During our first week here in Spain, Danielle and I took a walking tour of Madrid and one of the stops our guide brought us to was a quaint-looking restaurant just outside of the famous Plaza Mayor on Calle de Cuchilleros (Cutlery Street). He told us we were looking at the oldest restaurant in the world. I was incredulous, but there it was – the sign in the window from the Guinness Book of World Records.
Sobrino de Botín holds the title of oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world, because it has never closed it’s doors to the public since it’s opening in 1725. The EARLY SEVENTEEN HUNDREDS. Nearly three hundred years ago. Absolutely crazy. It was founded by a French chef named Jean Botín but taken over by his nephew (sobrino in Spanish) when he died with no family descendants to take it over. It was originally an inn with a tavern on the first floor and wine cellars below, but now each floor has been converted into a dining space. They are famous for their cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig, see below). In fact, they still use the original wood-fired oven to roast it! Botín and this particular dish are actually mentioned by Ernest Hemingway in one of his novels, and what’s more, the famous artist Francisco de Goya worked there as a waiter in the late 1700s. Obviously, I immediately added dining at Botín to my Spain bucket list.
We invited our coworkers to join us for what would surely be a memorable night out. We dined on a Saturday at 10:30 pm for two reasons – first, that’s actually a pretty acceptable “Spanish” dinner time and after all we are trying to assimilate to some degree, but second, when we made the reservations at least a week beforehand, that was one of the only times still available!
In true Spanish fashion, immediately upon sitting down we were each given a loaf of bread. To start, we ordered the revuelto de casa – morcilla y patata (house scramble – scrambled eggs with blood sausage and potato). Now, I’ve always cringed at the thought of blood sausage, ever since first reading about it in a college textbook for my Social & Cultural Aspects of Food class. But I have to admit, I’m a fan. It was really, really good- salty, tender, and savory, without any of those grizzly bits you sometimes find in other types of sausage.
For my entree, I ordered the merluza al horno (baked Cantabrian hake). The filets were melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious with the special house sauce ladled over it, interestingly served with two peeled and boiled whole potatoes.
Although we were more than satisfied, we figured that since it was a special occasion we would try a couple of the desserts. We chose two tartas (tarts) – one apple and one chocolate. Both were yummy, but I’m arguably addicted to chocolate and the mousse cake was amazing – so light and creamy.
SIDE NOTES / DESSERT FUN FACTS:
Fun fact #1: Spaniards use the word tarta for a wiiiiide range of desserts. So when you order a tarta at a restaurant, it can mean anything from this apple gallete to this chocolate mousse cake, from crumble-y blondie-esque desserts, to thick, fudge-y slices of torte. They are usually awesome, just be prepared for the gamble!
Fun fact #2: Spaniards don’t use the American term “mixed berries;” for some reason they directly translate their phrase “frutas del bosque” into English: “fruits of the forest.” I can’t not laugh every time I see it. It sounds so Little Red Riding Hood. So that’s what you see accompanying our mousse cake, fruits of the forest 😛 )
Because we stayed until closing (oops), they obliged us and let us sneak downstairs for a peek at the converted wine cellars on our way out.
As soon as you get half way down the stairs, the humidity hits you like another one of those brick walls. As “cool” as it was (pun intended 😉 ), I was glad we didn’t dine down there- it was stifling.
Overall, the food was great but the atmosphere and the novelty were really the best parts of our night at Sobrino de Botín. It was a night I will never forget!