on May 23, 2007
There was no way that I was going to Madrid without going to this – the world’s oldest restaurant. I knew little about it, however. Was it a tourist trap? Was it outrageously expensive? I gave this some thought then decided I didn’t really care. I need not have worried. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it didn’t break the bank.The restaurant opened in 1725 on the site of an inn. The building is pretty much still original and the four floors of tile and wood-beam dining rooms have plenty of atmosphere. The waiters are mainly older men who are happy to help with menu suggestions and provide a bit of history at the same time. It’s difficult to know just how good this restaurant is. Hemingway called it the world’s best, but clearly that is over the top. If, however, you have the specialties of roast pig or roast lamb as I did, you will agree that the food is certainly good. Perhaps one of the things that help is the centuries-old ovens that are still used today. The present owner proudly showed us these after our meal and insisted on having photographs taken with us.Today, the restaurant is decidedly a tourist spot, since it appears in so many guides. Don't let that put you off, though, because Spaniards still go here to sample the excellent food. You enter on the ground floor and are shown to one of several dining rooms. We ate upstairs on the second level, then later went downstairs to the "bodega" or old wine cellars. The timber steps leading to the upstairs dining areas have been scalloped by centuries of diners and staff. The furniture is traditional Spanish, very heavy and very old.Main courses in Spanish restaurants do not usually include many vegetables and Botín is no exception. This is just the way it goes - the Spanish tend to separate their vegetables and serve them up as starters. My roast baby lamb was delicious and the portion was more than enough. My wife had Clams Botin and this dish was smaller. We washed all of this down with a pitcher of Sangria and a jug of water. Ernest Hemingway wrote in his Death in the afternoon, “I would rather dine on suckling pig at Botin's that sit and think of casualties my friends have suffered." Those sentiments I can fully understand. Botin was well worth the visit, but I would probably not repeat. I had wanted to go there for a long time and I am glad I made the effort. It fulfilled my expectations even though I knew that many customers were tourists who knew little about it except that it was old. I would certainly recommend anybody to go just once for the experience. The food and service are good and even with all the tourists, this is still a typically Spanish restaurant where when we visited, many of the patrons were locals.
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