Tapas in Madrid

Last Saturday afternoon I sat out in the warm sunshine under blue skies with my two older daughters. We lingered for ages watching the procession of lovers, happy families and street performance artists. When the sun began to dip behind the majestic buildings, we adjourned for a late lunch. For Tapas.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

We were in Madrid for the weekend. Booked last October when it was clear that advancing pregnancy would soon put a halt to my elder daughter’s gallop, and long before the announcement of my second daughter’s engagement. There was SO much to talk about, to plan and to celebrate.

We walked, basked in the glow of paintings by Velasquez, El Greco and Picasso (Goya was on tour) and enjoyed the light-hearted Madrileños as they went about their daily lives.

Evening meals were good but couldn’t hold a candle to the never-ending tapas in Tapas Bars everywhere. We could happily have spent the entire weekend without ever handling a knife or fork.

Espárragos in tempura con romescu

Romesco Sauce is a weakness of mine, and I love to make it at home ever since I came across it on Delia Smith’s website http://www.deliaonline.com. Recipe below. Having it with asparagus tempura was sublime.

Patatas Bravas

These potatoes are indeed fit to be presented at Court. I’ll never again wonder what to do with the smaller potatoes in my crop. Roast, cut off the top, add a dollop of Bravas sauce and some sour cream. What else would you be serving on a slate?

Bunuelo de bacalao

Salt cod (Bacalao) is how our ancestors preserved their fish protein for consumption during the winter months before the advent of modern refrigeration and trawlers. Nowadays, clever chefs transform it into all sorts of edible surprises. Some say it’s addictive. I often wonder if their bodies have a need for it with its minerals and vitamins. Either way, it ticks all the boxes- delicious, and good for you.

The Damage!

This sign on the wall of the Sala Estado Puro typifies their fun approach to excellent food. While we relaxed over our tapas, vast numbers of groups came and went. Service was prompt, smiling, efficient and a joy to experience.

Romesco Sauce

This is a ‘daughter” sauce of mayonnaise. My mother always made great mayonnaise and for years, the knack escaped me. I would end up with loads of curdled, separated components and huge frustration.

One day, while I was attempting it, yet again, she said ” If you’re interested, I’ll tell you what your problem is”.

As it happened, I wasn’t all that interested, having done it by the book, ingredients all at room temperature, kitchen tools perfectly clean, not rushing. But I needed to know how to make it work…couldn’t face yet another culinary disaster.

“Your problem is that you want to ‘get it done’ rather than to ‘do it'”

I didn’t understand.

” You need to appreciate your ingredients, the fresh egg yolks, the peppery olive oil, the fat cloves of garlic, lemon juice, to contemplate salt and pepper, where they came from and how we take them so much for granted. That way you’ll enjoy the process and your mayonnaise will emulsify”

It all sounded a bit spacy to me, but she had a good track record at mayonnaise-making, and I didn’t.

” OK so…”.
A switch tripped in my brain. Rays of sunshine streamed in through the kitchen window. I calmed down.

It worked, and has worked ever since. Whether I’m using a wooden spoon and bowl or electric blender, the Zen of making mayonnaise always reminds me of my Mum and the day she taught me the difference between a task and a craft.


3 large cloves garlic, peeled
3 fresh ripe plum tomatoes
1½ oz (40 g) hazelnuts
2 dried chillies
1 egg yolk
8 fl oz (225 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar


First, to make the sauce, put the whole garlic cloves, tomatoes and hazelnuts into a shallow roasting tray in the oven for 10 minutes, then add the chillies. Cook for another 5 minutes until the hazelnuts are golden.

Scrape the flesh from the tomatoes and put into the blender with the egg yolk, chillies, hazelnuts and garlic. Blend on high speed.

Add the olive oil, one drop at a time at the beginning, then slowly to make a smooth sauce.

Next, stir in the vinegar, season lightly, cover and leave aside.

Romesco sauce benefits from several hours in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop.
Serve it with a plate of char-grilled vegetables or with grilled fish.

Just as we hand our mitochondrial DNA on to our daughters, we also teach them the things we know.
I smiled as we dipped asparagus tempura in Romesco sauce in Madrid last weekend. My Mum never visited Madrid in her lifetime, but she was there alright!

About haysparks

Viewing the world, the human condition, our history, evolution and health through the prism of food.
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