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Like the Menu, Love the Restaurant?

January 22, 2017

Can you identify good Madrid restaurants just by looking at the menu?

Read on for a quick guide to a new way of deciphering menus in Madrid restaurants to maximise your dining out experience.

The entire concept of the menu in Madrid restaurants is different to many places. If you’ve spent time here you’ll surely have noticed. You’ve heard of tapas, but also add raciones, platos, pintxos and montaditos to your eating out glossary. Spanish diners are often far more comfortable ordering a number of small plates (hence platos!) to share, rather than one individual dish per person. Equally, when eating out they will tend to opt for multiple courses as opposed to having sole focus on the main course. The menu del día plays a part too. The cheap fixed price weekday lunch menus are a sure way to find excellent food for only a few euros, but are limited in choice. This is something that can be exploited to your benefit if you know how. If you find the right place, you can enjoy incredible dishes at serious discount.

Eating like this changes the way you look at a menu. In the UK, the menu is everything. One look at a menu can tell you quickly if you are going to loathe or love a place. In Madrid restaurants, it’s different. The menu is maybe less of a big deal. What counts is the experience of eating, the atmosphere and the delivery of quality food.

good Madrid restaurants with good menus
Dolores y Lola: great menu, even better food

Restaurants that belong to a certain genre, type or tradition of cooking, say authentic Spanish tapas or an Asian joint offering Chinese cuisine will have recognisable classics and guaranteed favourites listed on the menu. One of the many joys of the food scene in Madrid is trying any number of versions of these familiar dishes in as many of the various restaurants that offer them. It is so much fun finding out who does the best croquetas or lemon chicken – who has the unique twist to keep you coming back for more? The arguments with friends who think their find is better are great too!

Madrid restaurants with good menus
A classic Madrid menu item: Pimientos de Padrón at Casa Toni

All that said, there are some things you can do when you see menus in Madrid restaurants to give you the best chance of making a good choice. So here are my rules for judging a book by its cover and making optimal use of a menu:

  • Ask what’s good – Get to know your hosts and waiters. Waitering is an art form in Madrid and staff will be more than happy to direct you to the tastiest stuff they offer – specials or otherwise.
  • Ask what’s fresh today/seasonal – Madrid gets the best fish and seafood fresh every day. Ask what’s been brought in and then you won’t miss out on some sensational catches, if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, seasonality produces the top flavours – for example, one of my favourites, Pimientos de Padrón, are at the peak of their deliciousness between July and September.
  • Is the menu very long? – Think twice. My preference is for small menus and high quality eats – this way you get dishes the chef cares about and it’s more sustainable and world friendly. A long menu doesn’t always mean bad restaurant, but in my experience, the longer the menu, the fewer enjoyable meals.

For stand-out restaurants living up to their awesome menus, why not try:
Dolores y LolaCalle Monteleón 17, Metro: San Bernado/Bilbao
Casa Toni, Calle de la Cruz 14, Metro: Sol

More about Ben Green

Fascinated by flavours and the biggest foodie I know. Hunting down the world's best meals, so you don't have to. You're welcome! Based in Madrid, Spain. Check out my Instagram: sonofsouthgreen

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