19 Jan Peak harmony: La Vaqueria Montañesa in Madrid
To live in harmony with the landscape and the community links us to a deeper essence in life. Deluz y Companía, the Cantabrian restaurant group with four restaurants in Madrid and another four in the Cantabrian capital of Santander, promotes just that: harmony with the landscape and the community.
At the Monocle Conference in Madrid in 2019
I first met Lucia and Carlos Zamora, the sister and brother duo behind Deluz y Companía, at the Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Madrid in 2019. They were on stage to talk about ‘Why Eating Together Matters’.
About a third of the group’s staff are from social inclusion projects. “If you give people an opportunity, then 90 per cent if not more of the time they take it,” Carlos told the conference participants. “Give them a lot of training, support, confidence, and they can go from washing dishes to managing a restaurant.”
On my way to the Sierra de Gredos in 2023
With the Monocle Conference at a close, I dropped in at what has become my favourite Deluz y Compania restaurant in Madrid, La Vaqueria Montañesa. I also had a morning coffee and cake at Café Angélica, where they toast their coffee by hand at the back of the store.
Revisiting the Spanish capital in January 2023, on my way to the Sierra de Gredos – a mountain range two hours away, near Avilà – I ticked off the remaining two Deliz y Companía establishments in town: Tasca Celso y Manolo and Taberna La Carmencita, both in the Chueca district.
Tascas and tavernas are about sharing small plates of food in traditional surroundings: strings of dried chilies and bulls’ heads made from esparto grass in Celso y Manolo and the colourful flourish of design on the Spanish wall tiles in La Carmencita.
Yes, the food was good at both, but I prefer the more open, airy and light, and paired-down aesthetic surroundings, of La Vaqueria Montañesa.
Finding cool in La Vaqueria, the milking shed
Translate La Vaqueria Montañesa and it means the ‘mountain shed where the cows are milked’. There are nearly 1,200 mountains in Cantabria, rising to nearly 2,700 metres at Torre de Cerredo (twice the height of Scotland’s Ben Nevis).
Like at Deluz y Companía’s other restaurants, the seafood at La Vaqueria Montañesa comes from the Cantabrian coast, many of the vegetables and fruit from the lush lands between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian mountains, and the beef from the Siete Valles de Montaña organic cooperative in Cantabria, with Lucia and Carlos among the founders.
The large black-and-white portraits are pinned on the restaurant walls. They strike poises as intense as any Marlboro-man cowboy (or vaquero in Spanish). The mirrors were designed for Hermes in the 1950s. And the off-white walls and the wooden Finnish tables, with an Alvar Aalto connection, all add to the clean aesthetics, punctuated by the turquoise of the ceramic plates made by French producer, Jars.
Despite the 4o°C/104°F outside, La Vaqueria Montañesa was refreshingly cool and light that day. The doors open to the quiet street of Blanca de Navarra. We had rolled along at 2pm. The tables only started to get busy at 3.30pm, a typical time for lunch in Madrid, especially on a Saturday.
What we ate at La Vaqueria Montañesa
We started with an appetiser of vegetable paté & thin, toasted sourdough bread. And then…
Followed by rabas de Santander – a local, Cantabrian dish made of strips of deep-fried squid in batter. And then…
The puddings included homemade ice creams, chocolate tart and tiramisu. Pure comfort food.
Places to visit nearby include:
- The Norman Foster Foundation (see images below).
- The flagship store of Ecoalf, the Madrid sustainable clothing brand, famous for using recycled fishing nets.
- Serrano Street is Madrid’s main luxury shopping street. It is home to CASA LOEWE, the flagship store of this famous Spanish luxury brand.
Coffee & Vitality at Café Angelica
Café Angèlica is a small café on a reasonably busy road where the district of Malasaña becomes that of Conde Duque. The café was previously home to the first herbalist in Madrid – hence the name, angelica, as in the herb. They still sell herbs and spices, as well as tea, and the original wooden shelves and counter remain.
During my 2019 visit, we had organic coffee from Guatemala with a slice of Cantabrian sponge cake. For my next visit, I had a cup of Vitality herbal tea, made with dried ginkgo biloba, peppermint and rosemary leaves. Both times I left feeling in harmony, with my surroundings, with Madrid, the world, the cosmos.
Places to visit nearby:
- Galeria Blanca Berlín: one of my favourite art galleries in Madrid. It looks over the square linking Limon street with the Conde de Duque arts centre. Also an easy walk away from the Liria Palace, home to the Dukes of Alba.
- Hijo de Epigmenio: a lovely little shop for buying Spanish craft, from ceramics to soap and bags. Perfect for presents.
And for my next visit to Madrid? Possibly back to La Vaqueria Montañesa.
During Covid, Deliz y Companía launched a small supermarket chain, El Super de los Pastores (the supermarket of the shepherds). The aim was to provide small producers with an outlet for their produce. Currently there are four stores across Madrid – for those looking for a more conscious experience of buying food.