I went to Spain a couple of months ago, with my son, and we arrived very late in Madrid. We looked around for somewhere to eat…. and it must have been late because everywhere was shut. I thought we might have some luck at the Mercado de San Miguel, but it was in darkness when we got there (it had closed much earlier than the advertised time). We’d just managed to find a 24 hour grocery and were disconsolately returning to our flat to make a quick pasta when we found, there on our doorstep, an open café.

We went in, ordered a couple of beers, and a selection of tapas. Reader, we were tired! We sought comfort. And of all the tapas spread before us the one that did the business was the patatas bravas.

These are not authentic patatas bravas – although everyone has their own way of cooking these spicy Spanish spuds – so there’s some discussion as to what exactly is authentic. My version is milder, and more like those that we ate with relief and relish, exhausted, at 2.00 in the morning.

We ate these with cold beer, but they would also go very well, as I discovered later, with a cold, dry sherry.

And you don’t, of course, have to eat them as a tapas – they would also go well, for example, with steak. Or with baked sea bream and middle-eastern carrots. Or, as Rosie Sykes suggests in The Sunday Night Book, with a fried egg.


Recipe for 2.00 am comforting patatas bravas


For 4


  • 600g/1lb 5 oz/approx. 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 120 ml/½ cup red vermouth
  • ½ tsp sweet paprika plus another sprinkling
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Olive oil – liberal amount – for frying
  • Mild chorizo – approximately 5cm/2” – optional
  • 1-2 tbsps mayonnaise
  • Fresh chopped herbs of your choice (I quite like an earthy sage)


  1. Cut potatoes into bite-sized, walnut-sized pieces, and, together with the onion, fry gently for about 50 minutes. If you are using the chorizo, chop into dice, and add about halfway through the cooking.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the mayonnaise, and simmer (either on the hob, or in the oven – which produces a slightly less greasy result) for another 20 minutes or so.
  3. Stir in the mayonnaise if using.