City Break

European Gourmet Hotspots: Mercado St Miguel, Madrid

On our European gourmet weekends we like nothing more than plunging our guests right under the skin of a destination. Madrileños are passionate about their food, and there’s no better way of getting a true sense of Madrid’s gourmet culture than with a visit to Mercado St Miguel. Built in 1916, and thoroughly restored again in 2009, this a part of the city loved by local and visiting foodies in equal measure. It’s justifiably a gastronomic hotspot: the produce is largely seasonal and the stallholders are chosen for the quality of their fare.

Not for nothing do Madrileños boast that their landlocked city is the finest port in Spain- the food in Mercado St Miguel comprises some of the very finest offerings from across the entire country. Make sure you come with an empty stomach. Under the soaring steel roofs you’ll be able to feast on freshly shucked oysters, jamon, cheese and an endless selection of tapas. If you’re unfortunate enough to have eaten before you arrive here, you should come anyway, if only for the people-watching. And perhaps just a little glass of cava too?

Our insider tip? Our founder Aimee’s lost track of how many times she’s visited the Mercado St Miguel, and it’s often crowded. If you’re lucky enough to be able to bag a table hang on to it and use it as your base while the rest of your party explore!

Mercado St Miguel is open daily 10am – 10 pm daily, and until 2am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Categories: City Break, Drinks, Food, Foodie, Madrid, Spain, Tapas

Bonfires, Beef and Bodegas

Call me crazy, but I actually love that time of year when the weather shifts into woolly scarf season, publications stop advising you on how to lose weight and bare skin and start actively encouraging you to snuggle under layers and tuck into hearty winter food. For me, Bonfire night signals that start of winter and provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate; a night to wrap up warm, nurse a cup of mulled wine by a large fire and indulge in something rich for dinner. So, here is my favourite recipe to feed a group for fireworks night –a  warming casserole  with my own Spanish twist

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Aimee’s Spanish Syrah Stew

Ingredients

900g braising steak, cut into squares

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 heaped spoon plain flour

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 ring chorizo, sliced

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 bottle Spanish Syrah, or similar red wine

350g shallots, peeled and whole

4 piquillo peppers, sliced

2 x 400g tins butter beans, drained

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish or oven proof pot. Add the beef and cook over a medium heat until browned. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Add the flour and combine with the oil and meat juices. Add the sliced onion, garlic and peppers and cook until softened.
  4. Add the Chorizo and paprika and simmer for 4 minutes. Return the meat to the pot and add butter beans.
  5. Pour in the entire bottle of wine. If it does not cover the other ingredients, add some water.
  6. Season with salt and pepper, then cover and place in the oven. Cook for 2-2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.

 Food and Wine Tour Tuscany

Serving Suggestion

I like to serve this dish with buttery garlic mashed potatoes and curly kale. My ideal wine pairing would be a hearty bottle from my favourite Toledo Bodega:  Finca Loranque Syrah –Tempranillo 2006, with its jammy dark berry aromas and subtle kicks of spice.

 

 

Categories: Christmas, City Break, Food, Foodie, Madrid, Seasonal, Spain, Wine

Munching My Way Through Madrid…

It already seems too long since  myreturn from our Gourmet Madrid trip, but I can still taste the warm, gooey centre of freshly fried tortilla and the rich spiciness of Toledo wine. If you’ve never experienced this vibrant city, let me try to entice you with a little breakdown of what we saw, ate and drank…

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Tapas, Tapas, Tapas

Every major city in Spain may lay claim to having the best tapas, but the incredible diversity of offerings and value for money (providing you avoid the ubiquitous tourist traps) makes Madrid my firm favourite. We spent a lot of time in the Mercado de San Miguel, savouring traditional Vermut aperitivos, sumptuous jamón Iberico, and Madrid’s famous fiery potato dish, patatas bravas.

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Wonderful Wine

I always find that you get so much more from the experience of tasting wine if you have a little insider knowledge, so for our first day we spent the afternoon learning the basics with our slightly eccentric host Julián. In the basement cellars of Madrid we were shown all the tricks of the trade through a series of fun games and quizzes, leaving us ready to swirl, sniff and sip in vineyards like the pros. After this we all headed for a gourmet tapas meal with the best Sangria in town!

 

Carafes and Castles

Our fist vineyard venture took us into the mountains on the outskirts of the city and to some of the most impressive views around, which we got to enjoy at a custom built tasting area carved from the very rose granite which helps to make the wine so delicious. The bodega owners also run the local old Castillo, which just happens to be the sight of the signing of the marriage contract between Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon which united the kingdoms of Spain. After a private tour of the castle we are treated to a homemade lunch in the old chapel – heavenly!

DSCN2224When visiting this area around Madrid you should never miss a chance to see the magnificent El Escorial monastery – part building of worship/part palace where the kings and queens of Spain have been buried for centuries in awe inspiring marble tombs. We had just enough time to admire the building and have a moment to get lost in the gallery of art treasures within before it was time to head back to the city for a taste of traditional Basque fare in one of Madrid’s favourite little family-run spots.

 

The Original Capital City

Today’s excursion was to the ancient city of three cultures; the former Spanish capital of Toledo. Famous for its unrivalled blend of Catholic, Islamic and Jewish architecture, as well as top notch steel and mouth-watering marzipan, this is a wonderfully eclectic place where you can wander the cobbled streets and come across cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues nestled between shops filled with swords, suits of armour and golden yellow almond creations!

DSCN2379As the former seat of power in Spain, naturally Toledo needed a good supply of wine (such an important life staple!) The wines of the area may have been overshadowed by the fame and popularity of Rioja to the North, but Toledo vineyards have history and the passion of family producers who have been harvesting for generations on their side. We visited one such vineyard, whose methods have changed little since the 18th century, when prestigious French architects were brought over to design the perfect winery. The fruits of their labour have been enjoyed by royalty, politicians and celebrities, and today by our little group of wine lovers. After a fascinating tour by wine expert Jorge, we are treated to glasses of 3 fantastic reds, the great value of which was such that several couples decided to buy additional suitcases for the journey home to accommodate as many bottles as possible!

 

Back to the Future

This evening’s meal saw us discovering the very best of Madrid’s new wave of modern, quirky cooking and tantalising twists on the classics. Abraham Garcia, the eccentric and very talented owner and chef, took us on a taste safari, from curried lentil and crab soup, through decadent porcini and foie sauce with freshly grated truffle, all the way to white and dark chocolate panna cotta with coconut and rum sauce… and even more in between! All washed down with fabulous local wine and a glass of cava and lemon sorbet – perfection!

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The Last Supper

Our final day was a chance to explore independently, with some choosing to visit Madrid’s iconic “Big 3” art galleries, whilst others strolled the bustling streets of unusual shops and lively bars. Our farewell lunch took place at a proper Spanish hour – 3pm. We headed for another great restaurant institution of Madrid, where the walls are crammed with bullfighting paraphernalia and family photos, and the atmosphere is like a large but cosy dinner party. The traditional jamón, Manchego cheese, rich croquettas, and gigantic, succulent steaks are like gourmet comfort food – it’s enough to make you feel like a true Spaniard! And hopefully, that’s exactly what the group came away with – a little taste of the real Spain, and in particular, Gourmet Madrid.

Categories: City Break, Food, Foodie, Holidays, Madrid, Spain, Tapas, Vineyard, Wine

Gourmet Madrid – My Love Affair With the Mercado San Miguel

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I have just returned from Drink Dine Discover’s inaugural trip to Madrid, a whirlwind of tapas and Tempranillo, history and jamón. If you have never visited Spain’s oft-overlooked capital and you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, then you need to get over to Madrid and explore the delights of eating and drinking in Europe’s city that never sleeps.

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Madrileños are often referred to as gatos by the rest of the country, cats who roam the streets at night and don’t return home until dawn. Even by Spanish standards the capital’s residents are extreme in their eating habits – dinner is regularly not served until midnight and topping into the abundant bars for a caña (small beer) and a tapa is a daily ritual. Life here seems to centre around socialising and for the residents of Madrid, socialising means one thing; eating out.

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To acquaint you with the Madrid philosophy when it comes to gastronomy, I would head first, as we did, to the Mercado San Miguel, a glass and wrought iron structure handily situated just off Plaza Mayor. I guarantee that any foodie walking in will feel like a kid in a sweet shop (quite literally at some of the chocolate stalls). Wander between fantastic displays of vegetables, cheese, fish and meats interspersed with bars and tasting stations serving beer, wine, vermut (the classic Madrid aperitif), sherry, Champagne and sangria with plates of delicacies made from anything and everything, all on offer under one roof. Open from 10am to 2am, this mouth-watering spot in the Old Town is so much more than simply a place to buy your groceries. Mercado San Miguel is a unique experience of social shopping, with tables and stalls in the centre and the buzz of people eating, drinking and chatting as they taste before, whilst and after they buy.

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After a few hours of acclimatising to the volume of Spanish conversation, the speed of service and abundance of regional flavours, you should be perfectly set up to explore the rest of the city’s gastronomic offerings. As they say in Spain; “que aproveche!”

Categories: City Break, DDD, Food, Foodie, Holidays, Spain, Wine

Top 5 Madrid Tapas

Tapas on our gourmet tour of Madrid

It seems like small rations of tasty Mediterranean fare have been slowly taking over menus throughout Britain in recent years, and delicious as they are, our Anglicised versions of Spain’s culinary and cultural staple just don’t cut the mustard when compared to the real deal on holiday. So here is our guide to our favourite Top 5 in the Spanish capital many of which we take in on our gourmet long weekends in Madrid

  1. 1.     Bocadillo de Calamares

Not strictly a tapa, but supposedly this is the proper way to eat calamares in Madrid. Bocadillos de calamaraes may not be the healthiest thing you’ll eat all day, but they are just downright delicious! These baguette style sandwiches filled with freshly made calamares and a good dollop of mayonnaise and eaten with a good-sized cerveza will keep you going until Spanish (very late) dinnertime.

My Madrilleño friends insist the best in town are here:

El Brillante, Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V 8, Madrid, Spain.

  1. 2.     Tortilla de Patatas

Few things can beat a freshly made tortilla and any decent bar in Madrid will cook to order these rounds of potato-eggy goodness! Most often served in small squares skewered with cocktail sticks, tortilla de patatas is a true staple and soaks up all those pre-dinner cañas (small measures of beer standard on a tapas outing).

There are hundreds of good places to sample tortilla in Madrid, but I particularly enjoy the homemade specialities of La Fragua.

La Fragua Calle de Andres Mellado, 84, 28015 Madrid.

  1. 3.     Pimientos de Padrón

These cheeky little green peppers from Galicia are part of the capiscum family and you can find them fried in olive oil and coarse salt in many bars where the Spanish love their sweet flavour…for the most part. Due to varying levels of capsaicin in each pepper you will sometimes get a spicy surprise whilst munching. The Galicians say “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” (Padron peppers, some are spicy, some are not), though some establishments can “forget” to warn tourists!

My favourite setting to enjoy these delicacies is the mesmerising Mercado de San Miguel, an enormous pagoda-style market with exquisite displays of Spain’s most delicious produce and standing bars to sample a little of what you fancy.

Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

  1. 4.     Croquettas  Croquettas

Golden on the outside and oozing creaminess within, no trip to Spain would be complete without sampling croquettas. There are many variations, the most common being “de jamón”, but my personal favourites are those made with Bacalao (cod) or morcilla (Spanish style black pudding). Be careful though about where you order as many places simply deep fry pre-frozen versions, but believe me, there is no comparison with the fresh, real thing!

I adore the croquettas at Alcaravea, a small and passionately run bar/restaurant in the Chamberi neighbourhood. Always fresh and often with a modern twist, their versions go fantastically with a glass of wine from their eclectic and ever-changing selection.

Alcaravea, Cea Bermudez 38, 28003 Madrid, Spain

  1. 5.     Patatas Bravas

Madrid’s proudest and most famous contribution to Spain’s tapas culture, this dish of roughly chopped and fried potatoes smothered in a chilli, tomato sauce represent the Madrilleno character itself; big, bold and fiery! The concept of tapas is centred around socialising and traditionally you should eat and drink standing propped against the bar, so grab a cocktail stick, spike a spicy little potato and give in to the Spanish way of life and food!

Las Bravas in Barrio de Las Letras, (the writers quarter) claims to have invented patatas bravas in the 1950s and it certainly seems the locals are sold, as it is always busy here, but well worth elbowing your way to the bar for a real taste of Madrid!

Las Bravas Álvarez Gato, Calle Álvarez Gato, 3, 28012 Madrid.

 

Categories: City Break, Food, Spain | Tags:

Ghent: Bruges with Nightlife?

Strawberry beer

A canal-side strawberry beer

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to come across a great last-minute city break deal to a little place in Belgium that I had never though to visit before. A quick Google told me that I would be heading to what was once the second largest city in Europe after Paris, full of perfectly preserved architecture and works of art from the heydays of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, more artisan Belgian beers than you could ever get through, and a growing reputation as one of Europe’s new foodie favourites. How had this little corner of Flanders escaped my notice until now?

A wonderfully peaceful and easy Eurostar trip brings you into Brussels – Midi/Zuid station, where you simply wander over to the next platform for a 30 minute transfer to Ghent. Why did I not know how close it is?

My hotel turned out to be one of the oldest in the city, a former coaching house with the original courtyard intact, which once hosted Johann Strauss during a major European orchestra tour in 1883. The Hotel de Flandres, charming as it is, has one particular advantage; it’s location just seconds away from Ghent’s historic centre of picturesque facades, canal-side beer houses and imposing cathedrals.

For such a small, walkable (or cycle-able in this case – bicycles rule the cobble streets here) city, there is an incredible array of fascinating museums, art galleries, taverns and top-class restaurants. I particularly enjoyed the Museum of Design with some often bizarre household furniture and objects on display from throughout the centuries, and the magnificent Saint Bartholemew’s Cathedral which houses the breath-taking altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It almost puts the Louvre and the Mona Lisa to shame!

Over four days I tried to work my way through as many of the 250 choices of local beers as possible, including at the infamous Herberg de Dulle Griet, where one must make a rather unusual deposit when ordering the house beer, Kwak, due to the very special glassware. Ask for this 1.2 litre house speciality which comes in a huge test tube held by a wooden rack, and the bar tender will demand your right shoe which is then placed in a basket and winched up to the ceiling for the evening!

Shoe in basket

Beer glass deposit in Ghent

The art of eating and drinking seems to be at the heart of this wonderfully quirky little city, and the large student population from the university has no doubt helped Ghent to lure away visitors from its nearby rival Bruges with a convivial nightlife. Ghent is known for music and there are often bands and singers playing in the streets until late and, together with the myriad choice of bars and the Belgian penchant for languages, the result is often friendly groupings of tourists and locals chatting and dancing over a beer or one of the many flavours of local Jenever, or Dutch Gin.

In restaurants the emphasis is on high quality ingredients and there is an even mix of regional cuisine, such as Vlaamse stoofkarbonaden (also known as stoverij), a Flemish beef stew made with beer, and foreign fare with a large number of Thai restaurants and quite a few quirky, American-style rib joints. Between meals it’s all about Belgian frites and waffles, which were invented in Ghent, and come with chocolate sauce, ice cream and little flags!

Belgian waffle

A patriotic waffle

I have not had time to cover half of what I experienced in the gorgeous Ghent, but I will say that if you are a foodie/art-lover/history buff looking for somewhere a bit off the beaten track, I’d have a hard time thinking of a better recommendation.

Categories: City Break, DDD, Food, Foodie, Summer

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