I don't know about you but I always get a little nervous about taking on restaurant recommendations when it's from someone I've just met. People have different tastes. When I'm in a foreign country, my bad-meal anxiety kicks in even more because I wonder if I'm being sent off to slaughter at a tourist trap. I have serious trust issues.
We just met Moises this morning, our local guide, and as lovely, informative and helpful as he is, I was on tenterhooks until the first plate of food arrived.
The restaurant is an easy walking distance from the Prado Museum and far enough from tourist crowds. We arrived just after 2 pm and my Sydney brain initially registered the few occupied tables as people just finishing off their lunches. In actual fact, we were one of the early guests and by 3 pm this large restaurant was packed with smartly dressed locals eating their biggest meal of the day.
Moises recommended this place for seafood and paella so those were what we ordered. They started us with a plate of olives and based on its taste and presentation, I began to exhale slowly. We were each presented with complimentary hot bean casserole in a mini tureen which I forgot to take a photo of. It was warm, satisfying and told me everything was going to be alright.
The fried calamari was perfectly cooked and seasoned, served with a mix of pickled peppers. Even the green salad was a standout with the tomatoes having just the right balance of sweetness and acidity. The berberechos or clams were divine and had bread-dunking-worthy sauce made of olive oil, garlic, white wine, parsley (but ground to a paste rather than just chopped and I think this method gave it a much deeper flavour) and chilli.
We ordered the red prawn paella for 3 but really it felt more like it was for 5 people. Paella is not a Madridiones dish but we had a craving and the other local guests were devouring it like we were. It was absolutely delicious with the sweet and tender pieces of prawns, squid and fish in it. The flavouring stock was tasty without being too rich so even if I was bursting at the seams, I kept eating forkfuls of it to try and minimize the leftovers on my plate. It was too good to waste.
We had no room for dessert but espressos and mercifully small pieces of butter cake were still accommodated by our quickly expanding stomachs.
So thanks to Moises Perez Zapata, the friendly staff and talented Filipino (yes!) chef at El Barril de Las Letras, this little piggy was happy and cried hee hee hee all the way home!