Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wine Tasting/Cata de Vinos at Camara Agraria 2

Free of charge
1200-1330, approx

Camara Agraria on the net 

How does it work?
See Part 1 of our review.

Invitation by application and lucky dip. On a market day, ask at the ticket desk at the entrance if they're taking names for future events.

You'll find yourself, along with about 20 others, in the boardroom at the Camara, with the market going on outside and a fair few curious eyes looking in. After a brief chat from the president, it's into the tasting. Things go fairly quickly, although in total this session lasted two hours, rather than the 90 mins planned. 

Tasting Notes

All Madrid wines, these, regularly to be found at the Camara Agraria.

On the net
White. Nice enough, but we noticed it had almost no finish.

Cata at C谩mara Agraria

Vi帽a Jesusa
On the net
A pretty tasty ros茅 that we gave 80 points.

Our least favourite. The aroma test did for this one. One consideration you have to assess is how clean the aroma, taste and flavour are. This one was...sort of muddy. Hate to say it, but reminded me of my one and only experience of English red wine, years ago. Maybe things have improved there....

Castillo de Salvanas
On the net
A good value wine this at €2.50 a bottle, we could see the seller doing good business out the window! We didn't give it top marks anywhere, but it scored comfortably on all counts. A good value choice, perhaps the best in the market in that respect.

On the net
A step up in quality - and price! - this one. €7 a bottle. Scored just over 80.

Cepas Viejas
On the net
This one scored very highly with us, so much so we toddled off and grabbed the last two bottles from the sellers on their stall, which were discounted as we won't spend €15 on a bottle of vino too often. We spotted the intensity in colour and aroma. And this one demonstrated the higher alcohol content when we swished it about. A wine for strong foods this. Get the cured or mature cheese or chorizo out for it.

On the net
A sweet one. A bit lemony, but these things are not our cup of tea, on the whole.

On the net
A final sweet one. We just about prefer the Alma, but not going to go overboard on sweet wine at the best of time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wine Tasting/Cata de Vinos at Camara Agraria 1

Part 1 of 2

Free of charge
1200-1330, approx

Camara Agraria on the net 

How to join
Invitation by application and lucky dip. On a market day, ask at the ticket desk at the entrance if they're taking names for future events.

In Short
Get some shopping tips.
Success. We found one we wanted to try. And at €15 a bottle, worth knowing how good it was first.
First Impressions?
We're in the boardroom!
It's entirely free to take part if you're picked out of the hat, with no hidden sales pitch or anything like it.
In three words?
Rose, red, white.
Can they get the staff?
A very helpful team of winemakers.
Service with a smile?
Aside from the other side of the table seeming to get more in their glasses than our side, really good.
Would you take your friends?
I'd recommend they apply.
Rating for a dating?
You can't really plan for it, so not high.
Change one thing?
The timekeeping was not quite there yet, but it's easy to work on.
Going back?
We would try, yes.

Cata at C谩mara Agraria

What's the story?
They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. Or brunch. On this occasion, there is - as long as you're ready for a liquid one.

Should you be able to get an invite, standby for a series of wines, perhaps 8. We had 1 white, 1 rose, 4 reds of increasing maturity and two sweet ones. But, be warned. This is strictly a tasting. There's no food or snacks beyond some bread sticks and a bottle of water.

Cata at C谩mara Agraria

You'll find yourself, along with about 20 others, in the boardroom at the Camara, with the market going on outside and a fair few curious eyes looking in. After a brief chat from the president, it's into the tasting. You're welcome to drink or spit out. We don't think anyone opted for the latter, but with so much to get through, drinking is the least of your worries. Two decent sips each time is about as ambitious as you probably want to be - not least because it's midday and, any which way, it's early.

Things go fairly quickly, although in total this session lasted two hours, rather than the 90 mins planned. Things do get chattier as things go on, and some of the participants probably needed a little bit more social discipline. There are no visuals, no powerpoints, but plenty to listen to. Chat later, listen now is the watchword, we think.

Rather than too technical an explanation, we're lucky enough to get lots of little insights into tasting and techniques, and, best of all, some nice bits of insider knowledge.

And that's the good news, what you learn won't make you whine about wine. This is a pleasingly democratic, pretty much snobbery-free. Rule 1, stated several times, is that you like what you like. And you learn fun and interesting stuff your friends won't mind you telling them about. Mostly as they'll want to tell their friends. It won't turn you into the kind of person everyone wishes was always in the kitchen at parties.

If only Madrid was a cava-making region. Aaah well....

Hints, Tips & Trivia
馃嵎 Use a piece of white paper to grade colours.

馃嵎  Wine is officially a food, not an alcoholic drink. It's a legal thing, apparently!

馃嵎  Red and ros茅 start off the same way as white wine, but the wineskins are left in with the pulp for different periods, while you take them out strsight away to make white..

馃嵎  Wine can be assessed on various scales. We used a 100 mark system, with points awarded for colour, aroma and flavour, but in a system that gives much more weight to some things than others. Colour gets up to 15 pts, Aroma up to 30. There are 44 pts for flavour and the other 11 for a global score. It seems on this system 72 is a good total, 86 an excellent one.

馃嵎 Hold your glass of red up to the light, if, right at the top of the wine, right around edge you can see a line which is a different, more scarlet red than the rest, you've got a young wine.

馃嵎 Always hold your glass by the stem to keep the drink at the right temperature.

馃嵎 Swish your wine about. The longer it takes to settle down again tells you its got more alcohol in it!

馃嵎 To get the maximum aroma when tasting, be sure to splash it up and down in the glass (with your hand over the top!). It breaks up the molecules and releases more aroma.

馃嵎 Don't serve chilled wines above 16 C.

馃嵎 Always drink white and rose wines within a year of purchase.

馃嵎 Cleanliness in colour, smell and flavour is never to be underestimated.

馃嵎 Don't put your wine in the freezer!

馃嵎 The younger the red, the less colour it has around the edge if you hold your glass up at an angle. Try a joven and see how the colour fades. Something more mature will keep more colour.

The Fateful Eight
See part 2 for the Wine Taste Test

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dinner at El Pico

On Fb
No bookings, arrive before 10 at weekends to avoid a wait for a table.

Per Person
€20. Beers, half a bottle of Ribera. 6 shared dishes.

In Short
Old favourites, well-cooked, to share.
Job done.
First Impressions?
Still an authentic space.
The food in three words?
Tasty, very tasty.
Can they get the staff?
Reliable, good radar, very hard working.
Service with a smile?
Always a friendly atmosphere here.*
Would you take your friends?
It's a regular stop-off.
Rating for a dating?
For a relaxed one, it'd work. Not a canoodling ambience.
Yep, rounded up the bill to the nearest ten.
Change one thing?
Would have left room for dessert.
Going back?
We will, in the words of Arnie, be back.

*Interest to declare: we go back a long way with the boss.

Compare and Contrast
Similar offer, wider menu at El Puerto de La Cabreira.
Similar offer, more anglophone atmosphere at El Rincon.

In Pictures
On Google Images

In Depth
El Pico is a survivor. Over 50 years on its corner in Malasa帽a, still in the hands of the same family. It's a rare beast, but that doesn't make it a dinosaur. A bunch of old fellas gossip in a window seat while under-socked Malasana types pore over their handheld gadgets across the room. There'll likely be a family with a toddler at the bar. There's only the occasional tourist. This is a bar that still doesn't feel the urge to translate its menu.

The decor, lots of exposed brick and wood, was dragged up to date a few years ago, but, like the customers, it's a unique mix. Old and older. There's still the odd sign of the times on the wall, not to mention a giant mysterious wooden thing above the stairs. Mystery solved.

That monolingual menu is a mix of influence too, and rather shorter than it used to be. We went for five dishes tonight which give a pretty fair impression of its breadth. We're not sure about the mussels in red curry sauce, so didn't go for that. Ecletic though, that's the word for it.

Kick off. Mangetouts. A la plancha! If you can do it with asparagus, why not peas, taken before their time? You might think it's not easy, being green. But this is rather good. Griddled, there's a bit of caramelisation going on which, with sea salt added, means there's a winning combination of sweetness, saltyness and fresh veggy-ness. Think a sweeter vesion of what you normally get from griddled asparagus. Les mangetouts? Nous avons mang茅 tous!

Second up. Bravas. We've been gobbling down the EP version for years now. It's a winner simply because it comes with two sauces. There's creamy mayo on the base and the spicy tommy atop the pots. But, if you need spuds like you've never needed spuds before, give 'em a mix. Two become one. Creamy, but still with a kick. But there's still spice, girls.

El Pico

And next. You're never going to be short of goat's cheese salad in this neck of the woods. But don't sit on the horns of a dilemma about ordering. Go at it. Fried green tomatoes and red berries provide the balancing flavours. Extremely good, if a smidge over grilled this time. We can forgive that.

There's more. Squid tails have their own story to tell.  And it's a squid tale worth paying attention to. A lemony mayo here, plus something that looks pleasingly like a cone from the Martello Chippy in Dymchurch. Well cooked, soft enough, and a decent-sized cone. Good!

El Pico

But our work is not done. We still have meat dishes for you to meet. Eggs is eggs and in this case they is smashed up eggs. Huevos Rotos, on the horizon, then. There's chistorra. There's ham. There's freshly fried spuds. There's a sprinkling of pimientos de padron. Talking of which...

And? Was there? Not a whiff of it, lads [Saaaad emoji]. In times of trouble, hot peppers fail to come to me. Someone, please, let it be. Hot, that is. Sooner rather than later.

Last up, and just a bit delayed compared to the constant and expertly timed flow of the other dishes, meatballs! Three of them, pretty plumptious and unquestionably granny-style were the offer, with a rice garnish and a garlic-rich sauce. No awards, but no complaints. Hearty. That's the word.

No desserts tonight, which hurt a little as the Pudding! is always serviceable.

Service is always good here, with owner and manager keeping a close eye on tables. You never need to ask twice, and they spotted our need for more wine without even making eye contact, so sometimes you don't even have to ask once. Top notch, that.

So. Peak performance at El Pico? Well it's a Survivor. Rising up to the challenge of its rivals.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Honestly, that was October 2017

Havana Blues
All-round terrific, authentic Cuban experience, with a stand-out surprise in the dessert department.

Coctelsa帽a at Los Espetinhos
A brilliant Caiparinha that'll be hard to better, at only €5 for the duration of Coctelsa帽a.

La Tentacion, Mercado San Fernando
Like Oscar, we can resist everything except... Tiny mexican kitchen-bar, serving perfectly formed tacos, quesadillas and so on in half a dozen flavours.

Happy Hour at Bosco Bistro
Yes, gift horse, I can see your mouth. Pay for the first round, get the second free. And repeat! With friendly service and some delicious potatoes to try too.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Coctelsa帽a 2017

...around C/San Bernardo


Until November 5
€5 per drink

A frustration with Coctelsa帽a is the web presence. You'll rapidly get frustrated that there's no single page that links info about the bars and their locations to the cocktails and their ingredients.

Your best bet is the rather nice leaflet (left) that does a much better job of explaining things than the underdeveloped webpages.

32. Lola Loba
Coctelsa帽a 2017

"At least the watermelon and vodka balance each other."
"You mean you can't taste the one because of the other."
"That's not a bad thing, to be honest."
"Which tells you just how much alcohol there is in it."
"I'm liking the music here."
"It wasn't that brilliant earlier, but it's Alright Now."

Service wasn't speedy, but it's a cocktail bar so fairy nuff. It was friendly, at least. Decor's quirky. Turntables - with, hello Mr Irony, a laptop on top to provide the music - piles of records and some rather nice old posters are on the walls. There's a petrol pump in a corner.

Surprisingly quiet at 10pm on a Saturday.

Initial oomph rating: 馃挮馃挮馃挮馃挮馃挮
Final flavour Rating: 馃憤馃憤

26. Los Espetinhos
Coctelsa帽a 2017

Good gravy but this is a winner. Starts well as it actually looks like the photo in the booklet, which doesn't always happen on these trails (Tapapies we're looking at you).

Easily the best caipirinha we've had in Malasa帽a, and at a mere €5 it's an absolute bargain. They don't scrimp at all, preparing them right in front of you on the bar, so you can see there's no cordial or cheating going on. A proper cocktail as you've no real idea how strong it is when you're enjoying it. More than two would probably have you reassessing the gravitational field on C/San Bernardo on the way home. This is a drink which might...enhance your sensitivity to any anomolies present.

Extra points for a very generous tapa of chicken freshly carved off the espetada, which was much tastier than the one we tried when we ate here earlier in the year.

A place to get to early as the restaurant crowd take over the limited number of high tables very quickly, the decor and atmosphere are smart and make an instant positive impression.

Initial oomph rating: 馃挮馃挮馃挮
Final flavour rating: 馃憤馃憤馃憤馃憤馃憤

Friday, October 27, 2017

Tapapies 2017, Part 3

in C/Argumosa


Generally €2.50 for tapa+estrella bottle.

Noche Blanca

Time for a steam up!

Tapapi茅s 2017

A biiiiig dumpling, microwaved with some unidentifiable chicken pate filling. Add some "japanese sauce" (but see h:m's second rule) and you'll have something filling, if unidentifiable. And the latter may well discourage when you like provenance for your snacks.

Not a spot for decor or design, this. Marley shares poster space with those noted rabble-rousers...1-D.

The food's more 1-Dimension than direction.


Africa Fusion

'Cos it's Cous-cous.

Tapapi茅s 2017

We'd like to try the menu here, as the tapa does at least give a hint there could be stuff worth trying under less trying conditions. Some slightly underdone couscous, chopped vegetables and something that would be ratatouille most of the time, but perhaps in Senegal it's called something else. A few strands of what was probably spiced beef added some interest.



Wrap it up and start again.

Tapapi茅s 2017

A wrap-type thing with a rather good minced chicken filling. Not as much oomph as you might hope for coming with a British palate, as garam masala takes the lead and they're a bit too chilled out for chilli. We asked for something to add a bit of oomph but bizarrely thai sweet chilli sauce was offered rather than something a bit more, you know, Indian. Mango chutney? We do that.

Very aimable service here, as ever.



Chris Martin, be proud. We're gonna call it yellow.

Tapapi茅s 2017 

Immensely popular, at least with gaggles of English speakers, you are as likely as not to end up in a very passive aggressive fight for counter space here.

Another undeniably filling offering, with an XL chicken nugget and some curry sauce mayonaisse in a brioche bun. Serviettes essential to save the washing bill from the yellow peril that is that mayo. Not spectacular, not going to win awards and no idea if it has anything to do with the regular offering. But tasty comfort food, for sure.


Bu帽uelos from El Horno de Los Santos Plaza dos de Mayo

€28 per kilo.
A quarter of a kilo will get you about 8 bu帽uelos.
Several branches of El Horno can be found north of Gran Via.

What's it all about?
And so it's nearly the 31st, and the city is awash with bakeries overrun with drifts of doughnutty profiteroley things, filled with creamy goodness. They may seen to be much of a muchness, but, stop right there. There are considerations to be had.

1. There are three traditional flavours. Cream (Creme Patissiere, ideally said in a vehwy over zhe tohp fwench accsuhnt) for those of a certain train of thought); Chocolate (containing chocolate); and nata (horrendous plastificated Madrid-o-cream, with extra sugar added to make it even less palatable)
2. They should be chilled in advance. And served on a little slver tray. And wrapped in paper. And tied up with some cotton or string.
3. They should be bloody expensive for what they are, and bought by weight.
4. You should be able to ask for a mix of the flavours you want.

We're recommending, El Horno de Los Santos for getting everything right in 1-4 that should be right. You're going to spend the best part of €1 per bu帽uelo, but all being well you will go away happy. Avoid the nata. Really. It's one of those things to steer clear of to keep your quality of life index where it is. Ignorance is bliss. Put it on the list with Russell Brand, The Isle of Sheppey and Fray Bentos pies. Just ask for cream/chocolate mixed.

Don't hesitate to share them with chums. Add some nice cava, well chilled.