Falling in Love with Madrid (again)
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
This would be my third visit to this wonderful city. I feel that I have been very lucky to have spaced out my trips and seen it develop over time. My first was in my late teens, and since then I would rediscover some of my favourite places and note the great changes to this cosmopolitan capitol of Spain.
Madrid is often overlooked by visitors and they go elsewhere in Europe instead. This is a positive for me. For one, there aren’t the hordes of tourist found in Paris, Rome, Venice, London and even Barcelona, leaving Madrid true to itself. For a large city, it has many beautiful and quiet neighbourhoods, missing are the New York style traffic jams, noise and pollution associated with it.
On our arrival, we would waste no time and had a tapas tour in the Hapsburg and Huertas neighbourhood which was just minutes from our hotel. Our first stop would be the Plaza Mayor, and if this wonderful place and its rich architecture wasn’t enough to please, we would witness a rare moment as there was a royal escort of diplomats. What a site to see, as guards and horsemen dressed in centuries-old uniforms paraded through the square bringing a fabulous horse drawn carriage to its final destination.
I cannot think of many better places to eat than Madrid. Food and eating is a way of life here and we were about taste a wonderful sampling of the best. Through the tour we would be treated to several eateries for some fabulous food and great Spanish wines.
And it began with a fantastic eating experience at the vegan Vivo Burgers, where they preach that “eating is a daily act of love”. Vivo Burger is the result of years of work taking time to create sensational food from ingredients without incurring any animal suffering. They believe that eating conscious will make people happier. I loved the food and outdoor terrace setting, and the taste really made me rethink my food.
Visited by celebrities from sport, culture and politics, the Posada de la Villa has won many awards and is included in the Michelin Guide. A selected, high quality menu includes their specialties of wood-fire roasted lamb and the Stew Pot. The ambiance was ideal for dinner and we ate like kings.
For a sweet treat, we went to La Casa de las Torrijas, where the Torrijas is a piece of art. Their artisan recipe is a unique take on the Spanish treat. The base is a slice of day-old bread soaked in milk or wine. It is then coated in egg and fried in a pan with oil. It is then sweetened with honey, molasses or sugar and is flavored with cinnamon. Here we had some with sugar and cinnamon and were not disappointed in the least.
If lunch was not enough to fill our stomachs, we then went to one of my favourites, Jamon iberico (Spanish Ham), with beautiful salted cured legs of specially raised pigs. Dinner at Cinco Jotas is like a dream come true. They raise their own special pigs on a unique diet of feed including acorns. They have become so successful and popular that they cannot meet demand. The reasons are evident with the first taste. It melts in your mouth and is just a must for any foodie.
The next morning we had a guided tour of the Salamanca neighbourhood. A very stylish and fashionable part of Madrid, it is where locals enjoy exceptional fine dining, night clubs, luxury hotels and brand name stores. The area is quite peculiar in layout and for the original purpose as an area for the exclusive residences of Madrid’s aristocracy and bourgeoisie and the buildings feature beautiful frontages that’ll catch your eye.
Lunch was at the Florida Retiro situated in a beautiful park setting that is very quiet and relaxing. It has become a meeting point for culture, leisure, entertainment and food. It is appealing to all audiences thanks to the a la carte restaurant of El Pabellón, the tapas bar of La Galería, the food market with different stands of Los Kioscos and the spectacular terrace of its roof. I opted for a fish dish here.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is one of the best Madrid museums with works of art from many different styles and from many centuries. To our great pleasure they had a combined temporary exhibition on the Spanish artist Picasso and French artist Lautrec, their styles were similar and at times I had a hard time guessing which painting was from which artist. The museum has been around for 25 years and hosts many activities and international exhibitions.
From the museum I opted for a walk to our hotel at rush hour through the grand boulevards and even side streets, seeing the best of this great city when I stumbled upon a couple of street performers dancing very passionately, what joy, I felt so alive and care free just as I was when first visiting Madrid in my teens.
For dinner, I had Tapas again, this time at night to the neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chueca, stopping off at food markets, window shopping and visiting churches and other historical places.
Next we had a guided tour Bourbon Madrid with a visit to Teatro Real opera house. This fabulous opera house is seeing a second life as it was mostly abandoned due to its small size and structural problems. Now it is a world class theatre and we went behind the scenes to witness some engineering marvels. From the outside, no one would guess it had eight below ground levels used to hoist sets to the main performing level. We saw many different departments creating new costumes, props, elaborate sets and we even watched the symphony orchestra rehearsing in a private room. I walked away with much more appreciation to this complex and the arts in general.
A return Visit to a dinner at Corral de la Morería would be just as memorable the second time around. This is a very popular place for both locals and tourist and justifiably so. Situated in an old building and decorated in Spanish colonial style, there was lots of high energy dancing and music as the artists were totally in tuned. This is a Flamingo show but I would rather compare it to Gypsy music. Oh and yes the meal and wine was great!
To round out our trip we visited Guided tour Reina Sofía Museum which is in a beautiful old building with one of the most known works of Picasso and had great meals at Bodega de los Secretos an underground restaurant set in an old wine cellar.
Finally we had a great night out at the Platea Madrid where Valencian chef Ricard Camarena has no doubts about certain things. He only cooks with seasonal ingredients and all guests must feel at home. This has given the restaurant a Michelin mention.
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