I expected to start this post by talking about the wonderful tapas, or the amazing weather, or seeing the Guernica first hand, but no. I can’t help but talk about a restaurant serving asian fusion food. Fusion. A word that often brings hellish nightmares of two dishes that have no right being together on the same plate, but people rave about it because it’s ‘fusion’. Fuck fusion.
Except Pink Monkey‘s take on it, because OH MY GOD THAT WAS SOME GOOD ASIAN FUSION.
It was our last day in Madrid and our flight wasn’t until late afternoon. Rather than risk the delights of airline food (cardboard sandwiches anyone?), we decided to have a big lunch, and decided that one of Madrid’s newish places would be a good place. We weren’t disappointed. I know I don’t usually list off exactly what we ate at each place in my City High posts, but if you think I’m not going to get all Jay Rayner on you right now, you’re mistaken.
Caitlin started with some excellent chicken satay, which came already covered in the peanut sauce, rather than the watery after thought that so often accompanies the dish. It was chunky and rich and you didn’t need a lot of it thanks to the flavour it brought. However, if you’re keeping score, I think I won the starters. My Indonesian kebab, slathered in a raita goes straight into my top five kebabs of all time. And considering that most of the kebabs I’ve had in my life have saved my life at 3am in Old Street, that’s a big claim.
We followed those with a couple of curries – Caitlin had the red Iberica, while I went for the yellow duck – and most importantly of all, roti. Let me tell you what I now know about Caitlin and roti. Many years ago she went on a family holiday to Malaysia. While there she happened upon some roti, which I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say, changed her life. She returned to the UK and hunted far and wide for some roti to match this delicious buttery, flakey, and light roti. But alas, the quest always ended in disappointment and an overly doughy fake roti. Until the 19th May 2017. That was the day that the roti served to us at Pink Monkey in Madrid matched the high standards Caitlin has set for roti. And that, reader, will always be the highlight of Madrid for Caitlin (who is currently investigating ways to get warm roti delivered from Madrid to Lisbon).
Anyway, we did some other things too, and while I’ve started with food why don’t we continue down that path. Spain, as you may have heard, is quite well known for its tapas. Some of our highlights included Estado Puro, which is maybe a little chain-y, but the choices were great, and Juana La Loca. The latter was probably the best that we had the entire break, and the queues suggested that this wasn’t exactly a hidden gem. Everybody knew about it. It’s a bit more modern than a lot of them, but if you want to hit some traditional ones, and be surrounded by drunken youths (*pushes glasses up nose and tuts*), then head for Calle Cava Baja. You can’t move for tapas bars and you just want to crawl along, one after another. Some are a lot better than others, but they’re cheap and if you have enough wine and beer, they’re all excellent.
Olivia te Cuida is a little tiny place, with just three tables. Albeit one of those tables is the beautiful huge central table in the photos at the bottom of this post. It’s menu changes daily and is nice and simple. It’s vegetarian and you can pick a selection of three or four dishes (I’ve forgotten how many exactly) and they serve it all to you on one wonderful plate. Mix up some grains, with some salad, with a main and you’ve got yourself a lunch that can only be described as “tasty”. It’s very rustic, and although you know that they’ve spent hours agonising over exactly how to position the wobbly chairs and what cutlery looks the most like it comes from an old Spanish village, its charm shines through.
On the other end of the lunch spectrum is Takos Al Pastor. I really hope you like queuing. You’ll be able to see the queue bursting out of the door before you see the place itself, but it moves quite quickly and everybody is very efficient. There are probably a dozen tables and turn round is quick. Despite the fact that you order at the counter and they bring the food over to you, there seems to be an unwritten rule that you don’t grab a table before you’ve ordered. This may make you worry that the sweet spot by the big window is going to go, but it all works. By the time we’d ordered we had a choice of about three tables (we chose the sweet spot by the big window). Tacos are €1 each on the whole, with some reaching the dizzy heights of €1.20. I’ll level with you. We over-ordered. As well as the huge plate you’ll see in the photo, we got cheese smothered alambres and some quesadillas. Having said that, I would highly recommend that you over-order because they’re damn good.
For drinks we were told to head for the Malasaña area, and I’m going to pass that advice on and tell you to head there too. Most of the bars are the old style, with dark wood, very little lighting and no locks on the toilet door. There is little point getting there much before 9pm, during the week at least, but when you do head for Corazón and Café Manuela. Both offer up a great selection of cocktails, and the latter has a decent selection of craft beer too. They also both boast floor to ceiling open windows at the front, so you can quite happily sit and people watch. If it’s a larger selection of craft beer you want, just up the road from Corazón is Fábrica Maravillas. They have their own brewery in the back, with the usual choice of half a dozen or so beers on tap. It’s quite different from a lot of other places we came across in the area, in that it’s new and looks very fresh.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I like nothing more than a nice looking coffee shop. Along with perfect green leafed plants and brutalism, nice looking coffee shops are top tier Instagram subjects. They also tend to do good coffee. Both Hola Coffee and Plenti tick both of these boxes. Hola is the more established of the two, and the quality of the coffee (I had a v60) lives up to the pretty minimalist look. It’s also where I took one of my favourite photos of Caitlin I’ve ever taken. Plenti is a bit more busy in both look, and custom. Although that might be because we went for breakfast this time around. Is there anything better than a perfect latte and baked eggs for breakfast? No there is not. The menu was nice and simple, and the solo waiter somehow managed to keep up with everything while maintaining a smile on his face.
Once again a lot of our time was spent eating, as you can probably tell from the previous 1,200 words. We did managed to fit in a couple of museums though. I think it might be illegal to got to Madrid and not go to Museo Reina Sofia. The reason is simply because it is the home to one of Picasso’s most famous pieces. Guernica. When we visited there was a full exhibition dedicated to the creation of the piece, including how the commission came about and the influence his wife, Olga, had on his work around that time. At times it caused some uneasiness in us, as Picasso clearly had some serious issues with women.
The other big recommendation is Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Here you can see works from Kandinsky, Lucien Freud, Bacon, Rothko and my man Roy Lichtenstein. It’s very nicely put together, and covers a massive amount of works. Don’t expect a huge amount of commentary though, and just wander around working your way through the ages.
After all that eating and walking around galleries, also make sure you save some time to relax in El Retiro Park. Covering about the same amount of land mass and all of Russia, this huge space has plenty of bits to walk around, cycle around or sit around in. We spent some time watching an old man watching people playing football, and it all looked very, very Spanish. I like to think he was a scout for Real Madrid watching some Sunday league football, just in case.
Madrid is good. I like it a lot. It’s a city that works hard, and if you’re wandering around during the week you’ll be greeted by droves of business people. But as soon as they clock off it’s very relaxed. Yes the tapas bars are busy, but there is a certain chilledness to the bustle. It hasn’t got the party atmosphere of Barcelona, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
Oh shit, I have to go back to food quick because I almost forgot about Chocolatería San Ginés. Make time for their churros, because they are good churros.