I could probably order tapas at most bars in Madrid without needing to look at the menu. Without possessing any telepathic powers, I know it'll most likely feature pimientos de padrón, patatas bravas, jamón, queso, croquetas and tortilla de patatas.
Those of you reading from outside Spain are probably thinking, 'That sounds delicious! What's this moany English girl's problem?' Well, if you're a pescetarian, those Spanish staples become a bit boring after a while – you crave variety; foodstuffs that haven't been deep-fried.
Which is why Celso y Manolo is a bite of fresh produce, so to speak. This Chueca-based bar provides a wide range of innovative morsels and modern spins on those ever-present classics. With a menu the size of a page from a broadsheet newspaper (prepare to get arm-ache as you peruse), the trouble here won't be what can I eat, but what do I want when it all sounds so tempting?
|Beef tomato: One of Celso y Manolo's vegetarian options|
As one of the few recommendations from James Blick's top tapas bar feature for The Guardian I hadn't visited, I was keen to check out Celso y Manolo for myself. Arriving on a Friday evening around 9, Kim of Becoming Sevillana and I were lucky enough to snag a table before the hungry hordes (and sensible folk with a reservation) descended: booking is definitely advisable at weekends. The decor reflects the menu: the standard zinc-topped bar is a sleek marble number; those mournful glass-eyed bulls heads are replaced with wicker versions. Service was polite, friendly and multi-lingual, with guidance around the mega menu offered.
Divided into many sub-sections, you'll find all the Spanish goodies your palate desires on this menu. There's a focus on regional ingredients, so no matter whether your favourite dish is Andaluz or Catalan, Celso y Manolo is likely to have it covered. If ensaladilla (potato salad) is your thing, you'll get to choose between classic, with anchovies, with ventresca (tuna belly) or caviar; if you're hoping to taste some good paella in Madrid you'll get to choose from their arroces anárquicos featuring morcilla, churrasco and more. I was pleased to see a whole section devoted to Spanish tomatoes and another to cheese, while those for whom a tapas-fest wouldn't be complete without evidence that deep frying is alive and well will enjoy the 'fritos crujientes' selection, which includes rabas de calamar (squid) and croquetas de bacalao (given the Celso y Manolo spin with the addition of Málaga raisins, pine nuts and spinach). There's plenty of meat, too, with a choice of eco-friendly beef and lamb dishes, as well as a range of raciones featuring chorizo, morcilla and salchichón.
Prices for the various dishes average around the €8 mark, and portion sizes are around what I'd consider a media ración, based on what we had: a tortilla de bacalao, a chuletón de tomate and a cheese board. The tortilla (€6.50) was fluffy,delicious and clearly cooked to order; the flavour of the salt cod adding an interestingly flavoursome note. Rather than the usual fried onions, Celso y Manolo's take on the classic omelette recipe uses caramelized ones, and also features leek and peppers. Our half beef tomato (€8) was stuffed with a creative selection of fruit and veg, including avocado, papaya and mango: the flavours combined well rather than fighting with the tomato taste. Our cheese board was an off-menu improvisation by the waiter, allowing us to try a bit of the 6 cheeses on the list: sheep's cheese, goat's cheese, cow's cheese, Idiazabal, Ossau Iraty and gruyère. All of this was washed down with a couple of glasses of wine: although they serve a big choice by the bottle, including a number of Madrid wines, the by the glass selection is a bit more limited.
With reasonable prices given the quality of the ingredients, efficient service and a good atmosphere, Celso y Manolo is the perfect modern take on the classic Spanish tapas bar.
Celso y Manolo is at Calle Libertad 1 (metro Chueca).
Tel: 915 318 079
Open daily from 1–5pm & 7.30 pm–2am.