See what it’s like to eat at Botin in Madrid, the oldest restaurant in the world.
“We lunched up-stairs at Botín‘s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.“
– Ernest Hemingway | The Sun Also Rises
If you want to understand the lure of the oldest restaurant in the world, Botín in Madrid, you only have to go as far as Hemingway’s pen. To the left, just past the front dining room, stands a group of shelves in the center of a moorish-tiled kitchen. On those shelves, pre-cooked suckling pigs sit in neat little rows waiting for their turn in a tiled wood burning oven otherwise known as a horno.
The word horno can be used to describe the restaurant as well as its oven. People have gathered at oven-based gathering spots for centuries and a restaurant like Botín is a testament to the longevity of simple meat-based cookery.
Beyond Hemingway, many historical icons have eaten at Botín including Frederick Forsyth, Graham Greene and James Michener. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the adolescent Francisco Goya was employed at Botín as a dishwasher in 1765. Additionally, the very same Guinness Book certified Botín as as the world’s oldest restaurant. It’s official!
So how did this culinary legend begin?
Yes, Botín Really Is Old
The multi-story building that houses Botín functioned as a coach house in the late 1500s. It was right about that time that Madrid experienced a massive period of growth that eventually led to the city becoming Spain’s capital.
In the 1700s, an eventual tide of tradespeople arrived in Madrid to service the influx of royalty who would come to call the city home. Along with them, an ambitious French chef named Jean Botín and his wife arrived from France looking for work.
We can assume that Botín achieved his goals by cooking for the nobles. We can also assume that Botin garnished enough of a reputation to create a name around town. The chef’s nephew (on his wife’s side) cashed in on that name by opening Sobrino Botin (literally meaning Botin’s nephew) in 1725.
Back then, since it was illegal to sell food in public places, patrons brought their own cuts to the inn where they could be cooked in Botín’s oven. Once Botín started to sell its own meats to customers, the historic restaurant’s reputation grew and it became a full-fledged public tavern in the 19th century.
Later, in the early 20th century, the restaurant ended up in the hands of the González family. Today, it’s run by that family’s third generation.
What To Expect At Restaurant Botín
We’ve spoken to friends who’ve expected more from Botín. Maybe they would have preferred dishes that were more conceived or sophisticated. But, to us, the beauty of the Botín experience, despite its formally attired waiters, lies in the menu’s simplicity.
You’ll quickly notice tha Botín isn’t about a brigade of chefs or plates adorned with flowers. Yet, it’s very possible that besuited power brokers could be making deals at a nearby table while munching on crispy lechon and sipping wine from Priorat. In many ways, this restaurant is to Madrid what an expense account steakhouse is to New York City.
Be Like Hemingway – Order The Suckling Pig
Roasted suckling pig, a/k/a lechon asado, is the main attraction at Botín – it’s the dish that the restaurant has been serving for centuries. We ate lechon asado during both of our meals. Each time, the flesh was fatty and tender while the skin was crisp. Eating the famous dish more than satisfied our carnivorous desires while pairing nicely with the red wines we ordered – first one from La Rioja and the next from Ribera del Duero.
A Menu Filled With Madrileno Classics
Botin’s menu has an inordinate number of Madrid food favorites including jamón Ibérico de bellota, anchoas con pimientos (i.e. anchovies with pimentos), croquetas (i.e. croquettes), calamares fritos (i.e. fried calamari), gambas al ajillo (i.e. garlic shrimp), revueltos (i.e. Spanish scrambled eggs) and callos a la Madrileña (i.e. stewed tripe).
We ordered the tripe during our first lunch – it was well prepared, flavorful and tender which is all we ask for when we eat the offal. We tried more dishes during our second visit including excellent croquetas and tasty artichokes. The golden brown croquettes were filled with creamy, luscious bechamel and the artichokes, which were cooked with Iberico jamon, had a simple yet verdant porkiness.
But Botín is a roast meat house and that’s what diners shouldn’t miss.
You can eat roast lamb at Botín and we did that too. The slender leg of lamb was good though not great. It had gamey lamb flavor but its less tender texture paled in comparison to the pork. We also shared tarta de queso prepared with ‘Grandma’s recipe’. The decadent cheesecake was reminiscent of gateaux basque but oozed like a brie de meaux.
While eating at Botín, it’s easy to imagine that you’re Hemingway who supposedly sat against the restaurant’s walls as he observed the lechons roasting in Botin’s ancient oven. Apparently, “he thought everyone was after him—the IRS, the FBI, jealous husbands.” If you’re lucky, you can sit in the same spot without such concerns.
How To Eat At The Oldest Restaurant In The World
The first time we dined at Botín, we sat downstairs and ordered a few dishes. The second time was different – we enjoyed a three-course lunch upstairs and a private peek inside the restaurant’s 16th century wine cellar as part of a Madrid Prado Museum Tour & VIP Botin Lunch with Devour Tours. Yes, the wine cellar is even older than the restaurant.
Limited to just seven guests and led by a local expert, this tour is a great way to accomplish two of Madrid must-do’s in one shot. It’s also a lot of fun. You can book a tour here.
Botín is located at C. de Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Guinness Book of Records has recognized Botín as the oldest restaurant in the world. The restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1725.
Botín opened in 1725.
Despite its historic status, Botín is moderately priced. Expect to spend between 50€ to 100€ per person depending on how much you order.
No. Tipping is optional in Spain.
Botín doesn’t have a dress code. Most guests including us were dressed in a style best described as smart casual.
Depending on where you’re located in Madrid, you can walk or you can take a bus, car share, taxi or the metro.
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: November 30, 2022