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


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



  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…






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!


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

Top 5 German Wines for Winter

Ahr Valley in the Winter

After working hard on our German Christmas Markets trip in November, I find myself with a serious craving an elegant Riesling or a hearty Pinot Noir. Picturing myself by the open fire of a snow covered inn straight out of a Brothers Grimm tale, these are my seasonal favourites I wish I were sipping…

  1. 1.       2011 Philipps-Eckstein Graacher Domprobst Riesling Sekt

In my perfect wintery setting, I would be starting with a glass of golden, sparling Sekt, Germnay’s sparkling wine. This one is made using the traditional, Champagne method, and stands out for its balanced toastiness and fruit, with just a hint of spice.

  1. 2.       2011 Saar Riesling Van Volxem

For me, no trip to Germany (even an imaginary one) should be without a glass of elegant, dry Riesling. I love this wine in particular for its mineral expression, lively acidity and delicious hints of ripe apples and pears.

  1. 3.       2011 Walporzheimer Kräuterberg, Ahr-Spätburgunder

Spätburgunder, (Pinot Noir) doesn’t get any better in Germany than those of the beautiful Ahr Valley. I’ve picked just one example from the many we will be trying on our German Christmas Markets trip: a delicious Pinot Noir with toasty aromas, a delicate hint of vanilla,and bursting with black cherry and ripe plums on the palate.

  1. 4.       2009 Kollmann-Lex Dornfelder

The Dornfelder grape variety was bred in 1956 and, though a relative newcomer to German viticulture, has already made a big impact with its signature deep colour, velvety texture and ability to benefit from barrique aging. This wine is earthy and almost herbal on the nose, with rich black fruit flavours and a hint of spice.

  1. 5.       2003 Dönnhoff Oberhauser Bruke Riesling Eiswein

I love the story behind this Eiswein, a German dessert wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine to concentrate the must. Apparently on this particular year the perfect time for grape picking coincided with Christmas day and resulted in the Dönnhoff family spending their Christmas plucking frozen grapes in sub-zero temperatures. But, though I feel for these dedicated producers out there in the snow, I wouldn’t be without a snifter of the stuff each winter! And thanks to this family’s efforts on Christmas 2003, we have a deep, jammy sweet wine packed with plum and vanilla aromas to see us through the cold.

Categories: Christmas, DDD, Food, Foodie, Germany, Spain, 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.


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:

Tapas Tales

323There are many theories on the origin of tapas and even more ideas about the concept’s modern incarnation. In the UK many restaurants, bars and even pubs have adopted the word to describe small dishes or sharing platters, and establishments serving meals comprised solely of these tiny portions. Yet this is a far cry from the Spanish approach to tapas, where they are served in every bar, but rarely regarded as the stuff of sit-down meals.

Tapas comes from the Spanish tapar, to cover, and most stories agree that the gastronomic tradition started life as slices of bread or ham covering cups of alcohol, whether to protect the alcohol within or the drinker from inebriation, we cannot be sure. My favourite origin legends are as follows:

  • Castilla y La Mancha innkeepers in the 16th century found that the strong smell and taste of their local mature cheeses disguised the tell-tale stench of their cheap nasty wine and so started serving slices for free to ‘cover’ their sub-par vintages
  • King Alfonso XIII stopped by a tavern in the famously windy Cadiz and when he ordered a cup of wine the owner placed a slice of jamón over it to protect from beach sand.  After finishing his refreshment, the king then called for another cup of wine “with its cover”.
  • Hungry patrons standing in busy taverns placed small plates on top of their cups in order to eat, drink and socialise simultaneously without tables
  • King Alfonso X decreed that all taverns should serve a small ration of food with alcohol to prevent citizens from becoming drunk and rowdy

However, more than likely tapas emerged in Andalusia as sherry drinkers covered their sweet tipples from bothersome fruit flies. The tapas would usually be salty cured jam or chorizo which the tavern owners soon realised increased thirst and thus started to offer them free as a matter of course to increase alcohol sales. Gradually tapas became as important as the sherry itself.

Which brings us to the present day and the latest evolutionary phase of one of Spain’s most famous culinary exports. Each year chefs compete in tapas competitions, menus are becoming increasingly more diverse and creative, and in many establishments the quality and range of tapas takes focus far and above over the beverages they once adorned.

It’s a change I’m more than happy to embrace, and with just a few weeks until we embark on our first gourmet trip to Madrid, all I know is that I’m salivating already!

Categories: Food, Spain

Mysterious Madrid

Jamon y queso
The capital of Spain… bull fighting, ham… erm, beer? Let’s be honest, not many people outside of Spain know much about this curious city. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Rome the Coliseum; Berlin has the remnants of its wall, but Madrid?

Spain’s capital always escaped my mind in the past. Having since spent 5 years with a Madrileño partner and having moved in with him over there after university, I find it hard to believe now that this fascinating place never enticed me before. When I first backpacked around Europe as a teenager, for example, I tried to hit every major city from Amsterdam to Athens, but bypassed the Iberian Peninsula entirely! I suppose it was the package deal infamy. Spain has long been the affordable family holiday destination of choice, but in recent years, the rise of beach resorts a little further afield in such countries as Turkey and Egypt has lured the British public into adding an extra hour or two to their budget flights. The resorts may not hold the same sway as they once did, but does that necessarily mean that we should abandon the country entirely? The country of Miguel de Cervantes, Salvador Dali, Fernando Alonso and Penelope Cruz has a lot more to offer than sandy siestas and shop-bought sangria, if we only take the time to explore…

As the capital since the 1600s, the centremost point of the country, Madrid is in its infancy among European capital cities, yet has transformed itself into somewhere with a true sense of identity and importance. Playing host to the little mentioned dictatorship of Franco for most of the last century, Madrid has emerged from the subsequent peripherals of Europe and is now a Mecca of gastronomy, nightlife and art, claiming three of the continent’s greatest art galleries within sight of each other; the Museo del Prado, Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The local wine industry too is taking off, as Spain embraces its’ indigenous grape varieties and branches out from the all-powerful Rioja. Vineyards around Madrid are modern and passionate, often with biodynamic production and the face of food and wine in the region is slowly changing. All of which is fantastic news to foodie wine-lovers looking for new frontiers in ancient lands.

Categories: Food, Spain, Wine

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