Friday, April 8, 2016

Madrid - The glorious food

We had four nights in Madrid. That was just about enough to get a taste of Spanish food local to Madrid.

Madrid is not known for its Paella – which honour goes to Valencia. Madrid is in the dead centre of Spain, miles from any sea. However, sea food is big, very very big in Madrid. Fish is everywhere. Spain is big on Potato as it is on Egg. Egg is eaten at dinner often paired with vegetables. Pork products are dominant.

A peculiarity of dining in Spain is that lunches are late not before 2 pm and dinners are very late 10 pm being the norm. In fact most restaurants will not take a dinner reservation before 8.30 if you are lucky or 9 pm as is the case most often. Contrast this with London where a reservation at Gordon Ramsay can be at an unearthly hour of 6.30 pm!

Our hotel was located very close to what was a restaurant street. Several restaurants all quite swish lined the street. So we walked up and down the street looking at menus and deciding where to eat the first night.

La Maquina looked very good. It was buzzing and had a great vibe. We had a terrible time getting to Madrid, what with the cancelled fight, the delayed flight and the very early morning start. All this greatly upsets HRH The Queen of Kutch. She was not in the finest of moods and she was not particularly hungry.

We sat and were offered the very famous Jamon Iberico freshly hand sliced as a starter. How could we resist. The first slice was popped in my mouth, the soft melting fat, the deliciously sweet and savoury meat. Welcome to Spain! I was a happy bunny.

The delicious Tomato Bread - available and eaten all over Spain

To drink, since I was in Spain, I had to have Gin Tonic – the Spanish do not deal with the ampersand. Gin Tonic has become all the rage in Spain, and Spain has become one of the biggest consumers of Gin in the world. Gin Tonic in Spain is a unique experience. You get a huge goblet filled with ice. You ask for the Gin by name – Gordons, Beefeater, Tanqueray ordinary or No 10 and countless others, including a Saffron Gin. You ask for Tonic by name – Schweppes, Fever Tree or Fentimans and the server brings along a bottle of the Gin, the glass and the Tonic. Then he pours the Gin, and pours, and pours until you say stop. No small, no large, no 60ml – they just pour!!. The Gin can be garnished with Lime, Lemon, Orange or even Green Apple. Bartenders are combining more and more garnishes with Gin. I had a Tanqueray No 10 with Schweppes. Welcome to Spain. Crisp refreshing and damn tasty.

Croquettes were an absolute must. Hot and crunchy on the outside, gooey and melting on the inside. An order of Salt Cod and Ham Croquettes.

For my dinner I had to have the Madrid classic. Pork and Bean stew. A double protein. The beans are local, and look like Baked Beans on steroids. The stew is made by boiling the beans with Pork Belly, Pork Shoulder, Chorizo and Morcilla- the Spanish Blood Sausage or Black Pudding. The Stew is obviously flavoured with Paprika. When serving, the Meat is served separately. This was truly delicious. So delicious that we have bought the raw materials to try and reproduce this at home.

Dessert was nice. Basically it was a sweet `Khari’ Biscuit with some Custard – Crème Anglaise and Whipped Cream – Crème Chantilly. Not quite what I expected but devoured.

The Spanish and the Portuguese are big on egg custards. By this I mean the Caramel Custards we have in India, of course made with real egg here and the Goan Bebinca. Remember Goa was a Portuguese Colony.

The next day we were out discovering Madrid. We popped into a Jamon [Ham] shop for lunch. We got a combination plate of 4 types of pork product – the Spicy Paprika Chorizo, some Sausage, some Jamon Iberico and some Lomo [Lomo is the Tenderloin]. The plate came with some local Manchengo Cheese. To wash this down was two small glasses of chilled beer. That lunch beats Bisi Bele Bhaat hands down.

Dinner was at an Andalucian Restaurant called La Giralda. Very old school, older staff wearing suits. Our table was at 9 pm when the kitchen opened. We loved this place.

To start HRH The Queen of Kutch ordered a single grilled Prawn. This was a monster, and, as she certifies, was not cooked to the last inch of its life. It was not rubber, it was still tender and the protein had just set. This was skilful cooking. Looks gorgeous does it not? I had the all-Spanish dish of Gambas Al Ajillo – Prawns with Garlic and Olive Oil. Once again, besides being very tasty, the Prawns were not MRF Tyres. HRH The Queen of Kutch was very tempted by what seemed to be a Parsee dish, Straw Potato Egg and Ham – Sali per Eenda as our Parsee friends would say. The Salli had its own sauce being the runny Egg yolk with the fried ham providing the salt for the dish.

After eating all this, we had decided that we would order and share a single portion of Oxtail Stew that was a Madrid speciality. However, when ordering there was a discussion with the Steward about the fresh Sea Bream that the restaurant had. There was some confusion / misunderstanding and lost in translation happening. Suddenly, amid much fanfare out came a serving table, some knives and a large tray bearing a Sea Bream encased in Salt and baked. This was ours!!! Boy oh boy, this was a lot of food and not something we had counted on. No way to protest. We loosened the top buttons on our trousers and proceeded to eat. The Steward in some dazzling tableside service, deftly skinned and filleted the fish and plated it. This was served with a Garlicky Aioli and Mayonnaise. Absolutely wonderful fish.

The meal ended with – you guessed it –  very very smooth and quite firm Caramel Custard beautifully presented.

It was Botin for the next dinner. Botin is a legendary restaurant. The Guinness Book lists it as the world’s oldest restaurant – tracing its origins to the 1725. The famous Spanish painter Goya, worked there as a waiter. I don’t know what significance that has, but, anyway. By the way before you get all excited – Kareems in Old Delhi is a baby, it was founded in 1913. As far as restaurants are concerned, here is a tip – any place where Hemmingway had eaten is good. Any place where President Clinton has eaten is good. These two chaps have eaten at the best places. I am not being facetious in the least. I am dead serious.

Getting a reservation at Botin was a challenge. We got a table for 10.30 pm which we refused. Then we got one for 9.30 pm the next day. Finally we trudged up to the restaurant and asked for an earlier table. We got one at 8.00 pm.

Botin is famous for four or five dishes one of them being a salad. We were not interested in that. We had a plate of the Croquettes, lovely.  I had the Botin Garlic Soup. This is served with a Poached Egg and laced with Sherry. Very good. HRH The Queen of Kutch’s egg obsession was well served by the speciality Botin dish of Morcilla, Scrambled Egg and Potato. It was really good. The mains were Clams Botin Style for HRH The Queen of Kutch. The sauce was simply divine, smokey with the Paprika, salty, fishy and rich. I had the dish Hemmingway had – Roast Suckling Pig. 

Botin gets its 20 day old suckling pigs from Segovia a small city next to Madrid famous for its own roast suckling pigs. These are roasted in a wood fired oven that is easily 200 years old. Obviously if you have been roasting pigs for 200 years you know what you are doing. And I must say the pig was worth the visit. Crisp crackling, shattering under the pressure of the cutlery, revealing moist meat. You got a tablespoon of Jus and a couple of Roast Potato. Simple, unadorned, unspiced dish gloriously cooked. All this was washed down with a bottle of some fine House Wine.

Dessert was - you guessed it –  Caramel Custard with some Whipped Cream.

I took a walk around and peeked into the kitchen with its legendary oven.

A wonderful meal in a lovely restaurant. You must visit this for the whole experience. We have eaten in the world’s best restaurant – the Fat Duck, the World’s Oldest – Botin. The world worst is an ever changing restaurant.

The last night in Madrid after the bullfight was going to be a late night. Quintin is what we chose. This is a modern Spanish restaurant. Very trendy – think Olive in Mumbai as it once was. All the beautiful Madrilenos hang out here. A large place. The food was surprisingly cheap. Once we had a look at the menu and the food we realised how clever the restaurant owners were. Most food had small portions, not miniscule, but smaller than normal. Secondly a lot of the food used cheaper ingredients. For example, HRH The Queen of Kutch ordered for her mains Cannelloni with Squid Ink. The Cannelloni were stuffed with chopped Squid. Chopped Squid is cheap. Why not use it effectively? My mains, especially after the Bull Fight, was Oxtail Hamburger. Oxtail is bloody cheap. All that the restaurant had done was cook the Oxtail in the classic Madrid Stew way, shred the meat and throw away the bones, reformat the meat into a burger and serve. Excellent. Tasty and clever.

Dessert was - you guessed it –  Caramel Custard and an absolutely superb Pistachio Ice Cream. The Ice Cream was exceptional- smooth, creamy, with a deep Pistachio flavour and just the correct amount of salt.

All in all, the food, the drink and the restaurants in Madrid were nice. No complaints. We probably lucked out. All meals were memorable.

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