Spain is one of my favourite countries. Barcelona, in particular has absolutely captured my heart and when I travelled there a couple years ago, I didn’t want to leave. Actually, we ended up flagging Madrid to spend another week in Barcelona, as Festa Major de Gracia was on, and I can’t even begin to tell you how fun that was (think massive street festivals, one euro cerveza and fireworks being shot straight at you by people dressed like devils.) That same trip we also stayed in San Sebastian, beaches, food, cheap cheap, but yep – we missed out on Madrid.
So when we had a week between Rugby World Cup games this year in the UK, we decided it was time, (especially since EasyJet flights are so damn cheap). I’m SO glad we finally visited. Spain is big – no kidding, and the three cities I’ve been to are VERY different from eachother. The people speak different forms of Spanish, the layout of the towns are not at all similar in size, feel, transportation, etc. (don’t even try to figure out the queuing system in Barcelona, honestly it boggles my mind), and the FOOD is so different. In San Sebastian (and the whole Basque region) it’s Pintxos, mostly little morsels served on pieces of bread, with short pours of beer. You don’t order, rather everything is displayed on the counters and you help yourself and tell the barman how many you ate when you settle the bill. In Barcelona, it’s tapas and everything doesn’t even start rolling until late evening (which suits me well). Typically you grab a seat at a busy bar and order from the cabinet.
Madrid is more restrained than the other two cities, and we found it to be more expensive as well. People dine earlier, and the food, drink and people don’t spill out onto the streets. However, what Madrid has totally mastered is the stand up, (or if you’re lucky, find a seat and sit down around the bar) kind of tapas bar. Lots of things are served on toothpicks. Lots of fresh seafood. Lots of vermouth. And with every drink, the give you complimentary tapas – cheese, warm olives, jamon. Tiny little doorways, that when you enter, the places are PACKED to the brim full of what I can only expect to be locals since only my best hack Spanish and charades got us what we ordered.
I didn’t take many photos of the cool tapas bars (as I was also trying to play it cool), but the photos below capture some of the fun food places we visited. We also did a four hour food tour with a company called Devour Madrid while we were there which I would highly recommend, although try and time it to do on your first day as we couldn’t fit it in until halfway though the week and by that time had already found and eaten at half the places on the tour.
Madrid is awesome. Check it out.
We only visited one restaurant for the entire week we were in Madrid, as it was easier and more fun to jump from tapas bar to tapas bar. The one restaurant we decided we had to try was StreetXO. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s renowned Spanish chef David Muñoz more “accessible” restaurant as he also runs Madrid’s only 3 Michelin star restaurant, DiverXO. As nothing was planned ahead of time for this leg of our trip, there was no way we were getting into DiverXO on no notice, but we read that there are no bookings for StreetXO (the more casual sister restaurant which served tapas) and you just rock up and wait in line (I had read the queues were ridiculously long some times) until a table comes free.
We decided we would give it a go. At 9pm that night. Nothing like last minute right?
We needed to take a taxi to Calle de Serrano, and the restaurant was on the top floor of what looked like a twelve story Smith & Caughey’s. After walking through a bunch of construction and getting in what looked like a service lift, we made our way to the top floor. There were a couple restaurants on the rooftop, and we walked to the very back to find StreetXO. It was only about 30% full inside so we started congratulating ourselves as we tried to figure out where the entrance was. I know, this should be relatively simple, but the only entrance we could see was sort of blocked off by this gate thing. So we just moved the gate thing, and walked in.
This was seriously one of the weirdest restaurant experiences I’ve had. All the staff were wearing “straight jackets”, the lighting was intentionally harsh, they were playing trance music, and there were badly translated english swear words and phrases all over the walls and ceiling. And the food. Well.
So we took a seat at the bar and one of the servers came over and looked surprised to see us but gave us menus and poured us each a glass of wine. He then went away and what looked like a more senior staff member started giving him a bollocking. It turns out that the gate by the door was just that. A gate. To like, keep people out because they had closed the kitchen. But us New Zealanders just waltzed in, disregarded the sign, sat down and the server mistakingly served us as he though someone had sat us. Oops. We honestly didn’t realise until it was too late,and they handled it brilliantly, explained that all the food would have to come out at the same time as they were closing the kitchen, and recommended some dishes for us since I couldn’t understand the menu at all. Pig ear dumplings in strawberry sauce. Korean wonton lasagne. And some dish that I can’t explain the taste or texture of and I Googled with all my heart to try and figure out what it was we ate, but… no luck.
Honestly, I’m glad we went, because it was weird. But I really didn’t get the food at all. The flavour combinations didn’t really work for me and it was all really saucy and sweet. However, we did manage to push our way in and not have to wait for a table, and the straight jacket staff served us efficiently and were nice even though I imagine they wanted to go to bed. It was definitely worth the taxi ride, I just wouldn’t probably… eat there again.
As mentioned, we also did a food tour with Devour Madrid, which started in Plaza Mayor which was located just around the corner from the Air BnB we were staying. We had a lovely guide and tucked into lots of yummy food.
Any food suggestions you would add to the list? Share below!