The Reign in Spain
According to various panicked economic reports, Spain is falling apart. The weird thing is, nobody appears to have told Spain. Their football team is winning everything…
According to various panicked economic reports, Spain is falling apart. The weird thing is, nobody appears to have told Spain. Their football team is winning everything. Spanish food is taking over everywhere there’s a love of ham (which, let’s face it is everywhere). Plus, it’s the very embodiment of seasonal, local and taking really good ingredients and not buggering about with them too much. And even when they do bugger about with them, the chefs doing the buggering about are celebrated as some of the finest in the world. The wines are in exceptional form. And by Christ, even the Gipsy Kings are still touring.
A walk around Madrid doesn’t exactly show a country on its uppers. Businesses continue to do business. Shoppers continue to shop. The streets are teeming with people both, judging by the accents, local and tourist. Art galleries continue to flourish – with municipal buildings converted to impressive spaces such as CentroCentro – museums thrive and public spaces are being redeveloped: you have to admire any city that puts a main road underground and then converts the old space it occupied into parks and play areas. It’s a great European city by any standards: reports of its demise are thus suitably Twainian.
To some extent, the Hesperia Hotel embodies the city’s spirit. It’s traditional but with modern styling, courtesy of Pascual Ortega. It’s located in the Paseo de la Castellana, so it’s well placed for the airport, the shopping streets and the commercial district. Rooms are comfortable and elegant – particularly the ninth floor suites with their sun terraces and Jacuzzis – but with a certain sense of humour, such as the enormous jar of sweets by the door. Or the enormous jar with far fewer sweets by the time certain British journalists leave.
The comfort is a vital touch, given the quality of the food and the typically later finish of the Madrileno supper – you will find yourself needing to meander upstairs to collapse. The hotel houses Santceloni, Oscar Velasco’s restaurant and holder of two Michelin stars since 2005. The food is deceptively simple and distinctly Spanish: if it’s on the plate, it’s there for a reason. Most of the time, Velasco lets his ingredients sing with very little accompaniment. It’s just great cooking.
The same can be said of Paco Roncero whose simple, earthy Estado Puro tapas belies his apprenticeship under Ferran Adria. The dishes here, like Velasco’s, are straightforward, relying on the sourcing as much as the saucing. He leaves his flourishy stuff to one dish – the tortilla here is served in witty liquid form – and to his Michelin-starred restaurant La Terraza del Casino, located unsurprisingly on the top floor of the casino.
The simplicity returns, post great night’s sleep and long hot soak, with breakfast at the Hesperia. The morning after ritual should, of course, involve a session at the hotel’s gym but, er, well, you know how that goes. Instead, it’s over to the juices (never underestimate the recuperative power of liquidised broccoli and mint) or, more likely, the jamon; continental breakfasts make so much more sense when Iberico’s involved. The word for “soothing” in Spanish is something like “relajante”: on this evidence “Hesperia” would be a perfectly satisfactory substitute.