The anger and bitterness have not subsided in the last two days, feelings I have never had, nor associated with restaurant reviews. Nobody really uses the term ‘hatchet job’ anymore, but if a restaurant maintains an early noughties’ attitude and ethos in these financially-strapped times, the equivalent terminology must be deployed.
Dabbawala is the word in Hindi used to describe Tiffin Men, the delivery guys that take stacked lunchboxes (typically containing curry, rice, dhal and breads in small round tins) to office workers in Indian cities. They are a fascinating sector of modern society and the BBC recently made a documentary about them. For a restaurant to name itself Dabbawala is to define itself as a knowingly hip, buzzing Indian restaurant serving twists on modern classics, the way Dishoom or Tiffin do in London. Dabbawala in the smart Madrid neighbourhood near Alonso Martinez is a beautiful cosy wooden space with tinkling jazz and less than a dozen tables serving modern Iberian dishes. Ceviche, merluza, lamb and duck cuts with rich sauces and fruity reductions; not a grain of rice or sprinkle of garam masala in sight. The disappointment was instant, and the food had a lot to live up to, but we gave it a wide berth. The Pato azulón a la pimienta verde con peras al jengibrepato was delicious, but nothing unique, though the foie pâté we started with had a smooth, creamy texture, the kokochas de merluza con setas de pie azul was a good hake but without much actual fish to enjoy, especially when sharing. The cheapest white wine is an excellent verdejo at 14€ called ‘Terrible’.
The real indignity of this fairly cosy – though lacklustre – meal came with the bill. Apart from the 2.70€ each for bread and extra charges for the butifarra salad they’d served as an entree, paying 132€ for dinner where four small appetites are sharing three starters, two mains, two bottles and a dessert is robbery. We didn’t opt for the tasting menu (45€ each) as half our table were pescatarians, and Spanish establishments haven’t yet learned how to be flexible – something The Fat Duck does very well, incidentally. Many restaurants in Madrid serving modern Spanish fare have an evening set meal for 30€ each that would fill you up and get you boozed. This did neither.
Metro Alonso Martinez/Ruben Dario
We finally made it here still in our swimwear, straight from the pool. I had never seen PTT open, and this was our opportunity. They even said the kitchen was closing but we pleaded, and they yielded.
The Pad Thai was really rather good, beautifully presented, nutty, crunchy and not at all heavy. But the real star of this late lunch was the Satay de langostinos, with a generous serving of spicy peanut sauce. Be careful if you ask for extra chilli: the birds’ eye chilli flecks they put in front of you are lethal.
Wine is served in splendidly large glasses, and the decor is clean and fresh – the closest I’ve seen to New Asian in Madrid, with subtle touches of bamboo, rice-paddy green and not a trace of gold nor a red-tassel lantern in sight. I shall be coming here very regularly.
Metro Embajadores/ Palos de la Frontera
And the search for the perfect Chinese restaurant in Madrid continues… A reasonably-priced place that is distinct from the identikit neighbourhood joint. DB claims that the city just can’t do a decent Peking duck, but if he was pushed and had to choose, Buen Gusto’s does it for him.
I’ve been there four times and have never been disappointed. A huge room containing large tables armed with lazy-susans – well-heeled Chinese families come here and spend a lot – as well as tables for two and four, the space can be overwhelming, especially as on entering you are confronted with a dramatic aquarium and large photo of the king with the restaurant owners.
The menu has a lot of pictures, which helps with some of the more complex dishes. The Peking duck is tasty, but could do with a crispier skin. The fish with basil was a great choice, as are the prawn noodles, and they can tweak any order (more chilli! Less pork!) whilst plying you with bottles of Tsing Tao. A real winner, and not just for the neighbourhood.
Metro Palos De La Frontera/Legazpi
Han boasts quality ingredients and good cooking, and most importantly for the price, a slicker ambience than most. Service can be a tad over-attentive and a little gauche, but they are generous here with portions and can deal with a large group on a Saturday evening quite affably.
The Peking duck was standard (Buen Gusto’s is probably better) but their chilli and basil dishes hit the button, and they have a decent selection of wines. There is something very Chinatown London about the decor, with its unfussy walls, shiny steel and glass fittings. Lighting is bright, so it could be a great space to start the night after a Saturday siesta and shower.
Restaurante Wok. You wouldn’t necessarily see the real name of this place as it’s just plastered with the words ‘buffet libre Asiático’ everywhere. I’ve been wanting to come here for an eat-all-you-can binge for almost three years, and an imminent evening visit to the dentist meant that dinner would have to be ruled out on this roasting summer Wednesday; ergo, a huge late lunch.
There is no terrace, unlike a good number of the eateries and bars on Alcalá’s historical Calle Mayor, but that really doesn’t matter when you have Chinese food, sushi, teppanyaki meats, and desserts all around you. They even have a romper room/crèche and a pick’n’mix section for the kiddies (to eat sweets ON the premises, not to make take-away bags. Spoilsports). Even wine, beer and soft drinks are included.
Our lunch deal cost us a crisis-friendly 8.50€ each: the most cracking bargain of my time here. For this we ate a lot of average food, drank only a couple of drinks (something must’ve come over me) and ignored the fresh fruit and flan for dessert. The nigiri and california rolls weren’t bad, the rice, noodles and Szechuan dishes were quite tasty, but the best part is taking your raw meats to the teppanyaki grill and getting it cooked in any any sauce base you like (curry, soya, oyster, teriyaki) while you wait. We had beef, mussels, cockels, frogs’ legs, and octopus, and I’d come back just for that, along with a kid who’d appreciate the plastic-ball-pool and trampoline in the crèche.
$: A certified cheap eat
35 mins from Atocha Renfe station + 15 minute walk.
FroYo doesn’t usually get a write-up on these pages, but this is such a buzzing local hotspot, five minutes walk from where I work, that I just had to check it out. It’s brand new, and its facade sticks out like a sore thumb on Calle Mayor, one of Alcalá’s historical main streets that boasts Plaza de Cervantes as well as the Casa de Cervantes museum, both on the daytrippers’ sightseeing trail from Madrid. It’s such a breath of fresh air, jostling for attention between the cervecerías and hippy-merch stores, the latter of which have proliferated wildly during the crisis, as the mid-classes shop cheaper under the guise of ethnic drapery and worldly-wise holistic crappery. Smooy is the white n’ pink plastic shopfront pimping its wares amongst all this.
Prices aren’t low: 2.50€ for a small serving with one topping, 3€ for two toppings. But they really do have everything, from turrón to Oreos, mango to fruits of the forest. I counted 28 different sauces, crumbly nuts, biscuits, fruits and syrups. The FroYo itself is refreshing yet not overly watery, creamy though not overly dairy. After much deliberation, I chose an almond treacle topping which must have raised the calorie-count somewhat. A brave new place in a Spanish heritage town.
We came across this one by mistake. Taking the long road around Toledo on a blazing July Sunday, we walked into a multistory car park and staired it to the top, thereby avoiding the winding cobbled streets. Bu greeted us when we emerged at the top, and it’s quite secluded, sitting on the western edge of the city centre, with a clear view over the river all the way to the Provincial de la Misericordia. The drinks menu is comprehensive, with twelve cocktails and thirteen gins (6€-10€) four granizados naturales and five milkshakes. We tried the mocha milkshake and cold chocolate with vanilla (3.50€ each); both were average. The little fried pinchos are quite good little snacks, nugget-style parcels filled with ham and cheese.
I’ll be coming here for evening cocktails when I finally get to spend a night in Toledo with La Alta, sometime in October.