It may not be Madrid’s youngest or trendiest neighbourhood, but there are few areas that can challenge the streets around Ibiza metro to the East of the Retiro Park for wine and tapas bars. Forget the usual choice of Rueda, Rioja or Ribera; these are restaurants that take their wine offer seriously (where else can you find Allende served by the glass from Magnums?) and elevate tapas to gastronomic heights.
It’s hard to choose between bars when the competition is so fierce, so our selection has been based on their wine lists, favouring bars that offer a wide and unusual selection of wines by the glass, with respectable mark-ups.
If you want to get the best of the area avoid the very busy times (Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from around 9.30pm) and dress smartly; these aren’t the traditional spit and sawdust joints you’ll find in other parts of town, and although you probably won’t be refused entry, you might feel a bit uncomfortable in shorts and a t-shirt when everyone else is in crisp designer shirts and leather loafers.
The wine bar and restaurant by which all others should be judged. The horseshoe shaped bar and several high tables mean there is plenty of room for the well-heeled clientele to perch and watch Javier, one of the three Laredo brothers, as he manages the bar, remembers orders, tops up glasses and makes tomato toast at lightning speed.
The wine list, presented on a tablet, covers over 20 Spanish regions, as well as a handful of wines from neighbouring countries. It has a very strong high-end offering with key vintages of Artadi, Roda, Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Aalto et al. but we like to check out the ice bucket of open bottles served by the glass: they always seem to include a magnum of Allende Rioja, but the other wines vary. We have chanced upon the perfectly balanced Mestizaje, a blend of Bobal, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and shiraz from the DOP Pago El Terrerazo – insanely good value for money.
Other times it has included a red from Asturias (not so memorable) or La Maldición, a blend of Tempranillo and the white Malvar grape from D.O. Madrid. The basic wines by the glass hover around the €2.80 mark and are accompanied by an ample serving of cheese cubes, chorizo and breadsticks. As for the menu, you only have to look at the fridges of fresh produce at the back of the bar to know you are in for a treat – the slabs of fat-marbled beef have been known to make grown men cry. Their salad of crayfish, burrata, avocado and dried tomato has been described by a friend as “the best salad I’ve ever tasted”, the cubes of hake with aioli also come highly recommended, and the dwarf-sized chuletillas de conejo – rabbit chops – are as fiddly to eat as they are delicious.
Calle Doctor Castelo 30. 28009 Madrid
Tel.: +34 915 733 061
This is a relative newcomer to the scene, opening in 2015, but has already made its mark, winning the Métropoli Best Tapas Bar Award earlier this year. When we visited, the beautifully presented torreznos (deep fried pork rind) seemed to be flying out the door, with the rest of the menu teetering between classics and more inventive dishes, served both at a small bar and on tables in the back.
The wine list is displayed on a giant magnum bottle with the by-the-glass selection chalked up on the blackboard. Viña Real Rioja is poured from a magnum, along with other classics including Pazo Señoráns Albariño.
We decided to try some of their more unusual wines, a glass of UNO Arabako Txakolina 2014, Bodega Goianea from the Alava region at €3, showing that Txakoli is not all extreme acid. With five months lees ageing this had a nose of honeysuckle, green and stone fruit with an almost oily mouth-feel and a balanced finish. It went perfectly with one of their more innovative dishes of Skrei cod in green curry with Godello and fresh peas, just on the right side of spicy.
Honoro Vega Garnacha from Calatayud was the other end of the scale, with a generous nose of cherries and ripe plums overlaid with liquorice and mint, warm and rich on the palate with a medium body. It was a good match for the chickpeas with wild mushrooms and foie gras, an unctuous, savoury concoction. To finish, the Torrijas de Sobao from Macho were sublime, custard-soaked sponge cake gently oozing under a crisp caramel shell.
Calle Doctor Castelo, 19. 28009 Madrid.
Tel.: 918 311 842
This second establishment from Michelin-starred chef Pepe Solla is one of the newest bars on the route. On the corner of Avenida Menéndez Pelayo and Calle Doctor Castelo, with modern styling and high stools, it is ideally located for a stop-off after a visit to the Retiro.
Petiscos are the Portuguese/Galician equivalent of tapas, and the short but sweet selection is based on seasonal Galician produce, fish, of course, but also meat dishes and the local grelos greens.
The short wine list is predictably based on Galician wines, and we selected a glass of L’Ombre (€3.80) from Bodegas Merencio, a young outfit in the D.O. Ribeiro. Simple but pleasant, its fresh acidity and apricot-apple fruit stood up admirably to the lemon-lime mayonnaise calamari baguette, although, at the same price, Gaba do Xil from the D.O. Valdeorras perhaps represents better value for money.
As for the food, other dishes that impressed include the spicy chicken wings and the Makipanes, a Galician take on Chinese steamed buns with the doughy mouthfuls topped with lacón y grelos (a traditional dish of gammon and greens), ham and creamy local cheese and octopus.
Av. De Menéndez Pelayo 11.28009 Madrid
Tel.: +34 914 352 819
No tapas route in the area is complete without mentioning the legendary La Castela (Calle Doctor Castelo 22), and although its milhojas de ventresca (tuna layered with peppers and tomatoes), seafood, and vermouth on tap are hard to beat, I’d argue that wine lovers would be better off (and more likely to find space at the bar) going round the corner to a restaurant run by the same family, La Montería (Calle Lope de Rueda, 35).
Also with a venerable history (since 1963), it serves a huge range of wines by the glass from magnums, which on our last visit included Senda 2008, the introductory wine in the range of excellent, organically produced Garnachas from Las Moradas de San Martín (D.O. Madrid), and the biodynamic Luna Beberide Mencia 2015 (D.O. Bierzo). Its by-the-bottle wine list includes over 100 references, with many classics, including older vintages of wines from Lopez de Heredia, as well as up-and-coming wines from small wineries, as is the case of Bodegas Maldivinas’ La Movida Pizarra 2012 – a richly perfumed and elegant Garnacha from vertiginous slate slopes between Cebreros and Tiemblo on the edge of the Gredos mountains. With notes of thyme, fennel, lavender and rich red fruit, it would pair well with classic dishes like the Rabo de Toro oxtail stew, whilst still having the acidity to cut through the melt-in-the-mouth red tuna dishes for which the restaurant is famed. It is worth also ordering a few of the signature “monterías” a rich, creamy mussel béchamel served on the half-shell with a fine crust.
Restaurante Marcano (Calle Doctor Castelo 31) definitely merits a mention, although arguably in its newer location (in the past it occupied tiny premises on Calle Menorca) it is more sit-down restaurant than tapas bar.
It is possible to stop for tapas though in the tiny bar area at the front, and they should certainly include their signature bocartes en salazón – anchovies marinated on the premises – melt-in-the mouth tender and balanced in flavour with sweet tomato jam.
As for the wines, we couldn’t resist ordering two sherries from Primitivo Collantes in Chiclana, their exemplary amontillado, with its salty bacon rind finish pairing perfectly with the stuffed squid with crispy tentacles, and the oloroso, with a rich nose of dried figs and a saline freshness which went perfectly with a dish of foie gras with rhubarb.
On Calle Menorca, another bar with a great wine selection is La Catapa (Calle Menorca 14). Although we have been disappointed by the food served in the sit-down restaurant, the by-the-glass wine list includes the lees-fermented Guitian Godello Sobre Lías from Bodega A Tapada in the D.O. Valdeorras, with its ripe pear and peach fruit, rounded weight and saline mineralogy; K-naia Rueda and Lalama from D.O. Ribeira Sacra, as well as many older vintages of Rioja by the bottle. It’s worth joining its older clientele for a quick glass and a pincho at the bar.
Directly opposite, Venta La Hidalguía (Calle Menorca 15), run by a quiet couple from Las Pedroñeras in Castilla-La-Mancha, is a bar-cum-delicatessen that crams a kitchen, a few tables and high stools into a tiny space. Simple dishes are cooked in front of the customers, and the constantly changing wine offer and seasonal dishes are chalked up on a blackboard. There’s always a range of sherries, including Lustau’s Fino La Ina, and a changing selection of whites and reds by the glass. Last time I was there, they were serving the justifiably trendy 7 Fuentes – a smoky, mineral blend of Listán Negro and Tintilla from the slopes of the Teide volcano in Tenerife. In terms of food, it’s simple but well sourced, with a seafood-heavy ensaladilla rusa showing how good this dish can be when not overloaded with potato and mayonnaise, and when in season, the very best wild mushrooms are served with poached egg.
Sázon-arte (Calle Menorca 19) is located a few doors down in a tiny bar than previously housed La Catapa and then Marcano. Following in their footsteps, it offers modernised classics, including a truffled potato tortilla that is definitely for those that like their eggs runny. The wines by the glass (at around €2.50) include the fruit-forward Artuke Rioja and Vel ‘Uveyra Mencia made by female winemaker María José Yravedra at Ronsel Do Sil in the D.O. Ribeira Sacra. With ethereal notes of violets over blackberries, it is silky and very, very easy to drink.
Oh, and if you fancy finishing your tour with something sweet and non-vinous, one of Madrid’s best ice cream parlours is located on Calle Narváez, 62. Heladería Sienna has been churning out Italian ice creams for decades, with a wealth of flavours to choose from, with prices from just €1.80 a pop, we heartily recommend the double chocolate chip, vanilla with cookies, yoghurt with amarena cherries, coconut, mango, lemon tart, leche merengada (milk flavoured with cinnamon and lemon zest), cheesecake, cinnamon…
Since writing this feature, even more new bars have opened in the area, including Casa de Fieras, a Navarra themed bar which stocks Viña Zorzal’s superb range of wines, so expect further updates.