Rancho el Paso may sound like it’s a Mexican joint but it’s actually as Catalan as they come. Its somewhat misleading name comes from its location right by the station in La Floresta (just 20 minutes by FGC train from Plaça Catalunya) on the Pas de l’Estació. It opened back in 1964 as little more than a summer barbecue place that specialised in conill a la brasa (grilled rabbit) with lashings of vigorous alioli and has stayed in the same family ever since. The rabbit remains, both as their logo and their emblematic dish, but the place itself has evolved over the years into a large, comfortable restaurant with a faithful following of locals who flock for the hefty country cooking.
It’s no looker, and the amount of wood panelling, amateur oil paintings and brass knick-knacks would put your granny to shame, but all that is knocked into the shade by the dazzling greeting and service of the owner, Josep Maria. It’s hard to think, off the top of my head, of a more consistently welcoming, warm and knowledgeable host than this lovely man—the type of person who remembers your name, who always has lollies for the kids in his pockets and a joke for everyone.
Whether you go for the set lunch menus (€10.90 or €16.90) or à la carte, things start as they mean to go on with the complimentary appearance of a plate of embotits (usually some very nice fuet sausage), a bowl of olives, slices of toasted pa de pagès the size of bin lids and fresh tomatoes and garlic to rub on them. Don’t go too crazy though as you need to keep some room for the rest: starters include a circle of grilled artichoke halves with romesco sauce, a towering xató salad, plates full of yet more charcuterie, snails, wild mushrooms or a gut-busting soup of baby broad beans and cured ham. There are even calçots at the right time of year, served with great aplomb and large cotton bibs. Mains are even more merciless with, as you might have guessed, plenty of grilled meat (there is a token stab at fish and seafood but, really, why would you?). What makes the grill so good here is that they use the local Holm oak for fuel which imparts a wonderfully fragrant smokiness to everything it touches, making for out-of-this world chops, steaks and rabbit. Local specialities such as the escudella de la Floresta or the trinxat de Sant Cugat are all represented as are duck confit, beef with wild mushrooms and the lesser seen piggy parts such as tender trotters or cheeks. Desserts are large, heavy, eggy and traditional (crema catalana, flam, you know the score) but well executed and if it all gets too much then just take refuge in the extensive liqueurs list...
Rancho el Paso, Pas de l’Estació 15, La Floresta, tel. 93 674 3803, www.ranchoelpaso.com