When you step into the cavernous restaurant Botin, it’s easy to imagine Ernest Hemingway enjoying a few meals here. In his novel, The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway draws on his own dining experiences at the ancient Spanish establishment, writing:
“We lunched upstairs at Botin’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.”
Botin was established in 1725, by a French cook named Jean Botín, whose nephew had refurbished the space as an inn. At the time, the restaurant was forbidden to sell meat, wine, or other foodstuffs that would compete with local trade. As a result, Botin only served items made from ingredients brought by its guests. Later in the 18th century, soon-to-be-legendary Spanish painter Francisco Goya worked as a dishwasher in Botin. Since then, the restaurant has appeared in literature about both popular American expatriate life and the Spanish Renaissance.
Today, the restaurant carries a traditional machismo menu of meats, soups, and wines, offering famed sucking pig, poached egg soup, and Iberian ham as favorites. Visitors often opt for a pitcher of ice-cold sangria served in a painted ceramic vase and a plate of flan and caramel to finish off their meal.
And while the quality of food at Botin is worth the journey to el Centro itself, visitors are also drawn to the restaurant’s unique ambiance and rich history (yes, tourists are in the majority at the restaurant, and the prices reflect this demographic phenomenon).
Enter the crowded restaurant and ask to be seated downstairs. You will enter what looks like a wooden and stone cave, complete with crackling fires, a narrow staircase, and low ceilings. This will likely be the priciest meal you have in Madrid— but to dine in a nearly three-hundred year-old restaurant and reflect on the hundreds of thousands of customers who have sat in your seat is perhaps one of the most valuable experiences Spain’s ancient capital has to offer.