Sobrino De Botin was established in 1725 making it the oldest restaurant in Madrid. Indeed, it is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest, continuously operating eatery in the world. It is said that the famous Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) worked there while trying to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Art. Sobrino De Botin was a favourite of Earnest Hemingway’s, and is mentioned in two of his legendary novels.
…but, in the meantime, I would prefer to dine on suckling pig at Botin than sit and think about the accidents which my friends could suffer. – Ernest Hemingway, Death In The Afternoon
De Botin had been recommended to us by the same Aussie foodie mentioned earlier that we had met in a campground near Venice. At the time we knew nothing of its significance, other than her recommendation that we go there for the speciality of the house, concinillo asado (roast suckling pig). De Botin is also famous for its roast lamb and its other signature dish sopa de ajo — an egg, poached in chicken broth and laced with sherry and garlic.
Although we had some reservations about the prospect of eating the specialty of the house, a 3 week old piglet that has never tasted anything but its mother’s milk. we were keen to visit the place, me more than my wife. The restaurant was founded by Spaniard James Botin and his spouse, and was originally called Casa Botín. They have been serving the same traditional food since it opened 286 years ago!
We saved this meal for our last night in Madrid, and arrived at the restaurant early on Friday afternoon (at the start of the Spanish lunch) to make a reservation for that evening. From the exterior, the restaurant is not much to look at, moderate sized place in an old building off of Plaza Mayor.
The maître d’ told us that there was no availability that evening. If we wished, we could dine the following night (Saturday) at 11:30 PM (which sounds later than it is because most Spaniards eat dinner at about 10 PM, but it’s still late even by Madrilenian standards). We left the restaurant a bit disappointed, but rallied on the curb, and so I went back in to inquire about lunch. It seems that the restaurant has the same menu at lunch and we could eat there that day if we wished, coming back as late as 3:15 PM. In many retirement communities in North America, that’s almost the normal dinner time, and although it seemed strange to splurge on such an extravagance at lunch, Diane reminded me that it tastes and costs the same whether we eat at 3 PM or 10 PM. Upon reflection, it was probably better to eat such a big meal at 3 PM anyhow, in true Spanish style.
We arrived back at the restaurant for our 3:15 lunch reservation (a little late by Spanish lunch standards, but not out of the ordinary), and were seated upstairs in the small but busy dining room. We were shown to a nice table for two in the corner, the last one available in a crowded room of about 15 tables. Was this the table that Earnest Hemingway used to sit at? He preferred a particular corner table for two, and there were only a couple such tables in the room. We like to believe that we ate at his table.
We lunched upstairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta. Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
The service was formal, with waiters and bus men in white jackets, and food dished from hot serving platters to plates tableside.
We ordered a bottle of house red wine, which turned out to be a 2007. Most house wines in North America were bottled some time last week, or perhaps that’s just at the restaurants I frequent. Anyhow, this wine was terrific. Rich and full-bodied for under $30 a bottle.
To start, we had a cold appetizer of Pimientos asados con bacalao, julienned, raw, salt cod served on a bed of roasted red pepper, which was peeled and also cut in strips. We spooned it on to fresh white bread, and it was too much for 2 people. We also had Croquetas de pollo y jamón, croquettes of chicken and ham which were warm and creamy.
For our main course, we had the two specialities of the house – roast suckling pig and roast lamb (sorry Tania). We were served large portions, still on the bone. Not whole animals, but big enough pieces to be recognizable. The pork was moist with the crackling cooked perfectly. They still use the original oven, now almost 300 years old. The roast lamb was even better, though neither of them were jaw dropping.
Later that night, while reading a book on a completely unrelated topic, I learned that the word used by the cannibals of New Guinea for roasted human was ‘long pig’. It seems that human beings, when eaten, taste very much like pork. That was a bit uncomfortable.