Ferran Adria of the near-mythical elBulli restaurant paved the way and the rest of the country is following. One of the best places to experience this gourmet feast for yourself is to head to the capital Madrid – it will fulfill the wishes of the most hungry and demanding gourmand.
To appreciate the present we must understand the past, so a visit to Sobrino de Botin (Calle Cuchilleros 17) should be on the to-do list of anyone chomping their way round this city. The restaurant claims to be the world’s oldest; it’s been open since 1725. It boasts Spanish master Goya amongst its former staff and while it’s a little touristy, eating roast-suckling pig in its lamplit cellar is a moment worthy of any Instagram feed.
If you’re not looking for a full sit down meal then head to Sale de Despiece (Calle de Ponzano 11). Designed to look like a slaughterhouse with its sparkling white surfaces and butchers hooks hanging from the ceiling, it’s usually standing room only and fiercely renowned for the house tomato salad.
Ojala (Calle de San Andrés, 1) brings the fabulous Spanish coast to the city. Its downstairs room is decked out like a beach, complete with real sand. Fortunately the food is anything but average beach bar fair. They start serving at 9am if you’re keen to allay a hangover with some breakfast huevos.
For a more 'on-the-go' experience, take a tup round one of the city’s food markets. The Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel) near Plaza Major is the most frequented by visitors, but if you want to take a real deep dive into a unique gourmet experience head to Platea Madrid (Calle de Goya, 5-7). Set in an old theatre over three floors, stalls offer everything from tapas to Japanese to Peruvian to good old fruit and veg. The first balcony is Arriba restaurant, the newest outpost from two-starred Michelin chef Ramón Freixa, serving up his contemporary take on traditional Spanish fare. Above that lies the cocktail bar El Palco and while you imbibe you’ll be entertained onstage by acts ranging from bands to Latino dancers to the cooks from the stalls doing karaoke.
If you're keen to try more gourmet options then Moratín Vinoteca (Moratin, 36) is a local favourite. The Madrileños have been desperately trying to keep it to themselves but word is definitely out. Simplicity is the key - homemade marinated salmon with pickled vegetables, steak tartare - but all ingredients are bought that day from the Mercado Anton Martin (Calle de Santa Isabel, 5), and if you can bag a spot at one of the restaurant’s 24 seats you’ll leave howling its praises to anyone who will listen.
For a more traditional option at the higher end of the price scale, Viridiana (Calle de Juan de Mena, 14) has been open for over 30 years and is one of the forefathers of fusion cuisine. Head chef Abraham Garcia takes in French and Mediterranean influences and oxtail is frequently seen on the menu.
For those keen to try food feted by the discerning folk at the Michelin guide, you’ll not be found wanting. Top of the tree is DiverXO (Calle de Padre Damián, 23), with three stars and self-hailed as the ‘dream world of Dabiz Munoz’. At first glance those worlds might appear to be anything but a land of sweet subconscious reverie: black butterflies swarm over the ceilings and walls. Vast metal ants populate the wine cellar. But fear not because the food - a fusion of Spanish and Chinese cuisine - is relentlessly original and composed with the flourish of one of Spain’s great artistic masters. The menu changes according to the whims of head chef Munoz and there’s no a la carte: it’s a 7 or 11 course tasting menu.
You’ll need to book well in advance to secure a table at La Terraza del Casino (Calle de Alcalá, 15), which has been one of the staples of the city’s fine dining scene since the 80s. Located on the top of the Madrid Casino, it holds two stars and its outdoor terrace is likely the most prepossessing dining spot in Madrid. You’ll need to dress up nice - ties for the boys - but it’ll be worth it to take whirl through the category-defying glory of its tasting menu.
Of course, befitting a city with such a multicultural population, Madrid has excellent international options. For upscale Indian try Benares (Calle de Zurbano, 5), the Madrid outpost of Atul Kockher’s Michelin-starred London restaurant. For Japanese fare away from the madding crowd, Donzoko (Calle de Echegaray, 3) is designed like a traditional Japanese house and it manages to feel secret without being too flashy. It you want to try the most secret restaurant in town, get to Jia Xiang Xiao Chi (Plaza de España, 28013) the Chinese restaurant squirreled away in an underground car park. Just descend the stairs and follow the 'Cafeteria' sign. The food won’t look pretty but you’ll be battling the queue with locals for a table.