Hola Madrid!

Before I flew out to Spain I had a vision for what this post would be like. Little did I expect the words “weird and bad” to feature so heavily. Travel is always an experience, sometimes it is great – sometimes it is a bit weird and a bit bad. Either way, it’s an experience which enriches the soul and provides lifelong memories. Memories which my sister and I will look back on and laugh when we say “do you remember that weird weekend we had in Madrid?” For that is how I have to sum up my weekend in Madrid.

The Hotel

7 Islas Hotel, Calle de Valverde, 14

What I hadn’t realised at the time of booking that the hotel is in the heart of the ‘gay’ district of Madrid. While not a problem for me, it’s probably not one for you if you’re a bit prudish; for walking up Calle de Valverde from Gran Via you pass ‘Boyberry’. A gay bar-cum-homo-erotic-sex-shop. If seeing mannequin models of male lingerie offends you then best look the other way.

Once you arrive at the hotel you’re immediately blown away by the coolness of the interior. Pretty much everything about this I immediately fell in love with. If I could have packaged it up and scaled it down to the size of my 2-bedroom apartment I would have done without so much as a second thought.

Check-in was seamless, payment is requested up front and there was no fannying around with the room key when accessing the room.

Beds were clean and comfortable. I slept fine but my sister (who is a terribly light sleeper) did suffer from the noise coming from the street below. Party revelers were apparently out until around 4.00am laughing and drinking in the streets. If you’re a light sleeper it’s probably best requesting a quieter room to the back of the property, or maybe avoiding the area altogether. Remeber this is just off the Gran Via – Madrid’s equivalent of Oxford Street so I think it would be a little unfair not to expect to hear some noise from the streets. That said, perhaps the hotel could do more with its provision for soundproofing.

The Lunch Venue

El Jardin Secreto, Calle de la Montera, 37

Don’t walk into Number 47 on the street – you’ll be met by a security guard looking very blankly at you as you try in your loudest, most touristy English to ask if the secret garden was housed in this commercial building. I quickly realised I’d made a typo on my itinerary and was stood 10 buildings away from where I was supposed to be. Once you’re eventually in the correct building then entry to this rooftop oasis is via a beautifully quirky home wear shop. You hop into the elevator all the way up to the 4th floor and are bizarrely met by women who wouldn’t look out of place as Virgin Airways cabin crew! I’d reserved a table for lunch but hadn’t realised that at a weekend they only serve a ‘brunch’ between certain times of the day. So great if you actually want a brunch, not so great if you’d like an a’la carte lunch option. Hey ho! We were there, the sun was shining so bring on the bruncheon. Alice was one of our waitresses, a young girl from the USA – we thanked her immensely for her translation services and she briefly told us about the time she’d spent living in Bournemouth!

The rooftop is small, quaint – it would appear the Spanish LOVE a poinsettia, they were abundant up here! El Jardin Secreto is trying to be a bit cool and quirky but it is very much style over substance. You’d go here for the Instagrammable surrounding rather than for the quality of the food. We left a little underwhelmed but at 18 Euro per person it isn’t terrible value for money. What do you get for that?

Mimosa

Tea or Coffee [I had Earl Grey with milk]

Choice of a Sweet Treat [I had waffle with banana and dulce de leche]

Choice of a Savoury Course [I had a herby foccacia with mozzarella, tomato and green leaves]

Would I recommend El Jardin Secreto? I wasn’t blown away but it wasn’t terrible. The surroundings make up for the lack of imagination on the menu and presentation of the food.

The Bar

Salmon Guru, Calle Echegaray, 21

Loved this place! It was just a shame we couldn’t spend more time here. If I ever go back to Madrid I’ll be sure to re-visit. There is a cocktail list here which needs sampling in more detail. Your senses are attacked when you walk in here; you’re met by a cornicopia of neon delights. It is a visual treat as you move back through the different rooms which make up the bar, each one different from the last. We were seated in the Chinese room at the back, it felt dark and seedy and I loved it! Opposite us were three Spanish hipster hombres. This is the sort of bar which would not be out of place in trendy Hoxton or Shoreditch in London (probably why I loved it!) I’ve been desperately trying to track down a copy of their drinks menu so I can tell you what I had but; I have to admit defeat. I can’t find it. The English speaking waitress recommended a drink to me when I mentioned I’d like something “sweet and fruity” and my gosh! It hit the spot! What I do remember is it had a Lavender Soda in it. They offer table service so no long queues at the bar trying to order your drink in your worst Spanish! Get yourself down to Salmon Guru right away. You won’t be disappointed.

The Tapas

InClan Brutal, Calle Álvarez Gato, 4

Where do I even start with this? I was so excited about going here; it looked like the sort of restaurant right up my ‘calle’. Cool and trendy plus on top of that it is voted No.47 on TripAdvisor out of over 8,000 restaurants in Madrid and was only a short walk from Salmon Guru and our hotel. Everything about it seemed perfect. It surely can’t be bad, right? Wrong!

Arriving at the restaurant at 9.15pm meant loitering around the doorway for about 5 minutes before anyone acknowledged us. We were then shown to our table and abandoned for about half an hour before anyone so much as came to take a drinks order. We were shoved into a corner of a busy restaurant and forgotten about. I got the distinct impression this is what happens to any non-Spanish speaking guests. So for that 30 minutes, we were taking in the ambiance and trying to make sense of the menu.

What can I say about the decor? Well, it’s certainly…different. I’m not entirely sure what purpose a bunch of pillows glued to a wall with a black and white film showing clandestine monks running around in a field with tractors projected on them is meant to portray but here in Inclan Brutal it seems…accepted. 

Eventually our order was taken and Santiago, our waiter, had suggested what he thought was the right amount of tapas for our hunger levels. Hunger levels upon entering the restaurant were about 6/10, and by the time the food finally got to the table were about 9/10. What had we ordered?

{Potatoes with Brutal Sauce}

{Ham and Cheese Croquettes}

{Truffle and Parmesan Risotto}

{Teriyaki and Sesame Tuna}

TORCHED BACON ON A CLOTHESLINE

{The literal translation}

The first three tapas were served together. The croquettes and risotto were both stone cold, the potatoes in ‘Brutal Sauce’ were brutally average. They literally tasted like McCain’s spicy potato wedges with a spicy mayo sauce. Nothing here was anything special and definitely not worthy of their top spot on TripAdvisor. The risotto was inedible (who wants cold risotto?) and as for the portion size – this was not enough to sustain two people who had spent all day pounding the streets of Madrid. So we politely complained that 2 out of the 3 courses were cold and were promised the next two courses would be served at “the correct temperatures”. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I ordered the ‘bacon on a clothesline’ – they really weren’t lying when they said it was going to be bacon…on a clothesline. What they failed to mention is that this gets blow-torched at your table by a waitress who really could not be more bothered and you get…wait for it…one slice of bacon each. The fat from the bacon is rendered and left to drip on some sort of orange corn-bread smothered in an apple sauce (consistency: akin to baby food and significantly lacking in any kind of flavour that is supposed to resemble an apple). You can gauge the size of the bacon strips based on the size of the singed clothes pegs. The 6 euro this dish costs will pay for the 30-second slo-mo video clip you’ll have of someone blow-torching bacon right before your eyes. It does not pay for tastebud satisfaction of appetite satiety.

The saving grace of the meal was the tuna (which was served cold, but I think it is supposed to be raw). That was actually very tasty. So if after reading my somewhat ‘Brutal’ (yet utterly deserved) review you still fancy trying it out for yourself, I would recommend that dish. By this point, we just wanted the bill and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But, we weren’t allowed to escape just yet! By means of compensating us for our below-par experience, Santiago bought us a complimentary dessert (to share) of Green Tea Panna Cotta. My sister dissolved into laughter; in these sort of situations if you don’t laugh you’ll cry. She despises the taste of green tea. I tried it – tasted OK – nothing which made me go “oh my god this is amazing”. The neon-green colour was off-putting and whoever thought of serving it with Jackson Pollock splashes of watery red fruit sauce needs going back to catering school. It resembled something you’d serve up at a Halloween party for children, this was not restaurant quality food. And Panna Cotta? It was more like blancmange. As if this wasn’t enough, we were still denied the ability to vacate the premises and were bought 4 test tubes filled with some sort of Bailey’s like substance in a beaker. As Kate, my sister didn’t like the Green Tea Panna Cotta, this was Complimentary Dessert version 2.0. We knocked them back like shots, paid our 22 Euros and fifty cents each and made our escape – a B-line to the nearest takeaway pizza joint.

There we are, in one of the culinary capitals of Europe, ordering take-away pizza from a dodgy Irish pizzeria in Spain! You couldn’t make it up.

InClan Brutal? We’d like to sum it up in 3 words: weird and bad.

The Breakfast

Maricastaña, Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 12

I am so pleased to have found this place. Even more pleased to have made a reservation for Brunch. Had we have passed it on the street we would never have got a table. There’s a reason it’s busy – it’s good. It’s cute. It’s cosy. It’s everything you want on a lazy Sunday morning. You’re presented with a simple menu printed on textured linen paper which you best translate with your limited Spanish. If in doubt, as a person who doesn’t suffer any life-threatening food allergies, I’m sure whatever I ordered would be lovely.

For a set price of 16 Euros per person you are given:

Coffee or Tea

Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice

Choice of 1st Course [we had the bread with jam]

Choice of 2nd Course [I had the smoked salmon bagel] 

Fruit Salad with Yogurt and Granola

Everything was super tasty and fresh. The only complaint I had was that it took perhaps a little too long to pay and leave (we had somewhere to be), but if you’ve not got anywhere to be and can live by the ‘manana, manana’ Spanish approach to most things, then you’ll love it here.

7 Islas Hotel* 

El Jardin Secreto

Salmon Guru

InClan Brutal

Maricastaña

*if you are devout vegetarian / vegan I would check with the hotel first off, but I have strong suspicions that the headboards of the beds are made from animal skin. There were furry remnants and they did look uncannily like weaved animal skins.

 

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