Traveling through Europe is akin to connecting with antiquity. To visiting monuments and exposing yourself to the remnants of past centuries. That’s why we call it the Old World. This type of tourism is not limited to geographic exploration, but also to culinary adventures. A great example of this is Botín Restaurant in Madrid, Spain.
Founded in 1725 and better known as Casa Botín or Sobrino de Botín (Botín’s cousin), this establishment holds the title of the oldest restaurant in the world. Its atmosphere and its cuisine do reflect centuries of tradition.
The World Before Botín
To speak of Botín, we must first go back to the past and verify the validity of the milestone it represents. Locations where customers could eat and drink outside their homes have existed since our earliest civilizations. During China’s Song Dynasty, travelers to the ancient Chinese capital of Kaifeng frequented places enabled to serve food and drink to passing clientele. Ancient Rome and Greece had thermopolia, street hubs where citizens could buy cooked food. Thermopolium remains can be found among the ruins of Pompeii.
Our current concept of the restaurant comes from France. During the 18th century, the country popularized luxury establishments that served beef and egg broth to restaurer or revitalize their guests. The Grand Taverne de Londres or English Tavern, founded in Paris in 1786, is considered by many to be the first modern restaurant.
Challenging the Title
Meanwhile, in Spain, French chef Jean Botin and his Asturian wife arrive in Madrid with dreams of serving a noble of the Hispanic Monarchy. Both opened a business in the vicinity of the Plaza del Arrabal, now Plaza Mayor. Unfortunately, Botin and his beloved passed away without leaving any heirs. Thus, in 1725 one of the wife’s nephews remodeled the premises at Calle Cuchilleros and opened an inn with a cast-iron wood-fired oven.
Over time, Botín’s famed cuisine transformed it from an inn to a place of food, then formally into a restaurant at the hands of Amparo Martín and her husband, Emilio González. No other establishment of its kind from its time remains open. (The English Tavern closed its doors permanently in 1825.) Thus, in 1987 the Guinness Book of World Records committee declared Casa Botín “the earliest restaurant” still running.
In addition to Guinness, Forbes magazine highlighted Botín Restaurant in 2012 on its list of 10 Great Classic Restaurants Well Worth Visiting. Likewise, Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism awarded Botín with its “Golden Plaque for Tourism Merit” in 2008.
Halls That Witnessed History
The heirs of the González family proudly continue the Botín Restaurant tradition today, with plenty of reasons to justify that pride. A lunch or dinner at any Botín table is a trip back in time. Its iron lamps and porcelain slabs preserve the atmosphere of its time as an inn. The use of wood and brick emulates the architecture of a pre-Columbian maritime port. The paintings and engravings within illustrate the evolution of both the restaurant and the city that surrounds it.
Botín’s four floors have been witnessed to world history and the evolution of art. Legend has it that Francisco de Goya, he of La maja desnuda fame, scrubbed dishes in the Botín kitchen in his youth. The premises remained open during the Spanish Civil War as a militia dining hall. Spanish writers such as Benito Pérez Galdós, Ramón Gómez de la Serna and Indalecio Prieto were frequent customers and often mentioned Botín in their works. They are joined by English-speaking authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsyth and Ernest Hemingway.
The vivacious Hemingway is a special case, since he visited Botín on each trip to Spain and even became friends with owner Emilio González. Such was Hemingway’s love for Botín that he immortalized it in two of his most important novels, Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also Rises.
Tales of Flavor
As Botín has endured through the years, so has its traditional Castilian menu changed very little in the past three centuries. It’s as if the flavors tell their own stories on the palate of its visitors.
Botín’s roast suckling pig and lamb, clams in special sauce, Iberian loin of acorn, skewered fish and pitchers of sangria stand out among its offerings. The winery shelters a wide variety of Spanish wines, many from La Rioja. Any feast at Botín deserves the finishing touch of a cup of coffee, a piece of white chocolate cheesecake or the popular Botín cream layer cake.
Food enthusiasts can enjoy this and more at the hands of exceptional waiters of the old guard. The staff strives for the comfort and satisfaction of its customers from start to finish. Everyone there works with precision and a go-to attitude under the philosophy established by Amparo and Emilio decades ago: hospitality, excellence and good customer service. Values passed on to González’s children, grandchildren and all the staff who share the privilege to serve you at Botín Restaurant.
Now, Some Tips
Get There Early
Even though you made a reservation at a specific time, your table might be available if you arrive before your time. That way, you’ll have more time to roam the halls and enjoy the details..
Fun fact: Botín’s old wine cellar was remodeled for dining guests. Ask to be seated at the cellar when you arrive or book your reservation. Its brick arch makes it the room with the most ambience.
A great way to finish your meal is with a cup of coffee accompanied by a slice of White Chocolate Cheesecake or the popular Tarta Botín dessert.
Where to Find It
Calle Cuchilleros 17, 28005 Madrid, España
+34 913 664 217 • +34 913 663 026