The Huertas neighborhood of central Madrid wasn’t a place I would go more than a handful of times a year to eat, but the bars and tapas joints there are famous for their vermouth and hearty croquetas, salty jamón and oily anchovies. This charming and buzzy East Village restaurant opened a few years ago and signed up to the gratuity-free group, strengthening their Euro-credentials. There was the NYT article about how they added the ‘extra tentacle’ to their octopus dish to make the price increase fairer on diners, and it really is more reasonable than other tapas bars where you can spend an obscene amount on very little food.
Canned fish is something our server had spoken to many a diner about before, and his rehearsed lines – ‘Americans look down on canned products but in Spain they are often the best’ – weren’t necessary to persuade us to order the mussels, drenched in rich paprika oil. The croquetas were excellent while the jamón was merely good, but the bistek (skirt steak, $23) and huevos rotos (quails egg beaten over stringed pasta-like potato, $12) were exceptional.
There is a wide range of drinks, from the aforementioned vermouth, to gintonic on tap, along with beers, cocktails and kalimotxos (red wine & cola).
It was refreshing not to have to worry about tipping and also not to be hassled unnecessarily by overly-attentive servers checking up on the table. This is the future.
Subway: 1st Ave (L)
Location is a problem for this Spanish wine’n’tapas joint: stuck amongst the bars of Shoreditch heaving with their dolled-up suburbanites and badly-behaved Essex lads, it just about manages to keep its head above the fray. The patatas bravas is a fantastic beer-sponge, the sauce made with extra paprika, and much better than most versions I tried after years in Madrid; the tortilla was small and lacked the cake-density of the traditional classic. The wine selection is good, and service is mostly friendly. We’ll have to come by again to try their wider selection of offerings or stop by for a copa de vino anytime except Saturday night.
For exquisite tapas and larger meals with a fine selection of tipples, Sophie Bistro is an atmospheric wine bar with its roots firmly in Spain. The music and lighting is just right, with friendly personal service and a huge menu spanning all types of Creole and Spanish favourites. Classy local clientele and a formidable chef make this a place to drop into if you need an intimate date night in Miraflores. Clink clink.
This wine bar is open until 3am, and it gets pretty busy on weekends with thirty- and forty-somethings. The choice of glasses and bottles is fairly good, but prices are predictably quite high for certain European choices. Our glasses of Chilean red and Argentinian Santa Ana white were $7 each. Sherry, Lambrusco and champagne (from $80) are also available. Small pieces of soft bread are served with mini-syringes filled with olive oil. It’s a nice gimmick, but quite fiddly.
The manzana y cabra montaditos (apple and goats cheese with cinnamon sauce canapés) we ordered were sweet and very moreish. Music is very varied, ranging from chanson to soft electronic.
Extremely bright lighting inside validated our choice to sit on their terrace, on which the canopy nearly blew off due to the strong gusts – it seems to be angled perfectly to catch wind like a clipper’s sail. We had glasses of verdejo with tostas de bonito picante which resembled – and almost tasted like – tinned cat food. Needless to say, there was nothing spicy about it at all. We didn’t bother ordering anything else, but most tapas in decent portions cost 3.90-4.30€.
Apparently there’s one on Gran Vía too though I can’t see why I would recommend that either.
Metro Lista / Núñez de Balboa
A wide range of toasts with delectable toppings at surprisingly high prices, this certainly is the place to try something a little more Spanish as the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurants are almost outnumbering the neighbourhood cervecerias. The solomillo was delicious, thick and firm and not too fatty at all, while the melted cheese sat well with the mushrooms. We shared three amongst five of us, but if you had one each it would almost make a substantially filling meal.
Not a typical restaurant for delusionaryculinary to find himself at, La Cazuela seemed to offer a unique new neighbourhood experience. A 25€ set menu was quite good value-for-money, though service was shabby on our visit, and the decor is coldly minimalist – needlessly glassy and spacious. The Queso y con salsa de frutas del bosque (8.80€) were delicious, suspiciously perfect cubes of fried Brie cheese. Berenjenas a la miel de caña de azúcar (9.80€) – discs of Aubergine lightly fried with a dark honey sauce – were nothing like the sweet tempura delights that Cordoba specialises in, but the main courses were the highlights: Solomillitos rellenos de queso de cabra con salsa Pedro Ximénez (15.95€), a few parcels of tender beef with a goats cheese filling, and the Churrería de Buey – strips of Ox meat that you cook on a hot plate with a chipotle-style sauce.
Chocolate fondant for desert was perfectly fine, though should have been baked to ensure a harder exterior. All in all, very average; definitely could do better.
Metro Cuatro Caminos