by Ben Curtis
Rafe Jaffrey has lived and worked in Madrid for over a decade, and is the best Indian cuisine chef in the city (I’ve eaten his food, so I know what I’m talking about!) If you want to try his food for yourself, he will happily cater for private dinner parties or professional events – contact Rafe at (+34) 687 581 893 or jaffrey[at]madrid[dot]com. Meanwhile, seeing as he is something of an expert on the matter, we asked Rafe to give us the run down on the Indian restaurant scene here in Madrid:
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone say that they can’t find a decent Indian restaurant in Madrid. Compared to London, NY or, of course, the subcontinent, it is certainly true that the quality here leaves a lot to be desired. Because of the lack of historic ties between Spain and India (together with the Spanish near phobia of hot food) it is easy for Indian restaurants to become lazy and serve food that is too mild and unauthentic. This is epitomized by the “one sauce fits all” approach in which the only way to distinguish different dishes that arrive at your table is by asking the waiter which is which!
That being said there are a few restaurants in Madrid that are worth checking out. At the economy end try the curry houses in Lavapies. These are a relatively new addition to Madrid, are mostly Bangladeshi owned and run, and are not bad considering the price – although I wish they wouldn’t put sugar in food to stop it from being too hot for Spanish palates: just use less chilies guys! Mojoraj and Rajamahal in Calle Ave Maria (map) are good examples as is Baisakhi in Calle Lavapies (map). Moving up the price scale Guru in Calle Echegaray (map) offers pretty good food at reasonable prices and their Naan bread and Chicken Tikka are worth trying. Other restaurants worth mentioning are Delhi in Calle Duque de Osuna (map) and Taj in Calle Marques de Cubas (map) which serve food of a generally good standard. Bombay Palace in Calle Fernan Gonzalez (map) is also building up a following of fans.
The latter first: Although elegantly decorated, especially the Moghul room downstairs, Mumbai Masala is just far too expensive (around €45 per person) for what it offers. Considering that most of the ingredients for Indian food are as cheap as chips (even here in Madrid) there’s really no justification for charging such high prices. Even their tapas bar next door is way too pricey and sort of defeats what is essentially a good idea. I know there are rich Madrileños willing to pay through the nose but aficionados of Indian food are always going to resent it because although the food is good, it’s not that good!
So where does that leave us? Is Anapurna alone at the top of the mountain of quality? Sadly no. Although it can claim to be the first quality Indian restaurant in Madrid and is also very elegant, its problem is that it has not moved with the times. Apart from the fact that the food is too mild, its dishes have really passed their time. What the owners need to do is to take a trip to London (for instance) and check out the latest trends in Indian food there. The award winning Benares restaurant would be a good place to start.
Finally I would like to make an appeal to Spanish speakers and Indian restaurants alike not to use the word “Hindu” to refer to Indian food, but instead “comida de la India”. Hinduism is a religion and there are many citizens of India who are also Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains etc. There are many Hindu communities who are not from India but from places like Bali and Thailand and have their own food, and numerous Indian dishes originate from outside India, for instance Tandoori chicken and Naan bread, which come from Afghanistan. I know it might seem like nit picking to mention it but would the Spanish like their cuisine referred to as “Catholic food”? I don’t think so. So, all in all, the range on offer here in Madrid is not that great, but hopefully as the Spanish become more discerning about Indian food things will improve.”