Emily Rookwood takes a city break to Madrid, staying at URSO and finding some particularly tasty evidence for the city’s claim to be the Spanish gastronomic capital.
Usually the first questions that springs to mind when you start to plan a city break in Spain is: Madrid or Barcelona? The rivalry between the two cities is well documented and you can find article upon article extolling the virtues of both, even more if you dare to venture into the realms of football commentary. An interest in a weekend of culinary grazing, though, made the decision a little easier.
Spain’s capital is made for greedy travellers. Tapas bars line the streets throughout the central districts, food markets groan under the weight of fresh produce, and there are several museums dedicated to jamon alone. In order to be able to fully capitalise on the sheer variety of options, you will need to find a good base. For me, that base was the URSO Hotel and Spa, located just a ten minute walk from the centre of the city, between Chamberi, Tribunal and Chueca neighbourhoods.
Painted in a warm, buttery yellow, the hotel provides a very welcoming style of luxury: from the attentive doormen, to the incredibly helpful reception staff, everyone here bends over backwards to ensure that your stay is exactly as you’d like it to be. The open plan lounge and bar are convivial spots to enjoy a drink or conversation with friends, or if alone, with the cheerful barmen – while the glass roofed conservatory is a calm oasis in the heart of the hotel and surely one of the nicest places in the city for breakfast. Rooms provide a cool and well-appointed escape from the heat of the city with those on the top floors offering secluded roof terraces with wonderful views over the bustle below.
Setting off to explore the city with a bocadillo de jamon (a perfectly simply baguette filled with meltingly soft jamon) in hand, you don’t have far to go before you hit the vast swaths of tapas bars, ranging from the very old school occupied by elderly gentlemen, to the trendy new breed offering fusion twists on the classics. With so many options, it is hard to know where to go. Luckily, the concierge at the URSO are more than happy to make suggestions and reservations for you, very helpful when seeking a table at the more popular establishments and those with a Michelin star.
For the more casual grazer, the Mercardo de San Miguel is perfect. Only a few paces away from the tourist hub of Plaza Mayor, this beautiful covered food market offers a huge variety in a very small space. You can find everything from a bowl of fresh olives and a glass of dry vermouth for just €1.50 to oysters, blistered padron peppers, and gorgeous white and blue tins of oil-drenched fish. A very enjoyable, filling, and varied lunch or dinner can be had for a mere handful of euro.
Venture across the Calle Major to the Pasadizo de San Ginés and you’ll find the Chocolateria San Gines. This 24 hour establishment has principally been serving chocolate con churros since 1894. The freshly fried churros come with a cup of thick Spanish hot chocolate, which in essence seems to be a perfect combination of melted chocolate and cream. With tables and chairs lining the passageway, there are few better spots to sit down and recharge your batteries. One portion consists of roughly six large churros and one generous cup of chocolate and is plenty for two people.
One of my favourite spots for eating was a little tangle of streets near the Prado museum, between the Calle de Las Huertas and Calle de Moratín. Here you will find Triciclo and Tandem, two restaurants run by the same team. Triciclo was opened in 2013 by three young ambitious chefs, Javier Goya, Javier Mayor, and David Alfonso, who trained in some of the best kitchens in Spain. Since it has gained recognition in the Michelin Guide, reservations are pretty much a necessity. However, if you’re lucky, you can snag a spot at the bar even if the restaurant is fully booked, particularly if you are more British than Spanish in your eating habits and like to lunch before 3pm. The menu is broken in to three sections, each one getting increasingly creative, with Japanese and fusion style elements. You can choose from three different size options for most dishes, but if you order the half-portions, you can enjoy a good number of dishes between the table.
The tortilla here is unparalleled – laced with soft strands of caramelized onion, it is one of the most unctuous examples of this traditional dish I’ve had. But, as mentioned, it isn’t just traditional tapas on the menu here. We enjoyed a wonderful seabass cerviche with the most intriguing granita of yuzu and lime with an almost wasabi-esque kick, followed by a smokily sauced steak tartar finished with a quail’s egg and caviar. Well worth a visit, as is its ‘younger brother’ Tandem, a few paces further down the road.
Heading back to the URSO after a day of exploring, you will no doubt pass a wealth of equally joyous bars, restaurants, and cafes just starting to hit their nocturnal stride. Madrid is a late-night city, and therefore not an early rising one, so it is fortunate that the hotel offers a very well curated breakfast buffet, including some rather delicious glazed doughnuts for those wanting to start the day with a little sugar hit.
One benefit of a city lunching at 3pm and dining at 9pm, is that, as a visitor, you have an eating window that is wide open and due to the ubiquity of small dishes, you can spread lunch between three different places, and dinner between even more. Plus, midnight snacking is always an option here, which really does make Madrid the perfect city break for gastronomic grazing.
Stays at Urso Hotel & Spa from €200 in a double room and from €570 in the Urso Hotel & Spa Terrace Suite – based on two sharing on a B&B basis.
www.hotelurso.com; +34 914 444 458