Madrid’s range of eating establishments is legion, and includes tapas bars, cafés, marisquerías (seafood bars) and restaurantes. At almost any of our recommendations you could happily eat your fill – money permitting – though at bars, madrileños usually eat just a tapa or share a ración of the house speciality, then move on to repeat the procedure down the road. While cafés do serve food, they are much more places to drink coffee, have a copa or caña, or read the papers. Some also act as a meeting place for the semi-formal tertulia – a kind of discussion/drinking group, popular among Madrid intellectuals of the past and revived in the 1980s.
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Thanks to its status as Spanish capital, Madrid has long provided a home to almost every regional style of Spanish cooking from Castilian roasts, Galician seafood and Andalucian fried fish, to Asturian stews, Valencian paellas and Basque nueva cocina.
The city also has its own range of home-spun dishes with the famous cocido madrileño, a three-course stew of various cuts of meat, chorizo, chickpea and vegetables, topping the list. Other traditional favourites include callos (tripe in a spicy tomato sauce), oreja (pig’s ears), caracoles (snails) and a range of offal-based dishes.
But Madrid is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan and dozens of foreign cuisines have appeared on the scene in recent years. There are some good Peruvian, Argentinian, Middle Eastern and Italian places and a growing number of oriental-influenced restaurants with some inventive fusion-style cuisine.
Top chefs in Madrid
Aside from the burgeoning international cuisine scene in Madrid, further good news for gastronomes is that several of the country’s top chefs have established flagship restaurants in the capital.
Sergi Arola has set up his Gastro at c/Zurbano 31 t913 102 169, sergiarola.es; Alonso Martínez. This Michelin-starred restaurant offers a constantly changing range of fixed courses on a set menu ranging from €95–160.
Ramón Freixa’s exquisite creations are showcased at Freixa Madrid in the Selenza Hotel.
Óscar Velasco runs the Michelin-starred Santceloni in the Hotel Hespería Paseo de la Castellana 57 (t912 108 840, restaurantesantceloni.com; Gregorio Marañon), with stunning, but hugely expensive menus at €132 and €165.
Ángel Palacios is head chef at La Broche at the Hotel Miguel Ángel (c/Miguel Ángel 29 t913 993 437; Gregorio Marañon), which provides a more accessible set of options ranging from the lunchtime-only Ejecutive menú at €28 to the taster menu at €80 and the Gran Festival at €108.
What’s cooking in Barcelona?
The minimalist, food-as-chemistry approach, pioneered by Catalan super-chef Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame), has Barcelona in a vice-like grip. The best local chefs continue to reinterpret classic Catalan dishes in innovative ways, and while prices in these gastro-temples are high there’s a trend towards more economic, bistro-style dining even by the hottest chefs. Current fad is the fusion of Mediterranean and Asian flavours – a so-called “Mediterrasian” cuisine – that combines local, market-fresh ingredients with more exotic tastes. It rears its head especially in the world of tapas, since although there are still plenty of traditional tapas bars (particularly in the Barri Gòtic, along c/Ample, c/de la Mercè, and their offshoots), there’s also a real sense of adventure in new-wave places that are deadly serious about their food – you’re as likely to get shrimp tempura or a yucca chip as a garlic mushroom in Barcelona these days.