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I confess to a slight obsession with paella. For years I’ve thought about doing a story whereby I travel the length and breadth of the country tracking down the best and most authentic paella in the world, but of course I never got around to it and now Jeff Koehler has written the book (La Paella, Chronicle Books) and so I’m back to randomly musings about it.
You can read all about El Vell Sarrià in the July issue of the magazine so I won’t bang on about that. Suffice to say they do a truly great paella and it’s about the only place left in Barcelona that still cooks over wood fires so the resulting rice is sticky, rich and the colour of mud, but tastes delicious.
Thing is, up in Sarrià you don’t get to sit by the sea, and although purists would say you shouldn’t be anywhere near the sea in the first place, but in the middle of the countryside under an olive tree with a light breeze ruffling your hair, I do rather like the sea. And so, I reckon with a little help from my friends i.e. you, we can nail this.
Can Majó (C/ Almirall Aixada 23, 93 221 5455) is an obvious one, but it is reliable and consistent and most of all you’ve got to love that cornflower blue picket fence they use to contain people on the terrace. For your basic paella marisco it’s as good a place as any on the beach. At least I used to think that until a friend took me to Villoro.
Villoro (Paseo Juan de Borbón 73, 93 221 4804) is as ordinary as they come, a place where they go all out to put you off by advertising their wares though shiny, technicolor photographs of calamari rings and other dubious looking tapas that anyone with half an ounce of sense would avoid. I think I went there eight years ago for a caña.
When I finally got around to eating there it knocked me for six with the brilliance of it. I went on and on to friends about the mountainous portion of arròs negre thick with ink and alioli, and then went back a week later for paella, also superb. Both had plenty of heart, and were served with a healthy dose of cynical grumpiness. The madam rules with an iron fist, and the hen-pecked waiter, I’ve come to realise, cheers considerably if you ask him for a little amor as my friend the Swedish giant did. They got on famously after that. Oh, they also have their own band, who perform on the terrace once a year.
Nearby there’s Kaiku (Plaça Mar 1, 932 219 082), which is practically an icon by now thanks to carefully crafted, top-notch cooking, and a great value daytime menu. Chef Hugo is a creative sort and so it’s impossible to get anything bog standard there, which is of course a good thing, except that generally, though not always, when I’m in the market for paella I’m after something a bit more traditional. Their smoked rice creation with artichokes and wild mushrooms, wonderful as it is, is something I want a couple of times a year not every Sunday.
Years ago I went to Elche (C/Vilà i Vilà 71, 93 441 3089) in Poble Sec, which was good but the service was so miserable I never went back. Perhaps it’s something to do with paella restaurants? Perhaps it’s time to go back?
For now then, my favourite goes to Villoro. And yours? TS