Photo by Patricia Esteve
El Vell Sarrià
What's for lunch - July
At 1.30pm on the Plaça del Consell de la Vila, the sweet smell of wood smoke already fills the air. It comes from the kitchens of El Vell Sarrià, a neighbourhood classic and one of the few restaurants left in Barcelona still cooking their arroces over a wood fire. In the summer it’s possible to sit outside on the terrace in the shade of the plane trees, but there’s something irresistible about the old-fashioned atmosphere within.
The dining room is a comfortable clutter of pretty lanterns sprouting out of antique polished dressers, and painted cornflower blue tiles match the plates and tablecloths. The ground floor room can seat 26 (there’s a fabulous round table in the window if you can get up a party of eight, and private rooms for groups upstairs), and there’s no music, just the unique kitchen orchestra of clattering crockery and cutlery.
The extensive, product-centric menu offers some truly great dishes like ensalada de bacalao con judias blancas, and patatas bravas con pulpo al estilo Gallego, but El Vell Sarrià is all about the rice, and for lunch nothing more is needed. Portions are hefty with recipes straight from the paella heartland: arroz ‘pelat’ con gambas y almejas al estilo de la Albufera (the paddies that surround Valencia, and where the most authentic of paellas can be found), and arroz de cazadores—a gamey rib-sticker best eaten in the dead of winter.
El arroz que me recuerda la fuente de “Can Guitard”, con gambas, costilla, sepia (Mar i muntanya) is the dish that made the joint famous, and looks like mud, wet and minerally with the leaves of artichokes; the rice grains are firm and textured. It is delicious, and a thousand miles from the marigold monstrosities that you see on the Ramblas. As my dining companion and author of a book named La Paella, Jeff Koehler, observed, “Where else in Barcelona would a restaurant dare to serve something that looked like this?”
El Vell Sarrià: Major de Sarrià 93. Tel. 93 204 5710. www.elvellsarria.com. €14.70 per person per portion of paella. Tue-Sat 1.30-3.30pm, 8.45-11pm. Sun 1.30-3.30pm