All the flavour of Madrid

Category: Art & Culture May 9, 2023

H Emblemático

In a month steeped in tradition, we review some of the new-style tabernas and bistros with great atmosphere that are putting a modern spin on Madrid’s most celebrated dishes.

Fortunata, one of Benito Pérez Galdós’s most famous female characters, lived—albeit temporarily—on Calle de Tabernillas, the same street which many years later would be home to Joaquín Sabina, another fantastic narrator of all that happens and has happened in Madrid. Located next to Plaza de Puerta de Moros in the neighbourhood of La Latina, the street’s name translates to “Little Taverns” and owes itself to the many tabernas found there as early as the 16th century, heirs to the wine shops that were common in the area under Arab rule. Two of the most popular were run by Andrés Rodríguez and Tomás González. The latter had a famous sign in his establishment which proclaimed “the taberna opens when I get here and closes when I leave”. You’ll have to head to Barrio de las Letras (Literary Quarter), however, to visit the oldest one still operating in our city: Taberna Antonio Sánchez, which dates back to 1787. It’s impossible to understand Madrid’s history without considering its tascas, or cosy taverns, with their fantastic atmosphere—“there’s some room in the back!”—and iconic dishes like tripe, oxtail and cod fritters. It might be a new era for Madrid’s gastronomy, but the essential flavours still remain the same.
Tradition is still in fashion


If you’ve had a bad day, you’re in the right place. It can only get better from here on out”. This quirky message welcomes visitors to La Retasca, which, as its name suggests, pays tribute to Madrid’s traditional tascas. Located just a stone’s throw away from El Retiro Park, its chef, Juanjo López, made a name for himself at La Tasquita de Enfrente. Here, he plays around with nostalgia, bringing back the flavours, smells, sounds and ambience of the past, all with a modern twist to suit current tastes. Tuna and potato salad, croquettes, pig’s ear, the “Capel” potato omelette made with lard and other dishes such as gildas (pickled pepper, olive and anchovy skewers), marinated anchovies and calamari sandwiches make up a menu of casual fare designed for sharing. “We’re a very busy bar. We work unhurriedly, but steadily”, they say. The aim is for everyone to feel like they’re at home.


May, a month steeped in tradition, is a great time to remember some of the dishes that have been part of Madrid’s culinary heritage for centuries, like gallinejas, the deep-fried small intestines of a lamb, or entresijos, its abdominal wall. Elevating offal to distinction is something Javier Estévez achieved at the helm of the Michelin-starred restaurant La Tasquería. El Lince is his second establishment, a tablecloth-free taberna with tables and a bar with high stools, where the food is scrumptious whether you order a small platter—cured meat croquettes, tuna and potato salad on crispy bread, potato omelette stewed in tripe sauce—or a hearty option like lentil and vegetable stew or pickled Iberian pork tongue and foie gras. Looking for more typical Madrid flavours? There’s also grilled pig’s ear with spicy paprika, lime and Tajín sauce. Those in need of fruit salts to aid their digestion should try the star cocktail: “Bicarbonato”.


For years, Restaurante Hevia served the best tigres in Madrid. So, what’s a tigre? It’s a tapa that never fails to please: stuffed, breaded, fried mussels. Now that the owners of that excellent restaurant in Barrio de Salamanca have opened this traditional-style bar, it was inevitable that the popular aperitivo would become the menu’s most sought-after option. But there are other delicious offerings to try: torreznos (deep-fried pork belly), garlic prawns, anchovies in vinegar, tuna and potato salad, and patatas bravas, which the bar serves sliced rather than diced, with an addictive sauce that’s a little bit spicy. More substantial dishes round out the menu—how about beef meatballs with fried potato concasse?—and a dish of the day is cooked fresh from Monday to Thursday. With a bit of luck, you’ll be able to sample the brothy oxtail rice or the pork cheeks.


Unconditional love for good cooking. You can feel it in the air at this restaurant which gives a particularly warm welcome to diners who get a gleam in their eyes or whose mouths water when they’re served their favourite dishes. New and old approaches to Spanish culinary tradition, particularly that of Madrid, come together in a menu with starters like cod fritters with black garlic mayonnaise or an assortment of truly delicious offerings called “No weird creations here”, among which are some outstanding Iberian ham croquettes. For “old-fashioned folks”, try the warm wild pickled partridge with multicoloured beetroot, and for fans of “well-fried” food, don’t miss the huevos estrellados (fried potatoes capped with fried egg and other toppings). Leave room for dessert: favourites include a selection of cheeses from Madrid served with quince and nuts, or the torrija (Spain’s answer to French toast) with vanilla ice cream.


The Zamora siblings arrived on Calle de la Libertad with one mission: “to preserve its spirit as a traditional tascawhere people eat good food and get a warm welcome”. It was no easy task. The previous owners, Celso and Manolo, not only lent their names to the establishment but also worked behind its marble bar for 50 years, expertly serving portions of tripe and cod, anchovies, potato omelette and glasses of beer. But the brother-and-sister team have succeeded! This taberna of note in our city features fantastic decor, like the original terrazzo floor, minimalist stools, sand tones on the walls and marvellous wicker sculptures by artisan Javier Sánchez Medina. If you’re wondering what to order, you can’t go wrong with the tuna and potato salad or the chicken wings. There are also classic Madrid sandwiches steeped in history, such as the steak or calamari options.


This restaurant in the heart of the Las Salesas neighbourhood serves its huevos rotos (fried potatoes topped with fried egg) with bluefin tuna, and its calamari sandwich on a soft bread roll with roasted garlic mayonnaise. Chef Guillermo Salazar reinterprets time-honoured traditions and flavours. Take note: dipping your bread is accepted! The bar and high tables are key elements of this space that serves food non-stop and is the ideal spot to enjoy a vermouth or wine along with fantastic tapas at any time of day. Options include eggs stuffed with tuna, sea bass macerated in garlic, tuna and potato salad with a homemade pickle, or the Gilda Orellana; their pickled pepper, olive and anchovy skewers. As for more substantial fare, see the selection of stews cooked over a low flame, including a true classic: tripe, leg and snout. For dessert, the torrija with turrón (almond nougat) ice cream is a hit!


Calamari sandwich on brioche with black yuzu alioli, rocoto pepper patatas bravas, cod fritters with alioli made with ají amarillo chili, oxtail stewed in mole sauce with mashed sweet potato… Shall we go on? Your best bet is to visit this ultra-modern taberna that gives a new twist to classic Madrid dishes; the sort that might be made by your grandmother, but also by a friend who’s an aspiring chef


This lively meeting place was designed in the style of the city’s most typical bars and reclaims the tradition of Madrid’s long-established tabernas, reinventing classic dishes with first-rate ingredients. On the menu, you’ll find “pastried” patatas bravas, torreznos, fabulous croquettes (Iberian ham, steak and baby squid), cod slices and oxtail. They all go wonderfully with a well-poured glass of beer!


Pongamos que hablo de Madrid (“Let’s say I’m talking about Madrid”) is not just one of Joaquín Sabina’s most famous songs, it’s also the name of the calamari sandwich that the De la Fuente brothers make with citrus alioli. But there’s much more on the menu of this restaurant that aims to serve food with heart and soul. Other options with traditional roots include grilled pig’s ear tacos and chicken wings in pepitoria almond sauce.


“All cats are grey at night” and “Madriz, everybody’s home” are some of the phrases you’ll see on the mirrors at this restaurant, which has six branches throughout the city. On the menu, you’ll need to find the gildas, prawn salad, tigres and tripe under three different sections whose titles are idiomatic Madrid expressions like Más chulo que un ocho and Se va a armar la marimorena (which translate as “Such a show-off” and “All hell’s about to break loose”).