The oldest restaurant in the world

In speaking about Spain, Chef Antony Bourdain says “What I love and hate about this country is that just in walking one block to the place we’re going to eat, I’m seeing 6 other places I want to go in and order something.” — Bourdain couldn’t be more right. Spain has one of the best food scenes anywhere, with so many amazing local pubs, tapas bars, concept restaurants and small family joints with two or three daily menu items. 

Take for instance, the backstreets of Plaza Mayor in Madrid. It’s a happy vignette of sidewalk café tables filled with tourists and locals enjoying a relaxing bite with a glass of tinto. There’s so much tradition behind everything that’s served. Our already extensive list of must-go restaurants grows every time we have a chance to stroll this ciudad fantástica.

One restaurant, of course, is a must for us. The oldest restaurant in the world, located at the bottom of the old steps of Plaza Mayor, “la vieja escalerilla”. Opened since 1725.

Located on Calle Cuchilleros, the famous Sobrino de Botín or simply Botín is a very modest restaurant inside and out, but with so much character and stories to keep a generation of writers inspired. Hemingway wrote about it in Muerte en la Tarde, Perez Galdós in Fortunata y Jacinta and María Dueñas in El Tiempo entre Costuras.

“Ea, Caledonia, wear your best skirt, that you’re going to Casa de Botín,” writes Perez Galdós in Misericordia. “And the lady wouldn’t ask for anything less on such a happy day, but to savor two roasted chickens, four small hake and a good piece of sirloin, with the addition of sweet ham, “hilado” eggs and a dozen bartolillos.”

Entering Botín is like entering a world that you only get to live through literature. Just think of every merchant, every traveler, every hungry soul who has come here for the past three centuries. And just as always, the host and waitstaff give you a warm welcome dressed in spotless white. “What brings you here? How’s Madrid treating you?” You instantly feel like a regular, even though Botín is always packed with guests.

I love how every dining room of this four-story building has its own identity. Space is tight but cozy. The walls are plastered with unique details, beautiful windows, paintings and colorful tiles. Everything is elegantly lit by an old chandelier. 

Even the oven where the piglets are roasted it’s been part of Botín since 1725, always keeping the comforting wood fire aroma in the air and infusing lots of flavor to the classic Madrid recipes.

The menu here is very straightforward. It doesn’t change much, focused on tradition and the celebration of ingredients from various regions of Spain. Roasted meats are their specialty, but there are also incredible seafood dishes, like chipirones en su tinta (calamari), hake fillets, cod in tomato sauce and shrimp sautéed in garlic. The vegetable plates are simple, but also exquisite, like the scrambled eggs with asparagus, sautéed mushroom and artichokes and mixed veggies with Ibérico ham.

As an appetizer, there’s nothing like their roasted peppers stuffed with cod, the riojana salad or their croquetas with a glass of house sangria. And for dessert, a Torta Botín with lots of cream is the perfect end to the meal.

With a full belly and a happy heart, we leave Botín with the same satisfaction you feel when you finish a good book. It allows us to experience a very special part of Madrid and raises the bar pretty high to what we should expert from Spain. We wish we can go back very soon. Up next, a few photos.

Previous Photos: Steps in Plaza Mayor “la vieja escalerilla”, one of the dining rooms at Botín, a plate of scrambled eggs with asparagus “Huevos con espárragos trigueños”, the bar at the entrance, and the oven.

House sangría at Botín

Torta de Botín

La Calle Cuchilleros

Algunos restaurantes de la Calle Cuchilleros

Click here to read the article in Spanish.

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