Get over your tapas aversion in Madrid

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Natasha Tomalin
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Stylist’s Art Director Natasha Tomalin- Hall heads to Madrid with the hope of being won over – and she is, one small plate at a time

I don’t like tapas. I really don’t. Lumps of unidentifiable floating objects in copious amounts of luminous orange oil? No thanks. My fear – because that’s what I’m calling it - of tapas has been affecting my travel plans without me even realising it, and is why, subconsciously at least, I’ve not been to Spain in about 15 years.  

But now I find myself here – in Madrid, all because a colleague of mine dubbed it the food capital of Europe in casual conversation. And if it is, then I (copious wine drinker and food lover) need to see it. Because I trust her – and trust is something I’ve been told I simply must do more of if I want to be the great foodie I claim to be. 

We’re staying at the rather charming Tótem in the Salamanca district (think Kensington with tonnes more shops) which, aside from serving excellent cocktails in the Gatsby-esque bar (have the margarita) is perfectly placed to have a good night’s sleep. Especially because Madrid never seems to sleep; not getting going until about 11pm, with siestas required to give you staying power - so Salamanca is a nice and peaceful antidote in the wee hours of the morning.  

Feeling like Brydon and Coogan in The Trip, we start our culinary tour with two highly recommended restaurants: TriCiclo and La Gabinoteca. The former is one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had - a leisurely lunch made up of lots of little dishes like Mexican style oysters, sea bass ceviche and beef short rib macaroni. The latter is good food but I can't help feeling they’re more concerned with getting the next round of punters in.

We save our tapas experience for the numerous food markets, which are not in short supply. Indoor, outdoor, in former cinema complexes (Platea really is a sight to behold)… They are everywhere. And I’m not talking rickety stalls; these are meccas of gastronomic delight to be devoured one small bite at a time. My particular favourites are Mercado de San Miguel - an indoor institution packed to the rafters on a weekend - and El Huerto de Lucas, which is SO hard to find, but when you do is a feast for the senses. 

However, the best tapas experience (and I cannot believe those words just fell from my mouth) comes from a single street on a Sunday afternoon: Calle Cava Baja in the La Latina district. It’s the most concentrated strip of tapas bars you will find in Madrid, and this is what it’s all about. Very much an in and out affair, hustle your way to the bar, order a Vermút (vermouth served in a martini glass - surprisingly delicious, and dangerously addictive) and your desired tapas in Spanish (we order wrong twice, but it’s all part of the fun) stand, eat, chuck your olive stones and napkins on the floor, get out and move onto the next one.

Of course, there’s plenty of Velasquez and Goya to immerse yourself in at the Prado and the architecture across the city is truly breathtaking, but if you're serious about eating and drinking, Madrid really is the place to be. Exceptional tapas and all.

Stays at TÓTEM, Madrid start from €145 per room per night based on two sharing on a B&B basis. To book:; (+34) 91 426 00 35.