There is only one way to survive the late dining hours in Madrid (lunch at 3pm, dinner at 11pm), and that's, quite simply, to have six meals a day. Sleep in (nothing happens before 10am), have a late breakfast, stop for coffee and a pastry at 11am, stop again for a beer and pinchos ( little snack at 1pm) then have lunch at 3pm - or skip a sit-down lunch and just keep going. Then have a snooze, slowly wake yourself up with a drink or two at 9pm in various tapas bars, then get to your booked table by 10 or 10.30pm. If you're Spanish, you'll then go out to a few bars and end up having hot chocolate at 4am before heading home.
The places here aren't the best, or the most touristy, although some are the best of their kind, and some are touristy - they're my favourites, for all sorts of reasons.
Hotel Hesperia, Paseo de la Castellana 57 Tel 91 210 8840
The second restaurant of star chef Santi Santamaria, who has deep Catalan roots and a common sense, intelligent, refined approach to dining, rather unlike the brilliant but (for me) flawed experimental cooking of Ferran Adria's El Bulli. I loved this place; extremely civilised and comfortable, with truly exciting food that has great flavour. One of the most interesting cheese tables I've seen - and a very sympathetic sommelier.
Calle de la Reina Mercedes 12 Tel 91 554 77 84
A terrific business-like place with a great bar at the front where you can eat casually on good-looking seafood and drink Champagne. It's more serious out the back - all suits and low male voices - but a damn fine place for pulpo (octopus) and fish.
Calle de los Cuchilleros 17. Tel 91 366 42 17
I know it's touristy, but I've got to the stage when I have realised that some places are touristy simply because they are great, and you just have to put up with being surrounded by a few fellow tourists and go with the flow (after all, what are you?) I just love this place, one of the oldest restaurants in Madrid, all old wooden tables and lace in the windows, and rough-tough old retainer waiters carrying exquisite legs of oven-roasted lamb and tiny little suckling pigs. You have to start with gazpacho, for the event of the garnishes, and go on to something from the oven. And you have to stick your head into the oven room to see the glowing embers, the tiny little piglets, the rosy-cheeked chef, the whole medieval scene. Brilliant. Must book.
La Bola Taberna
Calle de la Bola 5 Tel 91 547 69 30
Another great favourite, a real neighbourhood place with big tables of carousing locals as well as lots of tourists. Good luck if you can get into the exquisite front room by the kitchen where Ava Gardner used to take her bull-fighters - I haven't had that honour yet. Have the cocido because you just have to - chickpeas, soup, over-cooked meats and all, but it's a real scene.
Calle de Manuel Fernandez y Gonzalez 3 Tel 91 429 58 33
A very handy little place to know about, just off the Plaza Santa Ana where all the tapas bars are. You can go relatively early and eat outside, or go late and stand at the bar. Good seafood and deep-fried things.
Plaza de Santa Ana 6 Tel 91 429 43 56
A great-looking bar deep in tapas territory. Get the Hemingway table by the window and stay for hours.
Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo de San Gines, 11 Calle del Arenal Tel 91 365 65 46
It doesn't look much, stuck up the end of a dodgy alleyway not far from Puerto del Sol but omigod, the chocolate. Ask for it ‘completos' with crisp, golden twists of churros, and try to stop at one dunk, or two, or thirty. It's a ridicululously smooth, rich, dark, not too sweet chocolate elixir, and it really does revive and invigorate after a good drinking bout. Or before. Or during.
Paseo de la Castellana 57 Tel 91 210 88 00
A chic boutique hotel close to the business district, with a really nice bar (great Campari!) and modern, comfortable without being tizzy, rooms. Best bit: The Santceloni restaurant in the basement.
The Bar at the Palacio Real Hotel - such rude, slow waiters.
Teatriz: Dated-looking modernity, not much happening.
Plaza Mayor: Great place to hang out in, but don't stop to eat, just have a drink.
Kitsch Postcard from Puerto del Sol
Madrid - deep-fried anchovies and lemon
Madrid - Puerta de Europa twin towers
Madrid - Plaza Mayor