Madrid offers one of Europe’s most laid-back lifestyles along with world-class museums, elegant architecture, year-round blue skies and a wonderfully open-minded and sociable population.
Most of all though, Madrid offers a fabulous and good-value food scene.
So while it has historically been overlooked in favour of the more in-your-face charms of Barcelona, it is certainly time to check-out Spain’s international capital for a foodie weekend break.
Celso y Manolo
Where else to start than in a traditional tapas restaurant. Celso y Manolo is an intimate and relaxing tasca in a quiet side street in on-trend Justicia. Interiors feature 1950 floor tiles, a thick marble-topped bar and simple wooden tables and chairs. Local businesspeople, young mothers and clued-up tourists come for the mix of traditional and modern cuisine. Choose from fried calamari (rabas), slow-cooked casserole with octopus and mussels (Cazuelita Marinera Cudillero), melting jamón ibérico and the very finest tomatoes de España.
Fabulous food and value (a glass of crisp Alberiño white wine for €2.50), friendly and fun.
Celso y Manolo, Calle Libertad 1 Madrid +34 915 31 80 79 celsoymanolo.es/en
A beautiful monochrome design featuring super-sized posters, mirrored walls and comfortable leather studded banquettes sets the tone of this hugely appealing restaurant in hip Cheuca. The assured touch of master Madrid restaurateur Fernando Cuenllas is apparent in dishes that celebrate well sourced local produce and classic flavours.
Media ración translates as ‘medium portion’ and these are dishes to be shared over a glass or two from the extensive wine list. The friendly staff will discuss the merits of dishes including rabbit with rice, pork trotters with smoked eel and the house speciality, Callos Cuenllas – Tripe Stew. The restaurant is in the five-star Hotel Urso but has its own entrance and own – magnificent – atmosphere. Don’t miss this one.
Media Ración, Calle de la Beneficencia, 15, 28004 Madrid, Spain +34 914 47 51 11 mediaracion.es/en/
This is the hottest ticket in Madrid right now. Amazonico is in the smartest street of upmarket Salamanca and provides unalloyed fun from the overgrown ‘jungle’ design that covers the interior walls and ceilings in low-hanging greenery to the flavour-packed menu. Food choices are a mix of Asia and the Mediterranean with Brazilian influences: the steaks are top-class as are the fish pinchos.
Add in punchy cocktails, a nightly Jungle Jazz Club and a lively clientele and you have the madness of Amazon and España that is Amazonico. Book well in advance.
Amazonico, Calle Jorge Juan, 20, 28001 +34 915 15 43 32 restauranteamazonico.com
Calle de Ponzano
Madrileños are possibly Europe’s most sociable residents, never happier than when outside, eating and drinking late into the night with friends. One of Madrid’s most sociable streets is Calle de Ponzano in Chamberi where tiny bars line up to offer a beer and a tapa or two. Calle de Ponzano claims to have more restaurants than any other European city and you would be hard pressed to try them all in one evening.
Calle de Ponzano, Madrid.
Food markets are an important part of daily life for local residents and while some have become a tourist magnet, you’ll still see regulars turning up to buy the freshest seafood (Madrid might be close to 200 miles from the coast but its seafood is excellent), fruit and vegetables, cheeses and of course the finest jamón ibérico.
The most famous is Mercado de San Miguel, a glass and metal building close to Plaza Mayor. Touristy, yes, but also very beautiful with intricate pyramid displays of produce, fine wines and a popular champagne and oyster bar. For something more local try Mercado Barceló, a striking metal box in Las Salesas and Mercado de San Anton in Cheuca where you can look down from a central atrium over three floors of buzzing city life with market stalls, sushi bars and tapas.
Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel
Mercado Barceló, Calle Barceló, 6
Mercado de San Anton, Calle de Augusto Figueroa
A food market that deserves a special mention, Platea is a shining example of how Madrid mixes a top-quality food scene with a light-hearted touch. This is a gourmet food hall in a converted cinema in the heart of Madrid that bills itself as Europe’s largest gastronomic and leisure centre. It has four floors of bars, restaurants and food stalls, 6,000 square metres offering truffle chips up to Michelin dining against a backdrop of music, live shows and entertainment. Platea vow to provide a unique city experience and say they are “passionate about all they do”. This venue is one not to miss on any visit to Madrid.
Platea, Calle de Goya, 5-7 +34 915 77 00 25 plateamadrid.com/en/
Madrileños love to spend time in their elegant and spacious Buen Retiro Park on the eastern edge of the city and a favourite stop off after an hour or two walking around the immaculate grounds or rowing on the lake is Café Murillo. Named after a Spanish painter from Seville, Cafe Murillo has been serving perfect cortado and café con leche since 1927. Today its well-heeled regular clientele come for a drink at the bar or a meal at the restaurant behind. For visitors to Madrid it is also the perfect place to rest your legs after a tour of the magnificent Masters (Velázquez, Raphael, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Rembrandt) on show in the nearby Prado Museum.
Café Murillo, Calle Ruiz de Alarcon 27. + 34 91 369 36 89 murillocafe.com
Where to Stay: Totem and Urso Hotel
If this has persuaded you to head to Madrid, two hotels well-placed to explore all these recommendations are Tótem and Hotel Urso.
Tótem is the newer of the two with 68 rooms and suites in the smart and long-established Salamanca district (think Belgravia in Madrid). Light and bright rooms (upgrade to a corner suite for the elegant windows alone) have wooden floors, contemporary furniture and marble bathrooms. The ground floor restaurant and bar are named Hermosos y Malditos (translates as The Beautiful and The Damned after the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel) and both are a hit with local residents.
The bar was one of my favourite rooms in all of Madrid, furnished with deep blue velvet sofas and enveloping curtains that produce a suitably raffish atmosphere for drinks and tapas.
Tótem Madrid Rooms from €145 per night based on two sharing on a B&B basis; Calle de Hermosilla 23 + 34 914 260 035; totem-madrid.com
Hotel Urso is 15 minutes-walk away in Justicia, rapidly emerging as one of Madrid’s most popular areas to live. This five-star hotel opened in 2014 to rapturous acclaim for its location and spoiling interior design by architect Antonio Obrador. He has reworked the traditional neoclassical building to introduce modern style, a perfect match for Madrid’s reinvention in the past few years. Vintage black and white images of Madrid and a gloriously renovated antique elevator are matched by contemporary fabrics, a luxurious spa and the most dramatic breakfast room in the city.
Hotel Urso & Spa, Rooms from €200 based on two sharing on a B&B basis; Mejía Lequerica 8,+ 34 914 444 458; hotelurso.com