THE El Clásico clashes between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are legendary but the cities themselves provoke continual head-to-heads over which has the glitziest nightlife, best shopping, oldest restaurant/bar/pastry shop/ice cream parlour etcetera.
To settle the score, The Olive Press visited five antique food establishments in both cities to see which one wins this particular clash of the Titans.
Madrid: Botín (1725)
One of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite haunts, Botín is listed as the oldest restaurant in the world in the Guinness Book of Records. Much of the four-story building’s original structure has been preserved, allowing customers to step back in time as they enter through the antique wooden entrance embellished with stained glass windows. Its signature dish, cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig), which Hemingway described as ‘the best in the world,’ is cooked in the old holm oak-burning oven which gives the meat its singular flavour. A point of pilgrimage for foodies and history buffs alike, be sure to book your table well in advance.
Barcelona: Can Culleretes (1786)
Runner-up to Madrid in longevity, the oldest restaurant in Barcelona has been flying the flag for Catalan cuisine for over two centuries. Specialities include civet de jabalí (wild boar stew) and canelos ‘los de siempre’ (traditional cannelloni), a classic favorite of Catalonia. Set back off La Rambla, one of the city’s busiest streets, visitors can get a taste of Barcelona’s past through three imposing mural paintings inside the restaurant but its deeper history is transmitted through the intense traditional flavours of its dishes.
Madrid: Casa Alberto (1827)
Scarlet doors welcome customers to this antique bar, where ice cold glasses of vermouth have been served across the marble countertop for nearly two centuries. It was a handy watering hole for Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, who lived above the bar during his time in Madrid. And it’s still the perfect spot for a cold drink after an afternoon of wandering through the bustling streets of the capital. 10-minute walk from the Prado Museum, Madrid’s top tourist attraction, it is also a great spot for refreshments after hours of indulging in magnificent artworks.
Barcelona: Bar Marsella (1820)
The peeling ceilings clouded with cobwebs and the hundreds of empty bottles ranged upon the shelves attest to the countless drinks poured and drunks served who have laughed, wept and partied all night long at Marsella since 1820. Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali were regulars at this bohemian bar, rumoured to have been a clandestine hotspot for anti-establishment intellectuals and artists during the Franco regime. Bar Marsella is infamous for its deliriously strong absenta (absinthe), a highly alcoholic and hallucinogenic herbal drink served with a fork and a cube of sugar balanced on the rim of the glass.
Madrid: San Gines (1890)
San Gines has been serving up Spain’s favourite weekend breakfast indulgence – chocolate con churros – for more than 120 years. Down an alleyway a few steps from Puerta del Sol, the chocolateria is always packed with contented customers dipping sticks of freshly deep-fried dough into comforting cups of gooey chocolate, thick as custard. You can also buy homemade chocolate bars and truffles. The cafe is open 24/7/365 so whether it’s 4am after a wild night out or a 4pm coffee break from work, you can always get your chocolate fix.
Barcelona: Xocolates Fargas (1827)
The artisan chocolates of Fargas on Carrer de Pi are the Cartier jewels of the confectionary world and they come in presentation gift boxes. Although the firm has relocated to new premises a couple of stores down from the original shop, the main counter, window display cabinets and chocolate mill came too and are still in use at this historic chocolateria. The range of exquisitely-crafted chocolate truffles on display lure window shoppers inside to splurge on edible souvenirs gift-wrapped for their loved ones.
Madrid: El Riojano (1855)
One of Madrid’s oldest cake shops, El Riojano has connections in high places. It was founded by Dámaso Maza, personal pastry chef to the Spanish Royal Family who was better known by his nickname ‘El Riojano,’ and generously passed it on to the bakery. Much of the original 19th-century interior has been preserved, including the stunning mahogany showcases and Elizabethan lightings. Pick out a scrumptious treat from the massive selection and enjoy it with a cup of café con leche in the bakery’s tea room at the back.
Barcelona: La Colmena (1849)
One of the oldest cake shops in the heart of Barcelona at Plaça de l’Angel square, La Colmena is the sweetest taste of the city’s history you’ll ever savour. The bakery makes its pastries and tarts to exactly the same recipes that were being used in the 19th century and they’re still just as popular. The display of freshly baked pastries that are lined up in the windows every morning has become a tourist attraction and crowds are glued to the windows at all times of the day, picking out their favorite treats. One of many highlights is the massive meringues which are light and delicate and as big as your hand.
Madrid: Los Alpes (1950)
This classic ice cream business was founded by Italian Pedro Marchi and his Spanish wife Marcelina Ladero. With a passion for creating homemade ice cream with fresh, seasonal ingredients, the pair started with eight flavors and worked their way up to more than 80 unique flavors being served now. For an extra flourish, the artisan cones are made with an original Italian recipe. You can find the heladería in Chamberi just across from Parque del Oeste, where you can perch on the edge of a neoclassical fountain and keep cool while you devour your cornetto.
Barcelona: El Tío Che (1912)
Uncle Che licks Madrid’s Los Alpes into first place for longevity of heladerías. The ice cream shop has survived two world wars and shared the city’s every inglorious and glorious moment since 1912, including the 1992 Olympics. The business started out as a horchatería serving horchata, plant-based milk made from tiger nuts, but later expanded into artisanal ice creams. The parlor has been through multiple location changes. Today, it’s ensconced in the neighborhood of Poblenou a couple minutes walk from the Bogatell Beach, where its creamy, thick ice cream offers a delicious beach break.
FINAL SCORE: In terms of longevity, Barcelona sweeps to victory over Madrid with an impressive 4-1 score. But when it comes to the best experience, you simply have to try them all so we’ll call it a draw!