DOS HERMANOS DO MADRID: A LAST HURRAH?
Dos Hermanos have never apologised for our love of Spain and in particular Madrid and, over the period of the last four years, we have catalogued nearly a dozen visits between us. There was, however, a certain air of “ the end of an era” about our visit of December 2009.
In part, I am guessing it was linked to the rapidly approaching end of the first decade of the Millennium. It is a little under ten years since DH took our first joint trip to Madrid and came to the collective decision that it is our favourite city on earth, a view that has not changed despite thousands of air miles clocked up between us since then.
In part, I am sure, it is because of the approaching changes in our personal lives. My impending wedding and move to LA LA Land will inevitably mean that such hugely enjoyable journeys may be fewer and further apart in future.
Add to these the fact that, although we will continue to give it our best shot, we wont be able to attack the unbeatable food of Madrid with such gusto in years to come as middle age wearies our bones and reduces our appetites. With my doctor already suggesting that I should replace booze with blood pressure medication and look to lower my cholesterol levels to numbers, which did not suggest I was “73% pork fat” there was always going to be an element of “last hurrah” about the final DH assault on Madrid of the ‘00’s.
Madrid itself has seen considerable changes in the last decade. Not just the central areas around Plaza Sol, Meyor and Santa Ana, which always attracted tourists, but have now been scrubbed and polished to make them even more visitor friendly. It is also noticeable in the changing demographic of the city’s population, seemingly a function of increased immigration and fuelled by the arrival of workers from Spain’s own commonwealth of former colonies.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Madrid’s thousands of bars and restaurants, where a generation of grumpy barmen and waiters in their ill fitting white jackets appear to be slowly retiring in favour of younger men and women from South America, presumably more willing than their home grown equivalents to work the long hours demanded by Spanish consumers.
What has not changed however is the ease with which DH slot into the Madrileño rhythm after years of practice and when I arrived on a flight a few hours after HP, I found that he was already six or so bars to the good and had photographs of tempting tapas to prove it. It did not take me long to get into the swing, however, and what followed was as fun and colon challenging as any visit had been in the previous ten years.
People often e-mail and ask us for our recommendations when they are visiting Madrid and, although we always toss out a few suggestions of places they might like, our usual response is to say that such a request is really missing the point about what makes this such a special city. The DH MO is not to visit specific bars, although we do, of course, have a few favourites after all these years, but to select neighbourhoods both central and outlying and then spend time dipping in and out of the seemingly endless selection of bars at random, ordering a caña and seeing what tapa is placed in front of us.
It is an approach that has paid dividends and, thanks mainly to HP’s impeccable research, has introduced us to bars in barrios as far apart as Charmatin to the North East and Villauerde in the South. It has taken us to streets like Calle Ponzano, which houses bars like Fide, specialising in tapas of seafood from tins, to Calle Cava Baja, where Nuevo tapas are served up to bright young things at bars like Casa Lucas. It has taken us Bar Bona De Leon, close to Plaza España, where your €1 beer comes with a plate of chicken wings large enough to make supper unnecessary to Los Torezznos, in ritzy Salamanca, where the waiter chops up large slabs of salty pork belly and oily chorizo for you to form improbable sandwiches with crusty white rolls.
Along the way, of course, we fit in a meal or two, never any more, as it simply isn’t necessary. This time, we celebrated Spain’s Asador, or restaurants specialising in the cooking of meat on charcoal grills or in wood fired ovens. Asador De Aranda, as the name suggests prepares food from the region near Burgos, particularly Lechal Lamb, basted as it roasts to a succulent tenderness and served with no more than a simple green salad and a bottle of Ribera del Duero. Asador Los Arcos, on the other hand brings in little piggies from Avila, in Castilla De Leon to do something similar, producing soft flesh, crackling skin and creamy layers of fat. Two great meals, and like the bars, served with such efficiency and such little fuss that it served to remind us why we always feel deflated when we return to the fashionable options of London’s tepid dining scene.
But, enough of the moaning, this was as good a trip to Madrid as DH have ever experienced and if things have changed for both us and this city in the last ten years and will no doubt change even more in the next, it was as perfect a last hurrah as you could have asked for. It may have marked the end of an era, but it certainly does not mark the end of our love affair with this remarkable and magical city.