As I was researching what to do during my 24 hours in Madrid, I received an email from my Camino friend Peter, who was also in town. During a quick lunchtime beer, I gave him my proposed itinerary of the weird things I wanted to see around the capitol, including the world’s oldest restaurant, Botín. Peter had eaten there before, and he offered to take me that evening as his guest since all I had a budget for was to walk inside and look around without eating.
The restaurant was founded in 1725 by Frenchman Jean Botin and his wife and was originally called Casa Botín. It was inherited by a nephew called Candido Remis and had a name change to Sobrino de Botín, which survives to this day. Sobrino is the Spanish word for nephew.
Botín has four floors and the air of a traditional Spanish tavern. There are three dining rooms: the bodega (“cellar”), the Castilla room, and the Felipe IV room.
The artist Francisco de Goya (considered the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries) worked in at the restaurant as a waiter while waiting to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
The most famous dishes here are the cochinillo asado (“roast suckling pig”) and the cordero asado (“roast lamb”). The restaurant receives suckling pigs from Segovia and lambs from Sepúlveda three to four times per week. Both the lambs and pigs are roasted in the nearly 300-year-old original wood-fired oven made of cast iron. Crispy skin on the outside, tender meat on the inside, the suckling pig is served with a side of roast potatoes.
The restaurant and its specialty of cochinillo asado are mentioned in the final pages of Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘The Sun Also Rises.’ From the book: “We lunched upstairs at Botín’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta.”
(I had the roast suckling pig, and it is worthy of its place in literature!)
Botín is also mentioned in the book ‘Fortunata y Jacinta’ by Benito Pérez Galdós (published 1886-1887).
The restaurant’s other signature dish is sopa de ajo (an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic): a favorite pick-me-up with Madrileño revelers.
Clams Botín, another popular dish, features a house sauce of onion, hot chili pepper, garlic, dry white wine, paprika, tomato purée, and laurel leaf.
Such an old place could possibly be nothing but a poorly run tourist trap. However, the service and the food were both excellent, and the waiters are very patient with tourists that want to look around and they tolerate curious visitors with lots of questions.
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