Historic Eateries in Central Spain

Having just completed a short trip to Madrid (reported in Madrid in November: Palaces, Parks and Paseos) and during my visit I enjoyed some excellent meals, but in many ways the historic settings of the restaurants gave me as much pleasure as the food itself. Here are details of some of the highlights:

Museo del Jamón

Museo de Jamón, MadridTo get acquainted with central Madrid, I had a couple of beers sitting out in the main square, the historic Plaza Mayor, observing the hustle and bustle of this third largest EU capital in terms of population (only London and Berlin are larger). The three storey residential buildings surrounding the square date back to 1790 and have a total of 237 balconies.

It was very pleasantly warm soaking up the late November sunshine and by chance I had chosen to sit at the Museo del Jamón, the ‘ham museum’ restaurant. Plates of local cheeses, along with delicious slices cut from the many ham legs hanging inside the restaurant, kept me happy all afternoon. The jamón ibérico and olives were particularly good. Being full to the brim with the tastiest cuts of pig I’ve consumed for years, I didn’t need to bother with dinner that night!

Restaurante Botín

Restaurante Biotin, MadridIn a narrow street, a stones throw away from the Plaza Mayor, can be found what is reputed by Guinness Book of World Records to be the oldest restaurant in the world, the Restaurante Biotín. I’m sure there must be an older one hidden away in China or somewhere, but perhaps nobody has bothered to tell Guinness about it!

Apparently this was a favourite haunt of Hemingway who particularly enjoyed the suckling pig, still cooked in the original firewood ovens, and Goya reportedly worked there before becoming an artist. Okay, so you have to pay a premium for eating in this ancient place, which has been serving continuously since 1725. However the suckling pig, cochinillo asado, was very tasty and, washed down with a half jarra de Sangria, still left me with change from €35.

Restaurante Casa Cisneros

Just 50 miles south of Madrid is Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its cultural heritage and fine historic buildings; these include the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Toledo with its superb display of El Greco paintings.

Directly opposite the Lions Gate of the Cathedral is the Casa Cisneros restaurant. The building comprises a 16th Century house, built over an 11th Century Muslim palace. This has been carefully restored to give a restaurant with rooms on several levels. The room where I had my lunch had a glass floor through which some original vaulting could be seen.

I chose the menu del dia and after a tasty smoked salmon salad, tried the local speciality, codero al horno, a succulent and inviting roast lamb dish which was truly excellent. The whole meal including wine, bread and a dessert of melocotones en almibar (peaches in syrup – and not the cheap ones you get in tins from the supermarket!) cost less than €20.

Old Atocha Station

Old Atocha Station, MadridThe Old Atocha Station in Madrid was originally built in 1851, but after being destroyed by a fire, it was rebuilt in 1892 in its present magnificent wrought iron renewal style.

It proved too small for high speed trains, so in 1992 it was converted into a tropical garden (which, let’s face it, is far preferable than being transformed into a block of swanky flats).

I found it a great place to stop a while for drinks and tapas under the palms and ferns: a little oasis in the midst of the vibrant and welcoming Spanish capital.