Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid: Tapas & Treats

Stunning architecture and delicious food come together in one gorgeous space. One of Madrid’s oldest and most beautiful markets, the historic wrought-iron-and-glass Mercado de San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor, is considered among the finest examples of iron and glass architecture in the Spanish capital, along with the spectacular Crystal Palace in El Retiro Park. One of the liveliest culinary spots in the city since it reopened in 2009 after a nearly six-year major restoration, the market has become a gastronomic temple with a vibrant, high-quality food culture. From wonderful wine and fabulous tapas bars to colourful stalls selling all kinds of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood, long opening hours along with special events make this stylish market one of the most unique gastronomic, cultural, and entertainment experiences in Madrid. No visit would be complete without a sampling of the markets celebrated tapas stalls, such as El Señor Martin for Calamaris Fritos, fresh burrata, ricotta and fior di latte crostini at Mozheart, ajoarriero, brandade, Galician style octopus, smoked salmon and cod foie gras at La Casa del Bacalao, a handful of crisp croquetas as well as a glass or two of wine at any one of the fine wine or sherry shops. The real challenge however is finding a vacant stool to sit and enjoy the veritable smorgasbord of Spanish delicacies.

The exquisitely restored Mercado de San Miguel

Calamares fritos at El Señor Martin

Chorizos, chicharrones and salchichones

Norwegian Smoked Salmon, Santoña anchovies and housemade cod brandade tapas from La Casa del Bacalao in Mercado San Miguel

Jamón ibérico and salchichones

Sliced to order Jamón ibérico

Croquetas de jamón and seafood, comes from the verb “croquer” (to crunch), and often made with fillings that usually include any leftovers like ham, chicken, mushrooms or shrimp, mixed with bechamel sauce and deep fried in olive oil — absolute heaven

Monday, April 23, 2018

Prado Museum: The Crown Jewel of Spanish Art

Madrid is paradise for museum lovers, with some of the best museums in the world, including the world-famous Museo Del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, which are all located by one of the main boulevards of Madrid: The Paseo del Prado, the oldest urban garden in Madrid, earning the area the name of “The Golden Triangle of Art.” The Prado however is the crown jewel with the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art in the world. Its walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Founded in 1819 thanks to the determination of Queen Isabella of Braganza, the 18th-century Neo-Classical building that was initially designed to house the Natural History Museum, finally accommodated an important part of the royal collections. Years of private donations and acquisitions enlarged the museum's collection which now comprises one of the world's finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and the single best collection of Spanish art.

Having made prior arrangements for a private tour of the Prado with an expert art historian, we were given an excellent opportunity to appreciate the history of Spain through the works of Velasquez — the most important Spanish painter of the 17th-century — and Goya — the most talented Spanish artist of his time. Both artists had much in common, especially a rebellious spirit against the institutions of their époques and innovative techniques that were later applied by numerous great painters. Enjoying a fascinating 2-hour private tour of these two extraordinary painters who broke the rules of style and paved the way to modern expression, our guide focused on the artistic and political prominence with which they endowed their masterpieces. A unique and unforgettable Prado experience, we then continued on a private tour of Old Madrid, that of the Hapsburgs, with its narrow streets and fascinating history.

Sculpture of Velasquez outside the Prado 

The vast interior with the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art in the world

Las Meninas by Velasquez

Goya's 3rd of May

Juana the Mad Holding Vigil over the Coffin of Her Late Husband, Philip the Handsome, by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, 1877

Central panel of Jheronimus Bosch 'Garden of Earthly Delights', c 1500

The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest by El Geco, 1580

A grand arcaded square, Madrid's Plaza Mayor was first built in 1580 during Philip III's reign and was the town's most popular market towards the end of the 15th century

Bronze statue of King Philip III at the centre of the square, 
created in 1616 by Jean Boulogne and Pietro Tacca

A rare but expansive opening in the tightly packed streets of central Madrid, this square is a winning combination of imposing architecture and vibrant street life coursing across its cobblestones

 Lined with charming Baroque architecture, stylish boutiques, Plaza Mayor is a marvellous but pricey place to relax, enjoy some good Spanish wine, sample some tapas and watch life go by

Fresh Tomato and Lettuce Salad with a cold Spanish beer on a hot sunny day 
at Café Zarra on Plaza Mayor

Manchego and Jamón

Chorizo with Patatas Bravas 

Friday, April 20, 2018

El Paraguas: Refined Asturian Cuisine in Madrid

Nestled in the heart of Madrid's elegant Salamanca district, El Paraguas is a cozy and sophisticated restaurant well known for its high-quality Asturian cuisine popular with old-guard Madrileños. Opened in 2004 by Sandro Silva and Marta Seco, with the aim of providing a new vision of Asturian gastronomy, which hails from northern Spain, El Parraguas in known for their rich stews, fabulous fresh seafood, and signature dishes by chef Silva including grilled sea urchin in its own shell, oxtail meatballs and stuffed colmenilla mushrooms with foie gras. Dark-tone lampshades, stained glass panels, and plush seats give the ground level dining room a warm European elegance, while copper pots add a whimsical country kitchen feel. Of the more than 100 wines available, most are tintos or reds from Rioja vineyards such as Valenciso and Ramon Bilbao. A delightfully elegant spot for lunch or dinner, El Paraguas has shaded outdoor tables in the summer, and number of small private dining rooms on the upper floor, perfect for enjoying a long leisurely Madrileño lunch.  

Marta Seco and chef Sandro Silva

Specializing in fabulous fish and seafood, the menu at El Paraguas is a pescatorian's dream

A bowl of warm lightly salted fried onions arrive as diners are seated

Spanish sparkling Cava to begin our lovely lunch

Seasonal Greens and Ham Hock Soup amuse-bouche

 Langostinos Rellenos de Espinacas: Spinach Filled Prawns

Zamburiñas Gratinadas: Scallops Gratin

Colmenillas Rellenas de Foie Gras: Morelles filled with Foie Gras

 San Pedro a la Ribereña: John Dory with Ribereña sauce

Merluza a la Sidra con Compota de Manzana: Hake with Apple Compote Cider

Cochinillo Confitado: Pork Confit

Tarta fina de manzana con helado de chocolate blanco: Apple Galette with white chocolate ice cream

Almond Tuiles

Thursday, April 19, 2018

O'Pazo: The Finest Galician Seafood in Madrid

Often named among the best seafood restaurants in Spain, O’Pazo is owned by Evaristo Garcia, who also runs Pescaderías Coruñesas, a prestigious seafood supplier established in 1911 by King Alfonso XIII, that provides the restaurant and royal household with the freshest wild fish from the Galician coast each and every day. Opened in 1969, it was one of the first restaurants in Madrid to be awarded a Michelin star. The dining room is sleek and stylish, with a slate-gray palette, wood panelled alcoves and discrete lighting with elegant table settings with pressed white linens and refined wine glasses and tableware. Great legs of Iberian Jamón hang from the ceiling of O'Pazo's open kitchen, and the days’ catch of seafood and shellfish is displayed on crushed ice like an immense shrine to the sea, bursting with a selection of baby eels, river cockles, spider crabs, king prawns, lobster, scallops, langoustines, oysters, octopus, goose barnacles and more. With an unmatched reputation for offering the finest seafood in Madrid, the menu is impressive, specializing in traditional Galician dishes designed to bring out the natural lightness and delicate texture of the fish, such as Grilled Sole from the Cantabrian Sea for two, Zarzuela de Moriscos — a classic Spanish fish and seafood soup — and a marvellous selection of tartares and ceviche that are hand cut and served at the table. 

The ultra modern entrance foyer to the restaurant

Spectacular selection of fish and seafood on ice greets guests as they enter O'Pazo

The sleek and stylish interior of O'Pazo in Madrid

Offering the finest fish and seafood in Madrid, the menu is whimsically designed 
with a fish scale motif and subtle embossed O'Pazo logo

O'Pazo's custom smoked salmon from Pescaderías Coruñesas

Chilled pan-cooked river cockles served with tiny silver pins to pull out the succulent meat

O'Pazo Champagne Cocktail with Grand Marnier and brown sugar cube

Our server arriving with our wine selection

Pazo San Mauro Spanish white wine from Rías Baixas 

Our table side wine bucket with bottled water and our San Mauro white Rías Baixas 

An extraordinary pair of prawn shell scissors set on the table for my first course

Enormous King prawns from Sanlúcar, absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked;
weighing in at an impressive 400 grams, were also the most expensive appetizer I've ever ordered 

Santoña anchovies

Grilled Wild Tubot from the Galician estuaries and Asturias coast

Grilled Sole from the Cantabrian Sea, specifically the port of Avilés

Thin, warm and crispy potato chips custom fried to order

Green Salad with spring onions

Jerez sherry to enjoy with the cheese course

O'Pazo cheese board with assorted Spanish cheeses