Why Platea Madrid, Spain’s Best Cafeteria, Is Europe’s Most Interesting Eatery

Since opening last spring, the theater-turned-food spectacle has become an international destination.
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Since opening last spring, the theater-turned-food spectacle has become an international destination.

There are plenty of great restaurants in Madrid – the offal at Virdiana comes to play – but the hippest place to grab a bite isn’t a restaurant at all. Platea Madrid is more of a cafeteria, but it’s also a theater and a bar and pretty much anything else you want it to be. Right now, that makes it possibly the most interesting eatery in Europe this side of noma.

Referred to (by people with a very specific frame of reference) as the “Eataly of Spain,” the cinema-turned-food court is spread out – like a tapenade on pan rustico - over four floors and 60,000 square feet. No, it isn’t just a specialty food stores with copious seating and a marketing team. The experience on offer is both more and less cohesive than anything available in New York. Gourmands can arrive together and have completely different experiences. Inside the airy confines, roughly two dozen establishments vie for the attentions of visitors’ taste buds. The dishes on display hail from Italy, Peru, Mexico, and Japan. The jamon comes from Salamanca and Seville.

Not to belabor the point, but there is a lot of jamon. It’s still Spain after all and this is – if you drill down on it – tapas taken to its logical extreme.

In a sense, Platea is a sort of battle royale between culinary heavyweights. The chefs operating businesses in the Serrano Street destination, including Paco Roncero (famous for Casino do Madrid), Marcos Morán (famous for Casa Gerado), Pepe Solla (famous for Casa Solla), and Ramón Freixa (famous for Ramón Freixa), have six Michelin stars between them. Diego Cabrera, the best known cocktail theorist on the Iberian Peninsula, serves elaborate drinks from behind the La Cabrera bar as aerialists perform and a live band plays on the stage overlooking the group debauch.

And, no, the aerialists aren’t a gimmick. The smoking club isn’t a gimmick. Platea is intended to be a spectacle. That’s the damn point. With all the options and all the languages and all the drinks, it’s a point well taken.