What do Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin and Johann Sebastian Bach have in common? They were all alive to see, if they fancied a trip to Spain, Restaurant Botin, the world's oldest restaurant according to the Guinness Book of World Records, open in Madrid in 1725. Imagine if they had all been present during the opening of Botin. It would be the 18th century's answer to Dinner, Heston Blumenthal's new London joint. But unlike the restaurant and celebrity chef explosion that grips us today, Botin, as far as I can tell, opened without fanfare. It simply opened. And has been pleasing diners for almost 300 years. Longer than any other restaurant on Earth.
I am not normally a fan of tourist traps, and believe me, Botin is like Disneyland in restaurant form. When we arrived at 7:50pm, 10 minutes before the restaurant opened, there was already a line of, and I'm not using hyperbole here, at least 80 people. Most of them clutched Rick Steve's Guide to Spain in their sweaty hands. And most, if not all had Birkenstocks, those pants that turn into shorts with a quick undo of the zipper and giant backpacks with large tubes of hand sanitizing wipes. As you can tell, I am not a fan of the Rick Steves does Europe crowd. His cronies were pushing their way into Botin and the polite maitre'd had to explain in his best English, "we no open 'til 8 'clock. Fank you." Reading that, you'd think it was an Asian restaurant. Just imagine the maitre'd speaking broken English to the Rick Steves bunch and you'll get what I mean.
As camera flashes went off in my eye and the crowd grew, we were finally let into the restaurant and it was like Moses had parted the Red Sea. A throng of Rick Steves devotees pushed and shoved their way threw the narrow, ancient doors, nearly toppling the poor bastard in charge of seating everyone. When it was our turn, that is, after the Asians cut in front of us, and it was once again our turn, we were led upstairs to the less crowded, less touristy section of the restaurant. We were seated between a table of 20, mostly Spanish, and a table of Germans. If ever you wanted to see a contrast, this was it.
There is really only one thing you come to Botin for; the Roast Suckling Pig. Cooked in the same oven Newton would of had his Pig cooked in had he eaten here. But first, an order of Fried Aubergines with Salmorejo, an Andalusian dish, similar to Gazpacho to accompany our dark, delicious Olives and a bottle of Rioja. The Augergines were brought out at the same time as the Suckling Pig. That's right, the entire Pig is brought out, head and all, and then it's dissected. Large pieces of Pig are gingerly placed on plates, with Potatoes and then the juices of the Pig are ladled lovingly onto the skin. Truly a magical sight to behold.
But man does not live on smells and sight alone. How did it taste? Exquisite. So pure and fresh. The Crackling was one of the best I have ever had. No doubt, a result of perfect cooking temperatures and a well seasoned oven that comes from being nearly 300 years old. How many Pigs have been cooked in that oven? Enough that Botin knows what they're doing when it comes to Roast Suckling Pig.
But what restaurant review would be complete if all three of us had Roast Suckling Pig? Knowing that no one else would give up the opportunity to try this coveted dish, I had the Roast Baby Lamb. And I have regretted it ever since. As far as Lamb goes, this was top notch. But it isn't Suckling Pig now is it? Still mouthwatering and succulent, it lacked the deep, intense flavor that the Suckling Pig had. And at the same price, there's really no reason to get the Lamb over the Pig.
Botin is a tourist trap. It is crowded, expensive and in Spain, there are better meals to be had at every corner. But, to dine where Hemingway, Greene, Fitzgerald and untold others have eaten, in this small nook just off the Plaza Mayor, on Calle de Cuchilleros in Madrid, is a privilege that I wouldn't trade for the fanciest Three Star Michelin restaurant.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography