A wonderful friend of ours turned 40 recently, and at the last minute we decided to join him in Madrid to celebrate. That’s the kind of last minute decision I love about the UK – it’s so close to Europe and cultural diversity is never more than a moment away. That same friend recently got married to his awesome partner, and the wedding was a really beautiful affair with around 20 people and at least 12 different nationalities – only one person was born in Britain – and there were more cohesiveness and shared values around the table than most weddings I’ve been to. In light of both glorious occasions, I thought I’d share a little about Madrid and the beautiful cultural and culinary experience we had there.
Spanish food is a wondrous thing. It’s easily one of my favourite food cultures with simplicity reigning supreme. In fact, I think if I were forced to eat one cuisine every day for the rest of my life I would probably choose Spanish food and live a happy, happy life. I mean, who can turn down croquettes, octopus with potatoes and salsa verde, gorgeous tapas, and soft melting tortilla when you get to finish it all off with a robust wine or a glass of sherry? On top of that, you get Spanish ham – gloriously salty and funky with a hint of sweetness and then a face-meltingly savoury wallop. Oh, and manchego with honey – let’s not forget the cheese! It’s safe to say I was pretty excited about heading to Madrid and wallowing in the food scene (not to mention the beautiful architecture and great company).
I’d been to Madrid a couple of times before – once with my Mum when I was quite young, and once with some mates for the weekend a couple of years ago. Both times I remember a vibrant city where all the restaurants and bars were full, seemingly from lunch till the wee hours of the morning. We went to the beautiful Mercado de San Miguel at 11pm when I was there with friends and it was so full it almost overflowed with some of the most amazing tapas I remember. Unfortunately, it seems that austerity and unemployment is really starting to pinch in Spain. Don’t get me wrong, some of the food we had was awesome, and at 2am the bars were still full and people seemed to be having a lot of fun. However, that great market I remember was a shadow of its former self, offering microwaved food and a distinct lack of passion. I felt they’d raised prices and lost the locals. It seemed a little like the wealthy in Spain were still having a great time and so were the tourists. The glitzy bars and restaurants were full, but the local eateries less so. Perhaps I read too much into it, but the whole city felt a little like its palace – a reminder of grander times, yet you still count yourself lucky to be in it.
We did, however, have some truly fabulous times. Tenconten is a restaurant I recommend whole heartedly to everyone. Buzzing with atmosphere, it had great food and seemingly everflowing wine – although perhaps that last feature was more a function of our friends. On a less grand scale, we had some fabulous tapas and beer at almost half a dozen different locations. Not tapas like you get in London which, although brimming with authenticity, are also brimming with foodie culture. The tapas in Spain were simple but delicious – the kind of food you want before your first beer but need after your third. At a bar overlooking the city at the top of a shopping mall, we stopped for the afternoon. The beginnings of sunset flattered our photos with its light and we ate vibrant smoky salsa verde on pretty much anything we could get hold of whilst drinking the best margaritas I’ll probably ever have. Madrid is definitely a city to savour.