Thursday, June 28, 2018

MENU's Iberian Exploit 14. Madrid

Our final stop in Spain was Madrid and we had no idea how much this city had grown. Put it in the same bracket as London and New York - it is vast. We had to exit the motorway half an hour before we even saw the City and entered a rather daunting series of ring roads to get to our AirBnB, which was on the other side of the city. We had purposely booked somewhere on the outskirts as it had good rail connections to the city and we had no desire to drive into the centre. Probably one of the nicest places we booked on our tour, it was a small apartment attached to a large house with a kitchen, diner, lounge, bedroom and our own sheltered courtyard. It was a sunny courtyard some of the time, as we were still being plagued by Europe's very wet and chilly Spring! The owners are English and Dutch, so communication was no problem and they were very friendly and helpful. They have lived in Spain for many years
The comfortable lounge area. We had TVs in most of the places we stayed in,
but rarely turned them on except to see the news
Our courtyard
We always like to sit outside, especially in the evening; its a South African thing
Our bedroom had the bathroom en suite
Once we had checked in we needed lunch, so we got the car and went exploring only to find
that there were three restaurants 250 meters away! We decided to sample one of them.
The one with free parking got our business  
Its a vast space, we think often used for functions and we were rather thankful
that Spain eats lunch later. Many business people came for lunch
The really reasonable lunch menu. By now we were able to understand most of it, 
having tried most of these dishes on our journey
Clams with beans, full of salty sea flavours; soft white beans,
rich tomato sauce and lots of small clams in their shells
Prawns from the Wok made us realise how much we were missing the Asian flavours
that are so much part of our normal diet. It came with sliced peppers, courgettes,
onions and eight mini shrimps in a well flavoured sauce which might have benefited
from a hint of chilli, but that's not something we found much in Spain
John chose the chicken fillet, served with very good chips, The split open chicken breast was
cooked a la Parrilla (on the grill) and well flavoured with lemon, herbs, olive oil and garlic
Lynne chose the Escalopines of steak in the Pedro Ximenez sauce, also with chips.
The sauce was redolent with the sherry flavours. The cut was cheaper, probably
blade or skirt steak, and so a little tough, but full of meaty flavour
Time for Postres (afters). The Tarta de la Casa,
layers of orange custard and cream between pastry for John
And a classic rice pudding, topped with cinnamon for Lynne (which John would rather die than eat - bad boarding school memories!). Not too heavy, with good creamy texture
We treated ourselves to a bottle of ubiquitous Verdejo, the house wine,
which went very well with the lunch and had no faults
The snow topped Sierras surrounding Madrid spoke to the distinct chill in the air
The next morning we took a fast train the four stops into
the centre of Madrid and got out at the Plaza del Sol
It's a city full of life and fun. These crazy acrobats were getting money in the hat
A place of Ham, the Museo del Jamon has lots of quick snacks should you need one
Outside, the menu. Sadly, we'd had a large breakfast of wonderful
chocolate croissants from Lidl, so were not tempted at this early hour
The Plaza Mayor is very popular for lunch and we did look at some of the restaurants but, as with any major tourist venue, they were very expensive and overrated. We could have eaten Paella, but saw two young Englishmen eating some and asked them what it was like. Very average, came the answer, as they pushed away their half finished plates, which each cost €25
We set off to explore Madrid
Another view of Plaza Mayor. Our landlady had given us a map and a route so we
could try to do all the normal tourist things in one day. It was quite a mission
Tourists enjoying the sun at the fountain
Exiting the Plaza onto a side street
Lots more restaurants; this is a well known tourist restaurant,
rather pricy for our end of holiday budget
And we found, we must admit by accident, the longest operating restaurant in the world,
according to the Guinness Book of Records. Botin has been open since 1725.
Lots of tourist groups were going in and it did look charming
until we saw the menu. It looked good, but the prices were scary; even the menu of the house
which was about three times the price of our normal lunches
  And round another corner a Mercado
It was just about to close for lunch; we ran in and explored quickly
We so wish we could do this in Africa, but we just don't get it right.
All that is sold is food for purchasing and taking home to cook
So fresh and tempting
Oh, that seafood. As we have said many times before, if only Checkers
fish counter could look an eighth as attractive and as fresh as this
Fresh from the sea (over 300 Km away), glistening and tempting
Baby lamb
The shelves at the back remind us of what we used to sell at Main Ingredient
Look at that tuna at the back of the counter, not black and bloody
but pink and fresh - and look at the variety
Fresh fruit from all over the world. No, not from Hermanus
Lynne was tempted by this stall and bought two enormous artichokes for our supper
How could you not be tempted and they cost €3 for the two
Real tomatoes, with amazing flavour
Back down a side street, it was only half an hour to siesta time and we have to admit that
at this point we were thoroughly turned around and lost, which had consequences
It was nearly 3 and we needed some lunch. This sounded tempting.
Remember the name of this "restaurant" bar at your peril
We were ushered down to an empty basement room
and ordered one of our favourite local beers
The menu  from which we ordered
A goodish salmorejo with iron-like jamon
Four spears of fresh white asparagus soaked in vinaigrette and ruined, then buried under a salsa
of green and black olives, red and green pimento, off-putting raw onion and some salad
And the worst dishes we had on our entire trip. We cannot believe that a restaurant would have the gall to serve these. The pork had been hacked into pieces and then cooked to death. Most of it was bone, or gristle or dried out and inedible. There were only two pieces on the plate that were edible. Fried eggs and bad chips with deep fried peppers do not a lunch make
John's was, if anything, worse. These overcooked bits of fatty beef rib would have
made good dog food. We think both meat dishes were cooked in a deep fat fryer.
He does not do fat or bone, so he ate the chips
Dessert was called chocolate brownies, and was wet and grainy
Apple tart with the crust burnt and a soggy bottom. The apples were OK but nothing else was!
At least it was quite cheap! Sometimes you get less you pay for, and on this occasion we certainly did. The food on this trip has mostly been good value and edible. This was not
We were heading for the Royal Palace and could see the mountains in the distance
We passed a famous Flamenco restaurant and all the chefs were on the other side of the road
having their break before the evening service started. They looked a jolly bunch
Crossing the viaduct on the way to the Palace
Voracious pigeons fighting over a bread roll
The Royal Palace of Madrid, another with architectural references to Buckingham Palace
The side entrance to the Cathedral, which is next to the Palace
Buskers are welcomed
The other side of the palace with the gardens
and John made a return trip after 47 years to the famous statue of the Man of La Mancha,
part of the Monumento Cervantes in the Plaza de España
which is rather dominated by the huge building behind it
And finally on our list of sights to see for the day, the Temple of Debod presented in 1968 by Egypt to Spain in gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples from being buried beneath the waters of the Aswan dam
Sadly for us, it was closed for renovations. We had walked miles and kilometres that day and now
we discovered that we had get almost right across the city to a train station.  As we didn't have the necessary travel pass for the metro, we had to walk a long way, and then take two buses before we finally found a station we could use. How to lose 6 kilos on holiday, walk
 We had a lazy morning, the end was nearing and we were becoming a little weary of travel. We then went to another local restaurant in our area, which was Fuencarral. We began with a refreshing ale. They brought us a plate of rather sad deep fried balls and turnovers with almost nothing inside them, obviously bought in. We thought this was one of our courses, but it was a free tapas
Finally, our first courses arrived. And these were really delicious. Really good tomatoes
hollowed out and stuffed with tuna then capped with a good topping of baked cheese
Then the crisp croquettes filled with what tasted like mixture
of butternut and sweet potato with some salad leaves
John's fish was covered with a gremolata of parsley,
 garlic and grated lemon and served with a small salad
Lynne had a huge crumbed escalope dusted with grated cheese and accompanied by crisp chips.
No slap chips in Spain. It was more of a Vienna Schnitzel than the advertised Milanese
We whiled away a pleasant hour having lunch in the sun
Then it was time to hop on a train and head for the Prado. There is lots of restoration
going on in Madrid and this building is the Ayuntamiento de Madrid, the top-tier
administrative and governing body of the municipality of Madrid, aka City Hall.
It is not all that it seems. The outside is a fabric facade, giving an impression of
what it does or will look like when they have finished the work behind the 'curtains' 
An amusing way to fool people. In order to get your bar to move,
you have to pedal as you drink. Very thirsty work
A special tip if you are heading for Madrid. If you turn up at 5 and get into the queue, they open the Prado museum at 6 for two hours each evening free of charge to 500 people. You might have to wait an hour but not more and queueing beneath the trees is quite pleasant. Just take hats and water.  You can try to turn up later, but the queue is long and you might miss the cut off
It is a most impressive building
The 16th Century San Jerónimo del Real Church, next to the Prado
We got our free tickets and entered at 6
We had marked on the programme the pictures we most wanted to see, like this El Greco and the Goya collection and had to really motor through the museum to see most of those. It is huge, just
like the Louvre, make a plan beforehand or you will wander aimlessly. (Strictly speaking you are
not allowed to take photos....John sneaked this one with his phone)
Coming out at 8 pm, having seen Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Goya's Naked & Clothed Majas, Tiepolo,
El Greco and Velasquez as well as some new to us, we were quite Pieta'd out and exhausted
 A fountain outside the Prado in lovely twilight

A huge Scottish thistle on the rather wild path to the station
and the traffic doesn't stop
We sorted out which track we were supposed to be on
and arrived back in our neighbourhood to see a lovely sunset
Spending the last evening working on our laptops and Kindle with another refreshing ale
for John and a glass of wine for Lynne. We loved Madrid and would like to return one day

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