The pandemic has had catastrophic effects on our lives in so many ways. That is why I would like to render a small tribute and support to a series of classic restaurants in Madrid, each with its own history, charm and unique cuisine, that have been struggling to remain open as best they can in these difficult times. [Note: It would be wise to check when they are open and reserve in advance, due to the limitations on space and occupancy imposed by the current health regulations.]
by Muriel Feiner
Photos courtesy Casa Salvador unless stated otherwise
Soon to celebrate its 80th anniversary, Casa Salvador is one of the most popular restaurants in Madrid due to its excellent food and its unique, museum-like décor, featuring a vast and diversified collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs. Founded in 1941 as a small tavern by Salvador Blázquez, its owner expanded it little by little by purchasing the small adjacent premises, most of them brothels, which today accommodate the kitchen and dining rooms on the upper floor.
Much of the restaurant’s history is on display in every corner of the four cozy dining rooms of the two-story premises. As Salvador never married, his nephew Pepe joined the business, working side by side with his uncle until the latter’s death in 1977.
Born in 1936, Pepe Blázquez, was hired to reopen the restaurant of the Zarauz Golf Club, near San Sebastián, during the summer months. Pepe’s daughter, Ángeles, who is in charge of the family business, now explains that the Basque experience proved very valuable: My father learned a lot about the local cooking and brought back many fine recipes from San Sebastian, such as the fried hake, one of the house specialties, due to its characteristic cut, with no bones or skin, and its compact, succulent flavor. When Pepe decided to return to Madrid, he turned over the flourishing business to a close friend, who was a welder, not a chef, but loved to cook: today, the very popular and successful TV personality Karlos Arguiñano.
As Salvador and his nephew Pepe were both warm and outgoing and served great food, the restaurant became a meeting place for people from all walks of life: leading politicians, influential bankers, journalists, writers, artists, entertainers and, of course, bullfighters, because both were keen aficionados. The list of regular diners and celebrities would be endless: no less than the revolutionary Che Guevara, Ernest Hemingway, whose portrait appears on the second floor, matadors such as Ángel Luis Bienvenida, Luis Miguel Dominguín, Antonio Ordóñez, Paco Camino and José María Manzanares. And when famous cantaor of flamenco Manolo Caracol opened his tablao Los Canasteros just two doors away in 1963, many flamenco performers like Lola Flores would drop by on a daily basis.
Casa Salvador also attracted an international crowd of such megastars as Charlton Heston, Alain Delon, Sofia Loren and Ava Gardner, many of whom paid frequent visits to Spain in the 1960s when epic films like El Cid, King of Kings and The Fall of the Roman Empire were filmed in the Samuel Bronston studios in Chamartin. Ángeles recalls: My father was shocked the first time Ava Gardner came for dinner with Luis Miguel Dominguín, due to her striking beauty and also because she hopped up on a table and started to dance in an era when a woman never displayed her legs in public. More recently, Javier Bardem invited Gary Oldman and Adrian Brody, to join him for dinner.
Painter and film director Julian Schnabel became a regular, after Bardem brought him to eat one day. Angeles explains: Bardem was living in Chueca at the time and had just finished filming ‘Before Dark’, about Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, with Julian, who became very close friends with my Dad. Julian wanted to go to a bullfight and Bardem, who hates bullfighting, was obliged to go along with them to the Las Ventas ring to act as the translator between the two.
Famous chef Anthony Bourdain shot the very first episode of his popular TV show “New Reservations” here in 2010 and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, during a whirlwind visit to Madrid, came for lunch. He liked it so much he returned for dinner but at American hours, that is, six in the afternoon, before catching the plane back to the States. He was very disappointed to discover that the kitchen did not open so early in Spain, but he did take a photo of himself in a suit of lights which forms a part of the Blazquez’s family treasures.
Angeles possesses the same charm and devotion to the family business as her great-uncle and father: I love what I do and I am determined to keep the doors to Casa Salvador open during these difficult times.
Highly recommended on the menu aside from the fried hake, and other fine fish and meat dishes are the cod fritters, pisto, revueltos (assorted scrambled egg dishes), cocido madrileño, rabo de toro, callos (tripe), and many enticing desserts, like the apple strudel.
C/ Barbieri 12, Madrid Tel: (+34) 91 521 45 24
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