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. 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 4. 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
- 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.