I entered El Lateral on Madrid’s Calle Velázquez armed with a list of dishes I had to order. The list had been handed to me the previous evening by my friend Pedro, a born-and-bred Madrileño. Pedro had looked me in the eye and said in his most charming Spanish-lilting English: “order exactly this food. It is absolutely the best. For the price, you cannot get better in Madrid”. Thank you Pedro, you were absolutely right.
El Lateral is not the family run, rustic or hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant that you might find in Seville or in a Madrid back street. This restaurant is most certainly fancy tapas. There are six outlets of El Lateral in Madrid and each restaurant is Stokholmesque in its minimalist decor. Everything in the Calle Velázquez restaurant is either black, white, wood or glass. It’s certainly sleek, but I liked it because it meant that the food and the people – a mix of trendy locals, workers and tourists – added to the colour.
The dining experience is energetic, with black-clad waiters whirling around the small tables with determined panache, keeping diners well attended and those queuing for a table well sustained with wine, beer or cocktails. You can’t make bookings at any El Lateral, but my two fellow diners and I only had to wait five minutes during the busy lunchtime period for a table.
We ordered in a matter of minutes, simply by handing over Pedro’s list to one of the whirling waiters. To our great delight the food lived up to the trendy surroundings. This is what we got.
Pincho de tortilla: A beautiful crisp potato shell and soft gooey centre. An individual take on the classic Spanish dish. 3.35 euros
Racion de croquetas de jamon (croqettes with ham): we thought we were croquetted out after having already eating tapas for lunch and dinner for five days straight, but this changed our mind. The perfectly crumbed exterior and an interior that was light on the cheese made it a great dish. 6.70 euros
Pincho de solomillo con cebolla (sirloin with caramelised onion): If my caramelised onions tasted as good as this, I could do a brisk trade selling jars of it at any London or Melbourne market. The onions were sweet, but with the right amount of kick to complement the perfectly cooked sirloin. 3.45 euros
Pincho Lateral (Iberia ham, tomatoes and olive oil): this looked a bit too much like Carpaccio (which I don’t like) to be appetising on sight, but the actual taste was very much of long and slow-cooked ham, perfectly mixed with fresh tomatoes. 3.35 euros
Pincho de salmon relleno de queso (rolled salmon stuffed with boiled ham, cheese and caramelised apple). I couldn’t recall ever having salmon and apple together before, but by gee it worked. The freshness of the ingredients really shone through in this tapas. 3.40 euros
Racion de albondigas (veal meatballs): this was our favourite dish, not because of the meat but because of the full-of-flavour sauce that lifted this tapas from good to amazing. If we had spoken better Spanish we would have hounded the chef to ask how it was created. 6.70 euros
Tarta de chocolate (chocolate tart): this was my least favourite dish, mainly because I like my chocolate rather bitter and this was more on the creamy side. Still great though. 4.20 euros.
Our meal for three people, two glasses of wine, two soft drinks and a sparkling water came to 55 euros. A relative bargain for the quality of the food and for a taste of trendy Madrid.
C/ Velázquez, 57. Madrid