SOBRINO DE BOTÍN
A MESSY LIFE
Okay, I confess, I lost track of time – and then I lost my direct red-eye flight back to JFK. I was left stranded at the airport in Madrid with tears in my eyes, an overwhelming sense of sadness, and a whole 24 hours to plan before the next day’s red eye.
After checking back into an Airbnb, eating a home-cooked meal, getting some much-needed sleep, and giving myself the girl-it’s-all-okay-at least-we-have-an-extra-day-in-Madrid pep talk, I started to plan out the next 24 hours in Madrid. At the top of my list? THE WORLD'S OLDEST RESTAURANT!
Sobrino de Botín was founded in 1752, but the house itself has been standing at 17 Calle de Cuchilleros in the heart of Old Madrid since 1590. The only time the restaurant closed its doors was from 1936 to 1939, during the Spanish Civil War. Otherwise, the restaurant has been up and running for literally centuries, and is currently being run by the family's third and fourth generations. Their jewel in the restaurant? The oven (el horno), which has not been turned off for 294 years. Even overnight, a heat is kept running and is lit in the mornings.
The menu and recipes at Sobrino de Botin have also remained unchanged since the 1700s. I had their popular Cochinillo Asado ($23.45) which is made in el horno. El Cochinillo Asado consists of a suckling pig with the most crispy and juicy skin you'll ever bite your teeth into, and a side of medium sized whole potatoes covered in light olive oil and salt. THAT'S IT. According to its current chief, Antonio Botin, the restaurant has never cared about plating, food design, or the overall look. Their focus has always stayed on the taste of the food, the suckling pig, el horno, and essentially, simplicity.
In the 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises (which I read in high school and, in hindsight, inspired this trip to Spain), Ernest Hemingway wrote: “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.” Same Ernest, same, except I, drank some bubbly and also enjoyed my first official Spanish sangria carafe EVER. And since we are here, I should inform you that not only was this Sangria more delicious than any sangria I've ever had on Dyckman Street in New York City, but I also learned that the only fruits actually used in a sangria are lemon and oranges. No grapes, no apples, no strawberries, no blueberries, no berries. Mindblown.
Aside from the Chinillo Asado and fresh original Spanish sangria, I also enjoyed their Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), which comes drowned in garlic-loaded olive oil, parsley, and guindilla peppers still sizzling straight from the kitchen. I scarfed those down like they were almonds! I know it is a strange comparison, but I eat almonds pretty fast.
ATMOSPHERE AND INTERIOR
I walk through Botin’s arched brick walls, immediately spotting the walls covered with ceramic tiles depicting animals as they looked in the 1700s like deer and rabbit. Industrial chandeliers hang from the ceilings and heavy metal sculptures stand in stark contrast to the old black and white lithographs of an old Madrid and oil paintings of fruits and home centuries old. I sat up the squeaking staircase where there is a saloon of about 12-15 tables surrounded by small amounts of natural lighting coming in through stained glass windows. This home is a real blast from the past.
What I love about Sobrino de Botin is that it is obscenely popular amongst both popular Madrileños and tourists alike. This is not like a famous NYC restaurant where you only see tourists, but also is not the kind of obscure place that you would only know about if you were friends with a local.
The fact that this is the oldest restaurant in the world is cool and all, but that is not why I will always keep coming back to Botin when in Spain. I will be coming back because the service was impeccable, the food so deliciously authentic, and because in my research I learned artist Francisco de Goya worked in Cafe Botin as a waiter while waiting to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Jack Nicholson once said, “I’ll always remember the Botin restaurant in Madrid: such perfection when I bit into my veal cutlet, I almost wept.” And we will also come back to try the gazpacho and sole, which First Lady Nancy Reagan ordered when she and Spain’s Queen Sofia ate at Botin in May 1985. Have we convinced you to take a trip to Spain yet?!