste better up on this rooftop terrace, with views of the crumbling older buildings of Lavapies. Indeed, there is far more outdoor than indoor space. It’s a building in which I’d recommend descending the steps to get a full sense of the size of such a spacious centre in this area.

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Metro Lavapies

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