From the Medieval towns, mountains and rolling countryside of Rioja it was a three and half hour drive to Madrid. I’d never visited the capital of Spain before and I was excited to reach the next stop of our gastronomic road trip with Gin Mare.
Our home for the night was the gorgeous five-star boutique Hotel Urso – a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Mr & Mrs Smith – two of my go-to websites for choosing hotels. The hotel even won the Mr & Mrs Smith Award for Best New Comer in 2015, having opened in August 2014.
With a great location in the trendy Chueca district and walking distance from some of the main shopping areas, art galleries, The Royal Palace and opposite the Barceló food market, it the perfect sojourn for a stay in Madrid. Based in a 20th Century palace, this beautiful boutique also provides the perfect blend of old meets new as architect Antonio Obrador has restored many of the original features but added plenty of modern touches. As soon as I walked in I saw this gorgeous mahogany lift shaft encircled by a grand marble staircase with wrought iron balustrade.
Contrasting with inside which is all soft furnishings, plush leather and warm wooden tones, soft greens and Japanese artwork. A gorgeous wooden bar is found in the open communal area which combines a lounge and the reception in this bijou hotel of only 78 rooms.
But what caught my eye is this gorgeous glass staircase and water feature which stands out among the muted tones of the room. Upstairs is a beautiful glass conservatory with gorgeous floral wallpaper which serves as a breakfast room.
The Natura Bissé spa is a real selling point too, being the first branded luxury hotel spa in Madrid with treatments from the Spanish skincare specialists. On this trip my time in the city was very limited but I had to take a quick peek at the spa, though the gorgeous indoor pool was closed (sob!) and I couldn’t get a photo! But it looked like the perfect oasis in the city offering the brand’s signature Diamond dust to illuminate the skin and special Spanish citric formulas to calm body, mind and soul.
My deluxe room was also super modern and the slouchy velvet sofas, wooden floor and leather desk had something of a Soho House vibe. It’s the kind of understated luxury that you can feel in the silkiness of the sheets, the quality of the furniture and the little extras. In the mini bar I discovered local goodies including a bottle of wine from our previous destination, Marqués de Riscal.
Floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of light and I had a Juliet balcony which unfortunately only looked over some building works in the city.
I had a gorgeous marble bathroom and products have been designed especially for Urso by The Lab Room, a skin care specialist based in Madrid. I did my make up, took my photos / video / Instagram stories in about twenty minutes flat before I was out the door and meeting the others to head for a cocktail around the corner. Near the hotel we popped into MaCeRa Taller Bar, a place serving liquors macerated in house with fruits, herbs and spices.
It was a cool bar with an urban feel and it was a shame not to have time to explore more of the bar scene in Madrid but I can’t wait to return in July to check out more. Please leave me any recommendations in the comments!
Dinner was back at the hotel, but this was far from any usual hotel restaurant. The name Media Ración actually means ‘half portion’ and refers to the traditional small tapas plates that Madrid is famous for. In true Spanish style we were having dinner at 10.30 and despite our multi-course lunch a full day of traveling meant I was very hungry…which was most definitely a good thing!
Our dinner would be a tapas created by chef Fernando Cuenllas and paired with delicious Gin Mare cocktails prepared by the in house mixologist.
Our host for this trip, Gin Mare, was created in Northern Spain and inspired by a Mediterranean lifestyle of warm days, sunsets and beaches fuelled by refreshing gin and tonics. It’s a blend of different botanicals with thyme from Greece, rosemary from Turkey, basil from Italy and citrus fruit from Spain combined with the star of the show being Arbequina Olives also known as liquid gold.
In an unobtrusive style, the bar tender set up table side and set about producing a Negroni, combining the Gin Mare with Vermouth, Campari and garnishing with orange peel. It was rich and heart warming and the herbs of the Gin Mare blended beautifully with contrasting bitter and sweet notes of the drink.
Soon the tapas began flowing as quickly as the cocktails starting with oysters doused in Gin Mare. Now personally I have very few food aversions but oysters are one of them and as these were very big and not deep fried or covered in bacon, I chose to avoid them. However, as I was to discover during the course of the trip Gin Mare is the perfect pairing with seafood. The gin distillery was founded in an old Spanish fishing village between the Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada and the name of the brand is a reference to the sea and also to a general culture of gastronomy.
I loved the bresaola and also the dried cure tuna which I’d never had before. Both doused in the delicious, nutty Spanish olive oil in which we swirled hearty helpings of bread.
One thing that surprised even the most experienced foodies around the table is that Russian salad is a common staple in a selection of tapas from Madrid. In Spain the usual Russian Salad combines mayonnaise, potatoes, carrots, peas, tuna-fish, boiled egg and covered with baked red-pepper – simple, inelegant but super tasty. We discovered the salad was actually invented by an English-Italian chef but became an ‘official’ Russian dish in 1860.
These green vegetables were deservedly a dish in their own right and I loved the delicious combination of beans, asparagus, artichoke and salty ham. Unlike our Michelin-starred meal earlier in the day, this was more hearty, rustic Spanish food yet still refined and prepared with the very best ingredients.
I had to take a photo of our next dish and send it to Mr S. He loves boquerones (anchovies), served with delicious roasted peppers this dish reminded me of the Silver family holidays to Majorca where we’d ordered plates and plates of these alongside calamari and padron peppers and wash it down with a jug of sangria (or five!).
The next dish was perhaps a little marmite. Madrid-style tripe is a very typical dish served in the city though it may not be quite so palatable for those not used to it. Personally I’m not a huge fan of the textures of tripe but I have to say the sauce was one of the best things I tried that evening. With smoky flavours from the chorizo, huge punches of chilli, garlic and paprika we were cleaning the cauldron with our bread.
Another favourite around the table was this creamy rice dish. I’ve never had anything quite like this before but it was a cross between risotto and paella with the rice having that tender but firm bite. With all the comfort of a hearty bowl of porridge in the morning and the delight of a stodgy bowl of rice pudding I loved this comfort food savoury rice topped with mushrooms.
Moving on to desserts and this chocolate ganache was the perfect combination of oh-so-rich and creamy chocolate with a light dash of olive oil and salt. And despite two multi-course meals, trust me there was still nothing left in this bowl!
I’m not quite sure what the other dessert was but sweet cloudy marshmallow-like textures made it just as popular as it’s chocolatey counterpart.
Our final cocktail was as refreshing as a Mediterranean breeze, a little like a Mojito with the usual rum being replaced with Gin Mare. The herbaecous notes in the gin being the perfect complement to the lime and basil of the classic concoction.
With our meal starting at 10.30, it was getting close to 1am and as we had an early start we said our goodnights and headed up to our room. Sadly we had little time to enjoy the beautiful Hotel Urso as we reconvened at 7am, ready to get the fast train to the South of Spain bound for the famous Sherry producing city of Jerez.
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My trip to Spain was hosted by Gin Mare but this is not a sponsored post.