Chocolateria Valor

Is it possible to go to Spain without trying churros and hot chocolate?

Well actually yes, because that’s exactly what happened when I went to Barcelona several years ago. However this trip I was determined not to repeat this oversight, despite my current commitment to weight-loss, healthy eating and generally looking after my body. Being a Spanish institution churros and hot chocolate is available everywhere. Knowing that I would only participate in this indulgence once on my trip I took some time to look around the different options. My eventual choice of the Chocolaterià Valor was based on the fact that it is a derivative of a well known quality chocolate manufacturer, which suggested they probably know what they’re doing. Also, it appeared to have the thickest and richest looking hot chocolate available. Whether my choice was the best is of course debatable, but it was utterly decadent, which was sufficient for me.

Presented with a menu of various chocolate beverages I was salivating before I even submitted my order. I selected the small version of the traditional “Chocolate a la Taza”. Service was efficient, despite the business of the café. To say that I was served with a cup of hot chocolate and four churros would be factual, but mis-representative. This was the thickest, richest, and glossiest hot chocolate I have had since my university days when a very good friend introduced me to Italian-style hot chocolate at Brunetti.


What I really enjoyed about the hot chocolate at Valor was the lack of sugar. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t sweet, more that this was more subtle than I’ve had previously. This allowed the flavour of the actual chocolate to dominate, which I actually found preferable. The churros looked and tasted amazing. They were beautifully golden and, despite having been deep fried, not at all greasy. It was so indulgent that, even though I enjoyed every moment of consumption, I couldn’t finish the entire portion. I’m not sure whether it was the richness or my diet-conscience that prevented me from doing so. Either way, a full portion of hot chocolate and churros definitely requires commitment!

I can also attest to the quality of their coffee. Really strong and richly flavoured. My café con lêche was served to me black and then warm milk was added in front of me to my tastes. It also came with a small Valor chocolate which was delicious. However, fans of herbal tea may be well advised to try somewhere else. My camomile tea left much to be desired.

Incidentally, my trips to Valor proved to be highly informative. Three years ago on a trip to Mexico I purchased what I have always referred to as a “wooden curiosity”, as pictured below.


I bought it having no idea of its purpose, I just thought it was beautiful and interesting. When I went to purchase some hot chocolate mix from the sales section in the Valor café, I noticed one of these on display. Through a sequence of my appalling spoken pseudo-Spainish, a degree of pantomime and some subsequent research I now know that it is a molinillo, which is a utensil used to mix and froth hot chocolate.


On my last day in Madrid I knew I wanted to eat somewhere I hadn’t been before. I wandered around the restaurant areas with which I had become familiar over the past few days but just couldn’t find anything that drew me to a table. So I randomly went down a different street which was conveniently lined with restaurants. Actually not that surprising in Madrid. While I felt I was more in the mood for a meal, a restaurant called Orixe caught my eye. The glass door was covered in recommendation stickers and the tapas was very reasonably priced at either €2 or €2.75 each, and there were even half portions of racions available, which is always convenient for the solo traveller.

The restaurant has both a bar and seated area, although only the bar area was in use at the time. Tables might have been available but my Spanish is so incoherent, in fact non-existent that I was unable to ask. Still I could by this time recognise key words sufficiently to be able to peruse a menu written entirely in Spanish and make a somewhat informed selection.

To start with I ordered a “Bacalao con láminas con una base de patata y cebelli confitida y aoli de miel” and a “Solomillo de cerdo con cebello confitada y queso de cabra”. I also decided that since it was my last day I was entitled to a glass of wine (especially at a minuscule cost of €2,60!) and opted for the Solar de Saminiego Rioja.

While waiting for my order to be prepared I was served with a small appetiser. I have no idea what it was, but it tasted seafoodish, creamy and good.


My two tapas were ready within minutes and I was soon munching, sipping and reading to my heart’s content. Actually it was more my taste buds that were content. The tapas was fantastic! I started with the Solmillo de cerdo first which was a slice of pork on caramelised onions topped with a piece of cheese, possibly camembert. Let’s face it, it’s hard to get it wrong with that combination of ingredients. The Bacalao was of cod fish but it was served on caramelised onions and a slice of potato and topped with a lemony aioli that had been gratinated. Outstandingly yummy!


I decided to have two more tapas. While the mini-hamburger had been recommended to me, this felt a little faux-Spanish. Instead I settled upon the “Rollitos de morcilla de león y manzana” and the “Pimientos rellinos a Jarrette guisado y beshamel”.


I have absolutely no idea what was in the rellitos. There was definitely tomato paste on top which brought a really lovely sweetness to contrast with strong pepper flavour throughout the rest of the dish. “Manzana” means “apple”, but I couldn’t detect that flavour. I’m pretty sure there was rice mixed in as well. I expected the pimientos to be deep fried peppers filled with béchamel sauce. It was a deep fried mini red pepper but it was filled with cooked fish, I believe tuna, which had been mixed with a creamy sauce.

Four tapas doesn’t sound like much but it was all served on slices of thick bread so it was surprisingly filling. I can honestly say that I couldn’t choose a favourite from amongst the four dishes because they were all delicious. Orixe is definitely somewhere to go next time you’re in Madrid.

Terra Mundi

Sometimes you just want no fuss traditional home cooking style meals when you’re on holiday. If this mood strikes while in Madrid, Terra Mundi is definitely an option worth considering. I went there twice during my stay in Madrid, mainly for convenience but also because I just couldn’t find anything else that felt quite right for the food mood I was in. Both times I took advantage of the daily menu, which offers excellent value for money and is guaranteed to leave you feeling full. The only disadvantage is that it is only available in Spanish, whereas an English version of the permanent menu is available. On both occasions I was encouraged by the sight of predominantly Spanish speakers frequenting Terra Mundi and people being were prepared to queue for a table. It’s also incredibly reassuring when other people order the same meal, especially when you know that they can fully understand the menu.

The first time I attended Terra Mundi, and after much deliberation and spying on other diners’ meals, I ordered:
• Berenjana de temporada rellena de ibérico al graten
• Codillo al estilo de lalìn con patatas y chorizo

The first course was half an aubergine stuffed with a creamy gratinated Iberian pork and served in a creamy tomato sauce. The aubergine was perfectly cooked so that the flesh was soft, juicy, and full of flavour. The pork added a lovely dimension to the dish as well. However, I wasn’t a fan of the sauce and actually felt it was unnecessary to the dish, so ended up pushing this aside.


Second course was pork knuckle served with potatoes and chorizo. The flesh of the pork knuckle was incredibly tender, literally falling away from the bone simply with the use of a fork. The flavour of the pork was surprisingly strong. The potatoes were perfectly cooked and benefited greatly from the addition of a small amount of olive oil and paprika dotted around the edge of the plate. The chorizo however had clearly been boiled and overcooked such that it left a slight bitter aftertaste at the back of the palate upon consumption. Despite this it was really good hearty food and I enjoyed it greatly.


It did admittedly look like an intimidatingly large portion of food, upon initial serving. However, when the skin, fat and bone were removed there remained a substantial, but not an unreasonable amount of meat for consumption. I’ve included a photo below to demonstrate how much was left at the end of the meal.


When I returned a couple of days later I made sure to order something different. As the daily menu does indeed change every day, this wasn’t too difficult. This time I opted for:
• Chapsui de credited con pollo de corral
• Carrillera de cerdo iberico con patatas y pimentos fritos

The first course turned out to be stewed, cabbage, onion, and red and green pepper with chunks of pan fried chicken breast on top. I was very grateful to be able to get a good dose of vegetables into my diet, such a challenge when travelling. The fact that the dish was very well seasoned so that each of the vegetables was distinguishable, was definitely a bonus. I couldn’t find an english translation for “chapsui” and am left wondering whether this was a Spanish interpretation of chop suey. Not that it tasted Asian in any way.


Second course was chunks of iberian pork cheek slathered in a delicious sweet yet unidentifiable sauce, accompanied by fried small green chillies and (oddly) chips. Once again it was a large portion of beautifully cooked tender and juicy meat. Just delicious! I was quite excited by the fried peppers. I’d seen others eating them elsewhere and had been intrigued. Unfortunately they were slightly too bitter for my palate, although when combined withe the sweet sauce I found I was able to enjoy them more. I should have pushed the chips aside given my current health-conscious phase. However they were just so golden and perfectly cooked that it would have been criminal to have allowed them to go to waste.


Mercado San Miguel

I do a lot of self-catering when I’m travelling because it’s cheaper and healthier. I’m not talking about elaborate meals, just picnic-style eating. It does result in fewer opportunities to try local cuisine each trip, but on the other hand it also means I can afford more holidays, and therefore a greater variety of culinary experiences. Hey, it works for me.

In this vein, one of my first stops when is arrived in Madrid was Mercado de San Miguel, having read that it was a great place to pick up fresh produce. This is the disadvantage of using a five year old guide book. Things change, although in this case it was definitely an improvement. The market has evolved into an array of stalls offering tapas to eat there are take away, with only some vendors continuing to offer elements of traditional market sales. It’s even possible to buy wine by a bottle or glass to accompany your meal.


Mercado San Miguel is an indoor market set up with large standing-height tables (although some chairs are available) to allow diners to eat in relative comfort and minimise food spillage. I arrived at lunchtime and it was absolute chaos. I was absolutely overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. So much wonderful food. Clearly this was a place to eat in Madrid.

However, I was there with a purpose in mind and kept to it, although I was sorely tempted to stray into eating my way through the entire market. I picked up some gorgeous gourre noire goats cheese, a beautiful crusty loaf of bread from Horno San Onofre, delicious but pricey Iberian ham from Mas and some fruit. Unfortunately, it’s not permitted to choose you own fruit in Spain so I found out my peaches were under-ripe when I tried them the next morning.

This experience led me to the conclusion that Mercado de San Miguel is more of a place to eat than shop. I soon returned for a lunchtime feast. It was difficult to know where to start and for a while I just wandered around taking in all that was on offer. Eventually I settled at El Pescado Original this was bar style eating with an array of exotic fish and seafood tapas on display. Although tempted by a slice of tuna-filled potato and spinach tortilla, I decided to try an interesting looking scallop dish. This turned out to be a creamy mixture of cooked mushrooms and scallop that had been topped with breadcrumbs and lightly grilled. It was all so decadent I forgot to take photos!

My next port of call was Va Alacena del Victor Montes. It was a tiny little cart-like store selling varieties of freshly cooked croquettes. I decided to be quite traditional and opted for one of the cheese and one of the chorizo croquettes. They were sublime! Golden crunchy exterior followed my a smooth rich flavoursome filling. Just yummy!

Next I headed to Paella y Olé for, surprise surprise, paella. Diners can choose from a tapas portion or a racionnes sized serving. It usually has three paellas one offer, but one had sold out. Left with choice between meat and mixed seafood paella i opted for the latter, particularly because it had just finished being prepared. Naturally I asked for a tapas-sized serving and at £3.50 this was an absolute bargain as it was a sufficient amount of food to have been a meal in and of itself. It was also delicious. The rice was strongly flavoured with fish stock and bright yellow from the use of saffron. The paella was peppered with mussels, fish and mange tout. More of these ingredients would have been nice but at that price scantness was to be expected.

By this point I was full, which was a shame because there were so many other options I wanted to try. However my taste buds demanded a little piece of chocolate just to finish off the meal. I returned to Horno San Onofre and, spoiled for choice, I eventually elected to try the caracas de chocolate. I can only describe this as a wafer of dark chocolate with crunchy bits throughout it. Whatever. It was delicious, which is the most important thing.

With so many options left to try I couldn’t help but return for another sitting. This time I started at La Casa del Bacalao, which offered an array of seafood tapas on medium sized melba toasts. With my love of octopus I couldn’t help but start with a Pulpo. My other choice was Foie Gras de Bacalao.


The Pulpo was good but it was the Foie Gras de Bacalao that was the star. It had the same silken texture of foie gras de canard but of course it tasted like fish. Although this description doesn’t do the tapas justice, the flavour was deep, rich, and unlike any fish dish I’d eaten before. It was so good I had to have another. This time I selected a marinated bacalao in olive oil and dill. I also grabbed another cheeky cheese croquette from Va Alacena del Victor Montes.


The foie gras was just as good the second time around (unlike the croquette which was unfortunately slightly cold), and it provided a really interesting contrast to the marinated bacalao. Where the former had such a strong taste, the flavour of the latter was very subtle, with the olive oil and dill gently enhancing and complimenting the flesh perfectly.

Lastly, I went to El Yantar de Ayer, which I had been salivating over since the first time I came to Mercado San Miguel. The pictures below explain why.



With such magnificent combinations of antipasti on offer making a selection was incredibly difficult. However, I finally settled on a small olive with ham and cheese, and a skewer of olives, peppers, octopus, and pickled onion. Both were delicious!


So if you’re looking for basic food ingredients, head down to Mercado de la Cerbado just down from La Latina station. If you want an amazing and affordable tapas experience, then Mercado San Miguel is the place to go.

El Neru

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.