“Shall I lay on dinner?”
“No, I’d rather you didn’t. It does tend to bruise the Brussels sprouts. Let’s eat out tonight.”
Weekend meal times have lately found me stuck fast between table and chair in a variety of Madrid’s chophouses, wedged immovable by my swollen midriff and often having to be manhandled out on to the street by the strapping Maitre d’. Below are a few brief summaries of some of my culinary adventures, though I’m more epicurious than epicurean, and more a gourmand than a gourmet, so don’t expect any, “…far too much seasoning between ourselves. After all, the mission of the herb is to accentuate not impregnate, n’est-ce pas? And the lobster bisque at Le Chien Que Fume was a bit on the vicious side don’t you think?”
Toma is a tiny little restaurant tucked away on Conde Duque. Ideal if you want reasonably priced, modern Spanish cuisine but can’t face being in a room with more than 6 people. I recall the menu being rather short, but as I can be hopelessly indecisive this was a blessing. It was some time ago that I visited and I can recall only that whatever meat I ate was good and that when I ordered the Tiramisu the waitress returned with a blindfolded horse. “No dear, mascarpone.” Decent grub if you’re passing but don’t make a night of it. Take 30€, leave any bulky baggage behind. Or send her to her mother’s.
Ginza is slung beneath a grubby building and appears rather dull and uninspiring upon descent of the stairs. The sushi conveyor belt, being an antiquated steampunk style thing, chugs along through a plastic tunnel that looked like something I’d expect to encounter in an animal testing lab. I half expected to see a sad-looking rabbit in blusher and false lashes parade by. What did pass us was plates of delicious, sea-breeze-fresh Maki and Nigirizushi. I was reassured that a lot of Ginza’s customers were Japanese and I especially liked that they put little display-only items on the conveyor, but obscurely labelled so as to catch out the unwary. I damn near broke my tooth on an ersatz California roll, but was quickly pacified with soothing green tea ice cream. Costs slightly less than those hip, trapped-inside-a-chocolate-box-chic Sushi places that are dotted around Madrid. Refreshingly unpretentious. Go on a bad hair day.
Asia Gallery takes up a resplendent oriental room at the back of the grand, Victorian, Westin Palace Hotel. I’m accustomed to gorging on Chinese (or what passes for it in these parts) by the bucket load, counting the subsequent bloatedness and indigestion as part of the experience (I did warn you that I’m not a critic!), but this was my first time for a la-di-da, silver service Chinky.
Por entradas the deep fried crab was crisp, flavoursome, and complimented perfectly by The Brunette’s choice of an ice-cold bottle of Kripta Cava. Dim sum was sticky and meaty (and somewhat chewy, is it supposed to be?) and the aromatic duck was by far the best I’ve ever tasted. Our attentive waiter constructed the duck rolls with more care and attention than I would have, and happily he kept them coming until pleaded with to cease and desist. For pudding I had a traditional and familiar black forest gateau which the Spanish call Black Wood Pie (where did Richard Blackwood end up?) or in some restaurants, Tarta Selva Negra – black jungle pie, a name which I’m sure is faintly racist. The best thing of all was the opportunity, taken with relish, to trot out another Tim Vine joke when presented with the duck.
Oh, all right then, if you insist. I was in a Chinese restaurant and a duck walks up to the table with a red rose and says, “Your eyes are like stars in the night.” I said, “Waiter! I asked for a-romatic Duck.”
In Situ deserves a mention, though don’t let the guide books on to it. They do fun things with smoke and tuna that I wouldn’t advise for asthmatics and their nouveau (or is that nouvelle, or nuevo?) cuisine would command twice the price in London. Café Oliver and Le Pain Quotidien have brunch wrapped up, though by no means perfectly. The former seems to have misunderstood the portmanteau and serves breakfast followed immediately by a Caesar salad, the latter purveys its viands in a slovenly and very French manner. Any more impertinence from their staff and next time I shall purloin the confit de miel et noisettes!
If you fancy a bite midway through a game of whist and only, “What John Montagu is having.” will do (and you’re conveniently close to Calle Espíritu Santo) both Home and TM Burger will be happy to furnish you with a bit of meat and two bread. They’re both good (think GBK, Byron Burger, Hamburger Union) but there is a limit to how much you can improve a burger. I suppose it all comes down to your sources (sauces). An honourable mention goes to Cafeteria HD on Guzman el Bueno in Chamberi. Not only are the burgers very agreeable, but the proprietors positively encourage one to lounge about all afternoon watching YouTube whilst the lovely Polly dispenses a comprehensive selection of gins.
If you fancy a postprandial tug on a six-inch Cuban stogie (and I certainly don’t) then you’ll be disappointed by Pasíon Habanos Club Privado which only sells high quality cigars (a stogie, as favoured by Mark Twain, is a cheap’un with the ends already clipped). Pasíon Habanos also offer any accompanying refreshment you care to mention, except perhaps the horizontal sort, though I didn’t think to enquire. It is a private club, but to echo Marx’s sentiment (Groucho not Karl) it can’t be all that exclusive if they let yours truly in.
Apparently Bar Cock does some of the best cocktails in Madrid, but I should imagine one finds it a trifle difficult to seriously appreciate the citrus twist in an Old Fashioned when some cretinous, snickering tourist is posing for photographs with every object the name adorns. Instead go to O’Clock on Juan Bravo in Salamanca. The fanny-pack brigade soon run out of monuments to photograph in the “posh” barrio and quickly tire of pressing their noses up against the windows of Serrano and Hermosilla’s boutiques. I’ve never seen Lonely Planet guides north of Ayala, so assume it’s safe. The discerning drinker will, of an evening, be greeted by the heartwarming sight of two London taxis and a bowler-hatted, if resentful-looking, doorman. Downstairs one can sink into a (repro but who cares) Chesterfield and avail oneself of fine cocktails and top notch bar snacks.
C/ Conde Duque, 14
Kaiten Sushi Ginza
Plaza Cortes, 3
C/ Guzman el Bueno, 67