A GUIDEPOST REPRINT: “Thought for Food — Plaza Mayor Pleasures” (PART 1)

ArchivesBlogs & ArchivesMadridslider

Los Galayos’  authentic Castilian diningroom-cellar  as seen today

Ed’s Note:
Forty-two years ago, in 1975, Jeffrey Owen wrote a guide to tapas bars and restaurants in the famous Plaza Mayor for GUIDEPOST readers. Many of these places are still in business — Los Galayos definitely is — and it should be fun to compare them as they are today with how they were almost half a century ago from Jeffrey’s account. 

Jeffrey  had helpfully taken note of the prices of the food served in the eateries. This adds to the fun of the comparison. Remember that the Spanish currency at the time was the peseta (Pta) which was, however, replaced by the euro (€) in 1999 on the currency exchange boards. Euro coins and notes were introduced in January 2002, and on 1 March 2002 the peseta stopped being a legal tender in Spain, as did all the national currencies of the EU member-states in the Euro Zone. The conversion rate for the pesetas was 166.386 to the euro. 

“Plaza Mayor Pleasures” is lenghty, an article of nearly two thousand words. And so we have decided to reprint it in two parts.

 Reprint of
“Thought for Food — Plaza Mayor Pleasures”
By Jeffrey Owen
GUIDEPOST, 8 August 1975
Original cover and article/Guidepost

Others/Los Galayos’ website



Known variously over the years as the Plaza de la Constitución, it is now, in the name and in fact, the Plaza Mayor, the great square of Madrid. It was partially or totally destroyed by fire three times at least (twice in the 17th century and once in the 18th), restored and redesigned by architects of greater and lesser note.  The most recent alterations took out the little park and fountain in its center and the tram tracks which ran in and out of the square, and replaced them with a massive subterranean parking garage covered by an expanse of multicolored granite cobblestones. The Salamancans compare Madrid’s square unfavorably with their own, but in scale and proportion the Plaza Mayor matritense is clearly one of the finest architectonic spaces in Spain.

In the past it was the scene of bullfights (the last in 1848), theatrical performances, religious services, Inquisition trials and public executions. It remains the heart of much of what remains of old city life in Madrid – festivals, processions, Sunday strolls and nocturnal merry-making, sun-sitting, café-lounging, tapa–hopping and al fresco dining.

The cafes, the tapas and the dining are our primary concerns here, beginning with the latter.

Esteban and Miguel, two paisanos from the province of Avila, run the Restaurante Los Galayos, featured here because it offers the best variety and tastiest food in the Plaza, at reasonable prices. At Los Galayos (named after a group of mountains in Avila province), one can choose from 35 ample tapa rations or have full meals either in the upstairs dining room, with the beautiful coffered ceiling, downstairs in the long salon, or right in the Plaza Mayor at one of 15 outside tables. (The menu and prices are the same no matter where you choose to dine.)

The outside tables are in the southeast corner of the Plaza, and the entrance to the meson-restaurant is just behind, at Calle Botoneras, 5 (once the center of the button-making trade, and a street which proper ladies forbade their husbands to enter because of the alleged moral laxity of the young ladies who worked in the button shops there).

The truth is that for selfish, romantic reasons, this writer wishes that Esteban’s former restaurant still existed. It was a cozy little place around the corner in the Calle Zaragoza, staffed by Esteban, a bar helper, a waiter and a cook. But the food at Los Galayos is every bit as good, though the atmosphere is not as intimate as the now-defunct little dining spot, and Esteban and his partner Miguel are to be applauded for the enterprise and dedication to good eating which went into the founding of Los Galayos, now a little more than a year old. . .

Los Galayos officially is a two-fork establishment, but in variety and quality the menu is three-fork. That is not to say it is expensive. It’s not exactly cheap either, but choosing judiciously you can eat a pleasing and filling meal with good house wine for around 200 pesetas per stomach.

Among the large array of tapas and first courses displayed at the bar, angulas (baby eels) are a good buy at 150 pesetas and ancas de rana  (frog legs) Castilian style, at 90 pesetas, is a specialty found in few run-of-the-mill mesón menus in Madrid. Among my personal favorites are the morcilla (blood sausage), lomo a la olla (marinated pork loin), tortilla paisana (omelette with vegetables and sausage) and the house pisto.

It is difficult to think of a better opener to a full meal at Los Galayos than the fish soup, which in fact it is almost a meal in itself. The sopa de mariscos here is one of the best genre to be found in Madrid. The garlic soup (sopa castellana) is also well done. And the salads, whether taken before, after or during the meal, are generally excellent at Los Galayos.

As might be expected of a restaurant subtitled “Avila in Madrid,” roasts are a specialty. The lamb is quite good, and the same might be assumed of the suckling pig (tostón de Arévalo), though we haven’t tried it at Los Galayos. A variation is the cochinillo al tomillo, thyme-spiced baby porker. The house also features broiled meats – churrasco de cebón (beefsteak) and solomillo de la casa (fillet of beef terderloin on a red-hot plate) – as well as a mixed shellfish grill (parrillada de mariscos).

Most attractive of the dishes as we see it are the Castilian-style house specialties, including trout from the Tormes (marinated and broiled-with lemon or a la Navarra, with a slice of mountain ham); judias al Barco (green beans in the style of Barco de Avila, with chorizo, blood sausage and pork ear); cabrito cuchifrito (kid sautéed with garlic, doused lightly with vinegar and brandy when almost done, for tenderness); cocido castillano (the heavy stew done somewhat differently from the Madrid style); and stewed partridge (perdiz a la chita callando), prepared according to an old Avila recipe, with little French onions, carrots, peas, green pepper and asparagus.

Not to be forgotten is the paella especial, done to order and beautifully presented (320 pesetas and up, for two). If you are planning an excursion to the Plaza Mayor area, call ahead to 266 30 28) and ask Esteban to have the paella ready for you. It’s a fine meal, al fresco or inside.

Continued in “Plaza Mayor Pleasures” (PART 2)