My first day in Madrid and I had no idea where to eat. Usually I turn to my Lonely Planet guide for recommendations when I’m on holiday. However, my version is seven years old and had just let me down by leading me to a place that had several multi-lingual translations and a very limited and overpriced menu. Call me judgemental, but it just felt a little too touristy to be certain of its quality.
On my meanderings earlier in the day I had noticed a little place that had a very interesting surprisingly large mound of blue and white spread in the bar. Intrigued, and having no other options immediately striking me, I decided to give it a try. The venue was El Ñeru. By the time I arrived the tapas bar was full. Pushing my way through as politely as possible I reached the entrance to the restaurant area and, through my sheer inability to speak Spanish, I believe, I managed to secure a table. There were only two other people in the restaurant at the time, which had me a little worried, but within half an hour every table was filled. I believe I was the only non-Spanish speaker eating there.
El Ñeru is clearly a longstanding family run style restaurant. The walls are covered with photos of people eating there and what space for decor remains looks like something straight out of the 1960s, appalling murals included. As could perhaps be expected, this was in no way a reflection on the quality of the food.
Every table was set with a large bread roll and a portion of the spread I’d noticed earlier in the day. This turned out to be some form of blue cheese and it was heavenly. Not for the only time this trip I regretted my lack of Spanish, which prevented me from ascertaining exactly which cheese I was eating, and where I could by some myself!
The menu fortunately had an English translation alongside the Spanish explanation. While I was tempted by the calamares, I decided to order from the specialties section. I wasn’t quite brave enough to partake of any of the tripe dishes and instead settled upon the “Fabado Asturiana”. The English translation of “pork with beans” was in no way representative of the deliciousness of this meal. I was quickly presented with three forms of pork – chorizo, belly, and morcello – served on a bed of cannelini bean stew.
The beans were so swollen and tender that I initially thought they were butter beans. The flavour was fantastic as it had been heavily seasoned with paprika. The sauce of the stew was more like a broth and I certainly treated it as such, scooping it up with a spoon so that none of the sumptuous liquid went to waste.
The pork belly was also incredibly tender. Clearly all three meats had been cooked in the stew. The only unfortunate aspect of this was that it meant that the chorizo had lost some of its intensity of flavour. I was utterly intrigued by the morcello, having never before tried any form of blood sausage. I have to say, expanding my culinary experiences in this manner made me feel like I hadn’t completely wimped out by turning down the tripe. The morcello had an unusual, but not unpleasant texture and the flavour was reminiscent of a generic meaty taste. I wouldn’t be adverse to eating it again, but I am certainly not about to become a blood sausage fiend with black pudding a staple of my rare full English breakfasts.
It was also pleasing to see that most diners had ordered the same dish, or a clam version of it. While I enjoyed the meal immensely in and of itself, This made me feel that I had ordered well and eaten like a local. El Ñeru was definitely an excellent place to eat.