Some come for the Cochinillo Asado (roast suckling pig), a specialty of the house. Some come for its historic significance, the oldest restaurant in the world according to Guinness World Records. Still others come to be a part of something less tangible, something elusive and nostalgic – literary history.
“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. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” These are the final lines in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises.
The restaurant that Hemingway references, Botin, has been owned by the González family for four generations. It was one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts in Madrid. He knew the González family well and spent a great deal of time here.
Over the years, Botin has been a favorite dining spot for many literati, such as Spanish writers Arturo Barea, Bergamín, Fernán Gómez, Indalecio Prieto, and Ramón Gómez de la Serna, and foreign writers Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Graham Greene and Frederick Forsyth. In addition to Hemingway’s novels, the restaurant is mentioned in numerous literary works by such writers as Graham Greene, James Michener (Iberia), Frederick Forsyth (Icon) and Benito Pérez Galdós.
Botin means booty, spoils, plunder or loot in Spanish. If you’re a writer, you might derive some metaphoric inference from the name, but in reality, the restaurant was named after its founder, Frenchman Jean Botín, in 1725. Since then, writers, celebrities, politicians and royalty from around the world have dined here.
On my most recent visit, I invited Tom, one of my new Anglo friends, to join me for an early lunch after we returned to Madrid from our week in Pedraza. “We lunched upstairs at Botin’s” quite literally. Although I did have roast suckling pig, I did not drink three bottles of rioja alta, only one glass of it. The menu is pretty pricey, so be prepared for sticker shock. Three appetizers, a plate of suckling pig, a glass of wine and a beer cost us 75 Euros (approx. $100 USD). No regrets, though. Our meal was Spanish-style comfort food — rustic, delicious and satisfying.
Since this is a popular tourist destination, it’s a good idea to make a reservation for lunch or dinner at Botin. However, you have a fair chance of getting a table without a reservation, if you arrive when they first open for lunch at 1:00 pm. This is early for the Spanish. They normally don’t have lunch until 2:00 pm or later.
The restaurant has three floors of dining space: the dining room at the entrance, named after Spanish writer Benito Pérez Galdós; the lovely blue and white tile room on the first floor (2nd floor in the U.S.) where Hemingway liked to dine, and the cellar with its ancient brick arches. Below the cellar is a sub-cellar, where dusty old bottles of wine rest in the cool embrace of the dark catacombs.
Peek through the doorway of the tiny kitchen on the ground floor. You’ll see the original wood oven they still use to roast the suckling pigs.
One of the best parts of visiting Botin is the welcoming, friendly staff. Before taking a photo of the chef in his kitchen or venturing into the wine cellar, I asked permission. I was given a hearty “Si” and a big smile with every request.
The nearby Puerta del Sol area was Hemingway’s neighborhood where he rented a flat. In the large square, you’ll see the famous Bear and the Madroño (Strawberry) Tree statue, a heraldic symbol of Madrid and popular meeting point for tourists.
From the Vodafone Sol Metro station, walk west along Calle Mayor toward Plaza Mayor. To the left, directly north of the Old Post Office, you’ll see a plaque in the sidewalk that designates Kilometre 0, the geographic center of Madrid and the starting point for all roads in Spain.
Jog left onto Calle Esparteros, immediately right onto Calle Postas and right onto Calle Sal where you’ll see an antique clock with a puppet figure two stories up on the façade of a shop. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and shops in this area that sell everything from Iberico hams to Spanish fans to local pottery.
At the end of Calle Sal, pass through the arched entrance into Plaza Mayor. Go straight through the plaza and turn left onto the narrow street, Calle de los Cuchilleros. This is the Austrias area of Madrid.
As you head down the street, you’ll pass El Mercado de San Miguel on the right, a great place to buy produce, meats and cheeses by day (I bought some Spanish saffron here) and a lively Tapas bar at night.
On the left side of the street, notice how the ancient row buildings wave in and out.
Just a short distance down the street on the left, you’ll see Botin, with its beautiful natural wood façade.
Botin is located at Calle de los Cuchilleros 17, Madrid, 28005. You can access it from the Opera, La Latina or Vodafone Sol Metro stops. They’re open 1:00-4:00 pm for lunch, and 8:00 pm-midnight for dinner Monday-Sunday. For reservations, call +34 91 366 3026 or visit the Botin website.