DINING IN STYLE | GOURMET AND WINE AT THE RITZ MADRID

Tired after a day of museums and walking in the magnificent, enormous Parc Retiro where the Madrileños relax, talk and play, we entered the cool and peaceful Ritz Madrid. We received a warm welcome from the doormen who swept our bags inside and led us to the reception. The location could not be better. Positioned minutes by foot to the Prado, the Ritz is an icon. It was founded 100 years ago by King Alfonso XIII, who wanted to build a luxury hotel to rival the Ritz in Paris. He succeeded, and Orient Express, which now owns and manages it, has maintained the hotel as an opulent, old-world place worthy of the “Ritz” name.

Stepping out of reception through the circular marble, pillared foyer, we entered an elegant lounge lit by a resplendent glass chandelier. The opulent armchairs invited us to pause for a rest and to imagine that the Maharaja of Kapurthaler and his wife, a Spanish dancer, visitors to the Madrid Ritz in 1907, were joining us. Or would it be the Emperor of Japan or Prince Ranier and Princess Grace of Monaco, all patrons of the Ritz Madrid?

But I digress. It was time to refresh ourselves and change for dinner. That night we were to dine on the terrace in the warm evening air (it was still warm in Madrid). The menu was designed by Basque-born Jorge Gonzalez, formerly of the Crillon in Paris, and a selection of Spanish wines was provided by 2010 Gourmetour Sommelier of the year, Gemma Vela.

After a glass of fizz (Cava Pares Balta Brut Nature) we were presented with a consommé “sevigne”, first served at the Ritz in March 1912, which was accompanied by a dry sherry (Olorisa Tradición 30 años vors). The braised crayfish tails in cabbage leaves presented to Francois Mitterrand at a lunch at the Ritz in 1982 was now served in the tranquil surroundings, uplifted by the piano music softly playing. The dish was skillfully accompanied by an Albarino do Ferriera 2010. Next followed a hake loin in a crispy bread crust, green pepper nectar and Iberian Vinaigrette (2010) served with a Fuente Elvira Verdeja 2010 from Northern Spain. The beef tenderloin “centre Perigueux” was selected from a New Year’s Eve dinner in 1936 and for this Gemma Vela presented us with a Conde San Cristobel 2008 also from a vineyard north of Madrid in the area of Ribera del Duero.

We finished with crepe suzette first served in 1944, paired with a Pacharan Baines from Navarra. As a digestif, we sipped nothing less than an Andalucian Brandy Carlos I. It was a superb meal – the sommelier was unusually charming and skilled.

We retired to our room, slept the sleep of the sated, and woke up to a gourmet breakfast buffet, which shone for its selection of cold meats and fish. Well-rested and fortified, guidebook in hand, we were ready to take on the Prado.

Gourmet & Wine Tour from €555 per night, through Orient Express. The Leading Hotels of the World offers stays at Hotel Ritz Madrid from €259 per per night based on two people sharing. www.lhw.com