Interview with José González, Restaurante Botín: "Being the oldest restaurant in the world is a curiosity, but it doesn't justify our success".
On Calle Cuchilleros, just a few metres from the arch that gives its name to one of the most historic corners of Madrid's Plaza Mayor, we find a discreet façade with an even more discreet plaque that reads: "...".Guinness World Records certify that the oldest restaurant in the world is Restaurante Botín, which opened in 1725 and has been in operation ever since, even preserving the original 18th century wood-fired oven. Currently run by the González family”.
We meet José González, one of the directors and a member of the owner family, with whom we discover the present and past of Botín, its mark on gastronomy and on the city of Madrid itself. And their roast suckling pig, of which they are as proud as they are of their history.
/ How did your relationship with the Botín Restaurant begin? /
I belong to the second family that owns this restaurant. My grandparents arrived in the last century, around 1930, and after working in various places, they took over Restaurante Botín. My grandfather was a good cook from Villanubla, a village in the province of Valladolid, where he learned to make the roast suckling pig that is still our star dish today. We cook it the same way he did and we still make many of his recipes.
/ Nothing less than the oldest restaurant in the world /
We are infinitely honoured. This restaurant has been operating uninterruptedly, in the same place and under the same name. According to these three premises, the Guinness Book of Records says that we are the oldest restaurant in the world. From our point of view, it is still a wonderful curiosity. But it in no way justifies the restaurant's success. People come here for our suckling pig, for our simple and quality cuisine or for our roast lamb.
/ Has your restaurant changed over time / Has your restaurant changed over time / Has your restaurant changed over time / Has your restaurant changed over time?
That's right. As far as we know and as far as we have researched, at the time when this eating house began, in 1725, to eat meat you had to go and buy it from the butchers, and the same was done with fish. And in this very room where we are, people came with their meat and it was cooked here. But, in the end, people came in here, they were served, probably in a rougher way, they sat down and they were served food.
/ Has wine been important in the history of Botín / Has wine been important in the history of Botín / Has wine been important in the history of Botín?
Of course it is. In Botín, wine has been an important part of understanding the gastronomy of this house. My father and uncle used to say that you shouldn't laugh when a foreigner asks for a Coca-Cola with the suckling pig, although I think it's an aberration. Wine is the perfect accompaniment to our suckling pig.. A good red wine as well as a good white or rosé wine, the latter of which has recently been reviled but of which you can find some impressive wines.
Vivanco has done a lot for wine, and what's more, it makes very good wine..
/ Today, Botín is a witness to the history of Madrid. Are you doing anything to preserve it? /
Yes, spend a lot of money (laughs). We would like our restaurant to be declared "Patrimonio de la Madridianidad". Madridianity”. However, we have never had any support from the City Council. This is a very old building and often has structural deficiencies that we have to fix. We are continuously improving and conserving this heritage, which is very costly. Every year we have a building conservation cost of tens of thousands of euros.
Do diners come to eat or are they looking for another experience?
I think both. Personally, I would never go to eat somewhere because it was the oldest place in the world. I might see it, I might visit it, but I wouldn't eat there. The vast majority of our clientele are foreign tourists. We don't have many diners from Madrid, and we don't have many Spaniards. We are for everyone and we treat everyone exactly the same, wherever they come from. Many customers tell me that, after travelling around Spain for a month, this is the restaurant where they have eaten the best.
/ Have you told us what your favourite dish in the house is yet? /
And I will say more: my father told me that a client who was about to die asked for a Botín suckling pig as his last wish. He was so ill that they told the doctor, and the doctor allowed his wish to be granted.
/ Are there any fond memories you cherish where wine was around? /
I once had a table with Woody Allen and his producer, Santo Loquasto. Allen asked for wine, which he does very rarely. We have some wines that are made just for us and I had some bottles in the cellar. Woody Allen asked me for one of them, we opened it, I asked permission and we drank wine together. I'm a big Woody Allen fan and for me it's a nice memory with wine.