The highlight of our short visit to Madrid with our friends Gary and Debbie Wasserman was undoubtedly our memorable lunch feast at Botin, the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant. We had dined here once before at the suggestion of our friend Mary Ann Eger.
This restaurant, which opened in 1725, oozes history, not to mention delicious smells wafting from its ancient wood-burning oven. But it’s not just history that has drawn food lovers from around the world for centuries. They come for the wood-fired roasted suckling pig (cochinillo) and roast baby lamb (cordero lechal) – both cooked to perfection.
The first recorded mention of the building was in 1590. In 1725, the nephew of French cook Jean Botin bought the building and converted it into an inn. Around this time they installed its famous oven. The new restaurant was named Sobrino de Botin, which translates into “Botin’s Nephew”. Since the turn of the 20th century, it has been under the careful care of the Gonzalez family.
Over the years, the 4-story restaurant has attracted the rich and famous. American writer Ernest Hemingway, a frequent diner, praises Botin as “the best restaurant in the world at the end of his classic novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Other guests include Spanish painter Francisco Goya, Frank Sinatra, royalty, politicians, popes, and movie stars. It also remains very popular among locals and foodie travelers like us. One pair of tablemates was celebrating a birthday; another couple was lost in conversation with a young friend.
We made a reservation knowing the restaurant would be full. We were escorted to our table on the light-filled second floor by a maitre d in a white tux. Servers here are dedicated and fit, marching up and down stairs with heavy trays of food and drink all day. Most have been with the restaurant for decades. They take their jobs seriously but provide friendly service with a quick smile. We were most fortunate to be greeted by Antonio González, the gracious owner of Botin.
Of course, we all ordered the suckling pig, and it was magnificent – melt-in-your-mouth tender with crispy skin and a slightly smoky flavor. Starters including creamy, earth croquettas and traditional garlic and gazpacho soups were delicioso. Somehow we found room for desserts all equally wonderful, especially my “gramma’s cheesecake.
Antonio pointed to a nook a few steps from our table. “Hemingway dined there,” he said. “My grandfather was his friend. Hemingway once tried to make a paella to impress my grandfather. It was terrible. My grandfather responded, ‘Ernesto, you do the writing–I’ll do the cooking.’
As we were sipping the last of our wine, we all could almost sense the ghosts of diners past who had savored this same meal hundreds of years ago. In our mind’s eye, we imagined Hemingway raising his glass of rioja alta our way, a toast to good times, great food, and the best company.
Mike James, Greg Knight and 6 others