Sometimes when life gets hectic and you find yourself feeling stir crazy, all you need is a good break away. My mother and I decided on a weekend in Madrid to blow the cobwebs away and refresh and we had a great time. I did do a little research beforehand such as reading blogs by Hungry City Hippy and Eat Liverpool, but for the most part we wandered our way around the city and went wherever our feet took us. That being said, Google maps is a godsend when it’s getting dark and you’ve lost your bearings!
Friday – arrival in the city
As we only had two and a half days in the city we operated a good balance of exploring, catching up on sleep/rest and eating. (Mostly the latter). On the Friday evening we arrived at rush hour and in the pouring rain – but at least we made it in spite of the snow and below freezing temperatures at home! Our Airbnb host’s assistant met us at the apartment, checked us in, giggled at my inability to do the careful jiggle with the keys needed to open the door (I have zero patience at the best of times) and pointed us in the direction of the nearest corner shop for a few kitchen supplies. It was a lovely little apartment, nothing too fancy – and, if you’re a light sleeper, not particularly sound-proof against noisy neighbours – but ideal for a couple (or mother & daughter) looking for a few days in a centrally-located city pad. Once settled in, we head out for a bit of an adventure and a wander and found ourselves heading in the direction of La Pecera, somewhere I’d heard about in Eat Liverpool’s blog and was very keen to try.
My mum went for the vanilla & activated charcoal ice cream mix, in a chocolate cone and with coconut shavings, mini cookies and sparkly balls (easy, tiger) on top. Mine was the salted caramel & matcha mix which sounds odd but was very tasty; topped with honeycomb, ginger biscuit crumbs and more sparkly balls, I was happy as Larry. The fish-shaped waffle cones are clearly the allure of this place but coming from a family where my dad fishes most weekends, we’re naturally drawn to anything fish-like. Sad, I know. All in all it was really good ice cream though, perfect treat to tide us over ‘til dinner and great for the ‘gram.
After proceeding to wander the streets a little more, realise we were lost with no phone battery and do our best to ask for directions in a nearby pharmacy, we found our way home to regroup before dinner.
Artemisa, vegetarian restaurant
Much to our delight there were all kinds of choices for an evening meal along the street we were staying in, around every corner were more and more cafes, bars, bakeries and restaurants. We managed to get a table in this charming vegetarian place (which also happens to be 100% gluten-free for those sufferers amongst you) just five minutes’ walk from our apartment and, at this point, I was glad I’d downloaded a free Spanish phrase-book app as I (foolishly) hadn’t been prepared for so many non-English speakers. It was actually very refreshing!
There was plenty on the menu we fancied the look of but decided to opt for a sharing platter and some nachos & guacamole to start, also sharing a bottle of organic white wine. We demolished the nachos in minutes alongside some free appetisers, which I couldn’t identify but were nice all the same. The sharing platter was much larger than we’d expected but I ate as much as I possibly could (forgot to take a tupperware for leftovers on holiday didn’t I *eyeroll*). It consisted of: Persian pie, vegetarian croquettas, tofu slices in a Cabrales cheese sauce, curry vegetables and organic paella. Tofu took me by pleasant surprise yet again but my favourite of all this was the organic paella; each component of the platter was delicious with well-balanced flavours, very fresh tasting and nothing overpowered anything else. The organic wine was a perfect accompaniment. I was really impressed with this meal and with the plethora of incredible-sounding options, vegetarian and vegan, I’d definitely be back here should I visit Madrid again.
Saturday – Mercado de San Miguel
This was what we’d been buzzing for. After a much needed lie-in we head there for lunchtime and it was an elbows out, hold-onto-my-shoulder situation but we didn’t mind, all part of the excitement! People everywhere, food everywhere, I was in my happy place. Y’all know I love a food market.
We bustled our way around for a nosy and a sense of what was on offer, beginning with two sangrias and a plate of mixed olives. If that isn’t the perfect start to this kind of feast I don’t know what is. The group next to us had a pretty impressive spread on the go, they clearly knew what they were doing and I got the feeling the local tactic is for the wives to grab a seat and the husbands to go fetch the food (I wouldn’t be complaining). Olives demolished and sangria all sipped up using my bamboo straws (as pictured above), which the Spanish did not understand, we grabbed a small cone of mixed nuts to munch on whilst we surveyed the options in full.
Crepes, macarons, lemon meringue pies and churros for desserts; stews, sushi, pasty-like things called empanadillas, all kinds of jamón and all the seafood you could want for mains/tapas; fresh fish, cuts of meat and all kinds of cheeses for you to try there or buy to take home. I could have easily spent my weekend eating my way around this place, but we still tried our best in the time we had. Without rambling on forever, here’s the run-down of our nibbles:
- Sangria, olives stuffed with sundried tomato, olives stuffed with salmon & cheese, manzanilla olives (because I like ones that still have the stone in)
- Mixed nuts for snacking
- Chickpea & spinach stew which was bloody delicious, may even try to recreate it at home
- Tuna maki rolls which I know isn’t Spanish but couldn’t help myself
- Ham & cheese empanadillas or, as mum called, it ‘a foldy over thingy’ (obviously this was hers not mine)
- Two big fat G&Ts: a raspberry gin with strawberries, orange peel & tonic and a Larios Spanish gin with lemon & tonic. These were pour-by-eye, strong measures and I was loving it.
- Churros & chocolate dipping sauce because it would be a crime not to when in Spain…
- A raspberry and a pistachio macaron to finish (very good but not quite Cocorico Patisserie standard)
Looking at it now it doesn’t seem as much as it felt. There were a couple of other things I’d have liked to try if I’d had the room such as oysters or some calamari, although I was put off slightly by the latter because there was no accompanying sauce so I thought it might be too crispy alone – is serving lemon mayo with calamari a purely British thing? After all that we were full, tipsy and my poor mother who isn’t quite as seasoned a day-drinker as I (not sure if that’s a good thing) was ready for an afternoon nap. Lesson learned for next time: be sure to bring tupperware on holiday so I can buy now and eat later, maximising my foreign food market game.
Saturday night – Las 10 Tapas de Santa Ana
Tonight we wandered around another part of town we’d not yet explored in search of some authentic tapas and possibly drinks. I had wished we’d been more organised and booked somewhere for the Saturday night, I’d read about a couple of highly commended places that required prior booking, however with the Beast from the East threatening to disrupt our flights we’d thought it best not to tempt fate.
There’s something kind of relaxing about walking around a new city at night (with your wits about you, of course), the lights, sounds, smells and opportunities change and in a place like Madrid you know you’ll never be short of places to go or things to do. There were quite a few theatres around and they seemed like a popular evening attraction; this restored my faith in humanity a little when, at home, there seem to be ever-increasing funding cuts to the performing arts which occupied so much of my life as a youngster and hold a special place in mine and my family’s hearts. Despite this, we were on a food mission and landed on a place in Plaza De Santa Ana with jazzy little placemats and very friendly, helpful staff. Here’s what we ordered (excuse the bad lighting on photos):
- Two Spanish beers
- 6 mixed croquettas (2 fish, 2 chicken and 2 ham I think)
- Padrón peppers with Essex salt (a favourite of mine after trying them at Curado Bar)
- Crispy fried cheese with puréed pumpkin and quince jelly
- Goats cheese toasted roll with caramelised onion (not sure how Spanish it is but one of my favourite flavour combos ever so I almost always order it)
I always love to try local beers and lagers whilst away and I’ve rarely been disappointed, this was no exception. Not too heavy, not too sharp, just light enough for a meal without taking up valuable food space or risking a bloat. The croquettas were very fishcake-esque mostly being filled with creamy mashed potato but that was absolutely fine by me, satisfying as hell. The jelly from the crispy fried cheese went well with my fish croquettas as well as the cheese itself, which was perfectly gooey once cut open without being too hot and burning your tongue as can sometimes happen. The toasted roll was a little tough to the bite and could’ve used more caramelised onion to balance the flavours out a bit more, but still enjoyable.
To my surprise, the highlight for me (after the cheese balls) was the peppers as they’re so moreish and easy to devour in seconds. Really hits the spot as a side dish or bar snack and the salt isn’t overpowering, just marries nicely – I developed a taste for them after trying at Curado Bar, which I definitely recommend for a little slice of Spain in Cardiff. All in all this was a satisfying meal after a day of really good food, but we decided to move elsewhere for dessert and a cocktail to mix things up, treating ourselves to ice cream sundaes and mojitos. Not pictured because my phone had had enough!
Sunday – a bit of culture; the National Archaeological Museum of Spain
As our last day, we thought it best to do something other than eat even if just for a morning. There are a wealth of museums and art galleries in Madrid to choose from and I’m sure many of them are quite the experience, but we decided the National Archaeological museum was more our thing than paintings and such. Despite only having a few hours (my bad, I love a lazy morning especially on holiday) we really enjoyed reading about the evolution of our species, ancient jewellery and pottery found in the area from early settlers and even more learning about the development of weaponry, gold & silver decoration and the expansion of the Roman Empire in Spain. There was plenty to nerd-out over if you like your history and geography. Again, I know it might sound weird saying that walking around the city to and from the museum was a part of what made this holiday really enjoyable but it’s true, it’s like people-watching but with some stunning architecture and new sensory experiences thrown in. Plus, it’s just nice to be somewhere different, isn’t it?
And back to the food…
The area of town the museum was in seemed nice, we walked around a bit in search of an afternoon nibble, but soon realised it was a little too nice and more pricey than we were willing to pay for. The cafes and restaurants we walked past looked very enticing, the perfect place to dine al fresco with a cold glass (or bottle) of wine, but we’d spotted MásQMenos on the way up that we returned to for a small lunch of cheeses, mini Spanish pizzas called cocas, and a chorizo in cider tapas dish for my mother instead.
Over the course of the weekend we couldn’t help but notice that there was always a queue outside this one taco place near the vegetarian restaurant from our first night, Takos el Pastor. So on this last day, we thought we’d wait in line and see what the fuss was about. There weren’t many veggie options but I took my chances with a mushroom & cheese and some sort of cactus fruit taco, whilst my mother enjoyed a traditionally fried beef and a chipotle chicken. They were relatively small but tasty and great value for money, I could see why so many people were taking full advantage of the 1 euro per taco deal! But unfortunately I’m still not sold on mushroom [besides the mushroom dish I had at Cathedral 73 those of you that remember that post, that was a surprising exception]. I think this is more of a place for you meat-eaters but it was nice to be in a queue and chat to a few people during the wait and it was clear why this place seemed so popular. Cheap, cheerful, happy food.
Madrid was a delightful little city break with so much to see and do and a plethora of foodie places to eat your way around the city. A weekend well spent, I look forward to returning one day and definitely recommend it for a refreshing getaway, though I would recommend doing your research and booking one of the many renowned restaurants in the city for an evening as I wish we had. It would’ve just been the icing on top.
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,