We recently visited Spain and thought it would be a great idea to drive from Barcelona to Madrid. I’m going to save you from reading three or four hundred pages in 6pt type detailing why it was not and just tell you it was not. By the time we got into Madrid I was rattled and murderous. We hit our beds, slept hard, woke up, and hit the Playa del Mayor in full American.
I was starving. I’m not kidding. I’d stopped at three gas stations on the way and every one of them served beer and Iberica ham and I didn’t have any of it because Spanish DUIs are prison sentences and I ain’t having ham without beer on vacation. I have standards. So I hit the Playa ready tap the tapas and instead, and I honestly am not entirely certain how this went down, we accidentally ended up in Horcher’s.
Horcher’s in in the Treasury on page 191. Somehow, I’d forgotten all about it. I’d made reservations at Botin, but I didn’t even look at Horcher’s. But there we were in line to get a beer and something on a cracker and the woman at the door holding menus asked us something that sounded waaaay too sexy to say in front of my wife and we all nodded and she led us out of the tapas place, down the plaza, into a short street, then into a door around the corner then up to a table in the main room leaving us to wonder what the hell had just happened and why hadn’t we dressed better? But, I didn’t care because I could smell pork being rendered fifty different ways and my stomach told me to shut up and grab a fork.
German food in Spain
Horcher’s may be smack dab in the middle of Madrid but its menu is entirely Germanic. Take a look at their menu, it’s filled with dishes like Herrings with cream sauce and Kartoffelpuffer, and Lentil cream soup with croutons and Frankfurter. They use local suppliers and local specialties but they use them in German.
Now look, Colleen and I can’t remember what we ordered because we didn’t realize we were knoshing in a Treasury restaurant. I know we ordered grapes with bread crumbs, something with duck, and something with a game sausage. I would have written it all down if I hadn’t been ravenous. Fortunately, I dressed nicely, they don’t require jackets for the lunch service, and it was March.
Don’t read the reviews
If you look up Horcher’s in most guidebooks you find it followed by a string of dollar signs. You may also find it poorly reviewed and that’s not fair. Eating at Horcher’s is culinary time travel. Before the trend of upstart restaurants manned by genius chefs with gorgeous full sleeve tattoos of knives and garlic chains; before you could do shots with the chefs at Schwa; before you couldn’t smoke within 15 feet of the front door, people wore jackets to dinner. They draped the table in a relentlessly pressed white linen cloth. The waiters wore tuxedos. The chef only walked out to your table if you were royalty. Food was about quality, quantity, and tradition. People didn’t have portable camera phones and they weren’t obsessed with taking pictures of their food. I don’t say that to disparage you industrious Instagrammers, but to paint a picture of a different era for foodies.
People didn’t call themselves foodies, they identified as a gourmand or a gourmet. (Of course, if they’d had smartphones we’d now have a trillion teraflops of pictures of brown food and cigarettes so maybe that’s a good thing). Food didn’t have quite the star quality it does now. Home cooks didn’t know the difference between an appertìf and an amuse bouche. When they spent good money on going out, it was a big deal. They dressed up. The restaurant served them at their highest level.
Horcher preserves that old-school formality. Men are required to wear jackets (though not a tie). The waiters are in waiter tuxes. The service is elegant. And the food is just as old school. It’s not Alinea. It’s not Tru.