Tapa Ten: the 10 best tapas bars in Madrid

Although Madrid is rivalled by such cities as Seville and Granada for the title of tapa capital, it wins hands down on variety; its central location and status allow it to bring to together the old, the new and the regional in the bustle of one of Europe’s more underrated capital cities. Distinct neighbourhoods offer distinct vibes- La Latina is probably the more renowned area for tapas but great places can be found all over town. Start with these ten.       

1) Bodega de la Ardosa

La Ardosa 

Bodega de la Ardosa was founded in 1892 and has retained its old world charm but the clientele here are young and lively. They come for the salmorejo, the empanada or the insanely generous canapés.They come to duck beneath the bar and into the cosy room that’s hidden away out the back. They come for the house vermouth or just to get in out of the chilly winter weather. Whatever their reason for coming,they’re still coming, making this place not only charmingly historical but vibrant and a reigning champion on the city’s bar scene. 

Calle de Colón 13 

2) La Venencia

La Venencia 

Another historical bar, La Venencia offers a very different vibe. Although often busy the ambience can be very low key – the kind of hush you get when people are in awe of some important historical artifact, and that’s exactly what this place is. A sherry house that serves the dry Jerez wine from the barrel, Hemingway drank here and so did any number of Republican soldiers during Spain’s civil war. One hangover of that is that photographs are not allowed inside. At the time they would have been incriminating and these days they are considered annoying. No cooking here: the only tapas are embutidos,cheese and mojama but they’re all perfect with the wine. 

Calle de Echegaray 7 

3) Almendro 13

Almendro 13 

Almendro13 is a bustling taberna on the corner of one of La Latina’s quieter streets. The central neighbourhood is renowned for tapas bars but this place is a little different. For one thing, there’s no bar – it’s seating only and you can expect to wait a little for yours. Why so popular? It might be their roscos– great big circular sandwiches built to share – or it might be their huevos rotos, a real madrileño dish consisting of a soft boiled egg broken over a heap of wafer thin fried potatoes and cubes of cured Spanish ham. There are some mystifying reports out there that no red wine is served here, but it is –notably the lovely Gibalbin from Cádiz province. 

Calle Almendro 13 

4) Txirimiri

Txirimiri

One of the great advantages of Madrid’s tapas scene is its ability to incorporate all regional variations and Txirimiri enters the fray with tapas in the Basque style, which is to say, pinxtos. Little slices of bread teetering with generous toppings of tortilla, breaded mushrooms and so on. There’s a sit-down space at the back and a menu that focusses on quality ingredients but all the fun seems to be at the bar. A young, trendy clientele.    

Calle Humilladero 6

5) Las Bravas

Las Bravas 

Las Bravas is pretty much the opposite of trendy. Lit up like a fish & chip shop, the only thing missing is the fish (although they’ll do you some octopus if you like). This place is all about that quintessential Spanish take on the fried potato – patatas bravas: great chunky fries doused in a day-glo orange sauce with a smoky, spicy flavour. They claim to have invented the sauce and have a patent to back it up. 

Calle de Álvarez Gato 3 and two other branches nearby. 

6) Jurucha

Gran Via  

Some of you won’t like Jurucha and that suits me fine – I’ll have a better chance of getting to the bar. It’s long, narrow and its patrons don’t seem to concern themselves much with personal space – just squeeze in and enjoy. Your reward will be the best canapés in town. Noise and food, the great national combo and beautiful croquetas (deep fried balls of béchamel) including one I haven’t seen before, made with chunks of hard-boiled egg. An unmissable Madrid experience. 

Calle de Ayala 19 

7) Baco y Beto

Baco y Beto 

At the other end of the spectrum to Jurucha, Baco y Beto is fairly swanky by tapas standards and is to be found in Chueca, the stylish and gay-friendly neighbourhood north of Gran Via. It’s more a question of media raciones here but one of those shared between two counts as a tapa in my book. There are some very interesting foodie options such as shredded lamb on a caramelized plantain cake and breaded mushrooms with a truffle alioli. 

Calle Pelayo 24 

8) Estado Puro

Estado Puro

You won’t be expecting this. Estado Puro is the tapas project of chef, Paco Roncero and there are now two branches – the original on the Plaza Cánovas del Castillo and a newer place on the Plaza de Ángel. In both, it’s the visuals that make the first impression. In Ángel it’s a striking reinvention of the flamenco aesthetic – a long bar studded with bailaora dolls and a ceiling swathed in faux lace. The second impression should be Roncero’s version of the Spanish classic - tortilla de patatas. His comes in a glass, and with a spoon. 

Plaza Cánovas del Castillo

9) Docamar

Docamar 

Just outside the centre but not so far that you won’t enjoy strolling there, Docamar is a well-known neighbourhood bar that rivals the more central Las Bravas for its, you guessed it, patatas bravas. You get some for free here when you order a drink and there are seating areas if you’re up for a more substantial meal. While they can’t and don’t claim to have invented bravas sauce, they make it exceedingly well and coming here will give you a glimpse of neighborhood Madrid. Well worth the walk. 

Calle Alcalá 337 

10) Taberna Antonio Sánchez

Taberna Antonio Sanchez 

This, they say, is the oldest bar in central Madrid and is named after the son of the original owner, who died in a bullfight. I don’t know if the bull in question is one of the one’s whose heads are now bolted to the walls but it’s an interesting thought. It’s in the down-to-earth neighbourhood of Lavapies and exudes antiquity – bottles gather dust on the shelves and the wood panelling is almost black with age. Home made croquetas, gypsy stew and cocido madrilèno are all specialities. Spellbinding. 

Calle Mesón de Paredes 13

Images Copyright Robin Graham 2013

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