Madrid wasn’t on the Grantourismo itinerary. We were meant to travel over land and sea from Essaouira via Tangier to Jerez, and had planned to drive from Essaouira back to Marrakech, take the overnight train from Marrakech to Tangier, a ferry to Algeciras, and a bus to Jerez…
Our plans, however, were foiled by work on the train tracks from Marrakech to Tangier, and there was no guarantee that the line would be open on the day we needed to travel. In true Moroccan style, the woman at the train station office told us not to listen to what anyone said on the phone and come in on the day we needed to travel to find out whether the train was running! The bus? Far too slow. So the best (and least expensive) option was flying to Madrid and taking the fast and fabulous train down to Jerez –provided the line was open after all the flooding in Southern Spain of course! Fortunately it was.
Madrid has long been one of our favourite cities, so we saw the stopover as both a stroke of good and bad luck. HomeAway quickly found us an apartment in the hip Malasaña ‘hood, the heart of Madrid’s movida movement, where many of Pedro Almodovar’s films were set. We booked a flight online, and the next day we were there.
While our apartment was in a historic building, it was modern and stylish, with clean contemporary lines and cheeky, inventive touches such as a scaletrix car-racing track on the wall in the lounge room. It was in fantastic condition, too, with shiny polished wooden floorboards, new towels and linens, and top quality appliances, including flat screen television, a colossal fridge, Italian stove, dishwasher, washer/dryer, espresso maker, and so on. The kitchen had everything you could possibly need, from good wine glasses to an Italian espresso-maker. It’s certainly a place we could have easily settled into for a week or two.
However, we only had one night. Indeed, we had very little time, we hadn’t been to the city for around six years, we hadn’t had time to do research, and we didn’t want to go to places we’d been before.
Fortunately for us, the apartment’s young Venezuelan architect owner, Gabriel, was a foodie with a blog. So we challenged him – where would you send people who only had one night in Madrid for the quintessential albeit ‘local’ Madrid experience? We wanted casual, no twenty-course Michelin-starred affair, as we knew we’d be too tired from the day spent travelling. We stipulated an early evening spot for a drink, a couple of tapas bars to ‘hop’, and perhaps a post-dinner pub/bar – all to be done on foot.
So we went with Gabriel (armed with a map and list) to his local ‘lounge room’ as he calls it, on the corner. This pub, Maravillosa, is warm, charming and inviting, with some great wines and a fantastic local vibe. After confirming our itinerary for the night we said our farewells and hit the streets…
Our Tapas Odyssey
Our first stop, the charming, dimly-lit Bodega de la Ardosa was full of character but was way too crowded to even contemplate eating!
The next stop was actually called Stop. Stop Madrid may have an odd English language name, but Gabriel assured us it was as local as local can get. This was an atmospheric bar that took its wines seriously and we worked our way through a few glasses of different Riojas listed on the chalkboard, as well as some excellent (complimentary) olives and some truly melt-in-your-mouth Jamon Ibérico – a good warm-up for southern Spain. Once again, the place was packed – though we weren’t complaining, it was full of locals and there wasn’t a tourist or a guidebook in sight.
Duly fortified, we headed off to our next destination, one that Gabriel was a little bit cautious about overselling. Firstly, Madrid’s renovated Mercado de San Miguel looks fantastic – far more inviting than it used to be before renovation. The market is now filled with individual specialty shops and stalls that seemingly sold everything that’s great about Spanish food. Gabriel warned us that tourists also go there, but we found the clientele to be around 95% Spanish. Only the Spanish gasp in awe as you walk past carrying a plate of brilliant Jamon Ibérico!
We were like kids in a candy store, this being our first night in Madrid in so long. The only problem was actually getting served as just about every stall in the market was packed. We’re still dreaming about the oyster stall that we never managed to get served at, but we had more fantastic Rioja from a serious wine bar – and no plastic cups here, our big reds were served in colossal red wine glasses so they could well and truly breathe. When it comes to food and wine – and many other things – the Spanish never fail to delight us with their effortless sophistication.
As the stalls started to shut, we plotted our next move. Gabriel had suggested the rustic cave bar, Meson del Champiñones – famous for… Si!, you guessed it, champiñones! While the karaoke and dancing (at one stage they were waltzing) in the back room was a little disturbing – as were the two guys playing the organ at once – we turned our attention away from the David Lynchian scene and onto the mushrooms. The mushrooms here are cooked head down, with the stem removed and the centre of the mushroom packed with chorizo, salt, olive oil, bread crumbs, and a little lemon juice. Two toothpicks are placed in the mushroom and the idea is that you eat it without spilling the juice of the mushroom that has pooled inside the mushroom body. Absolutely delicious!
Several plates of mushrooms and several rounds of glasses of Rioja with a Puerto Rican banker we got talking to, and the karaoke was starting to sound good, so we bid our goodbyes to Meson del Champiñones and one very fun night of eating and imbibing in Madrid!