Review: Elche, Barcelona Spain

In a country where every street will boast at least two restaurants geared towards tourists advertising paella for 14 Euro per person, it’s hard to know what’s genuine and what’s not. The best indicator is the size of the pan they use – do they use a pan large enough for paella for 20 people? In those cases, you know for certain that the paella is never freshly made to order, as they just pre-prepare large batches and dish it out once people order it.

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I was determined to have a more genuine paella experience, and so spent some time researching Barcelona paella restaurants. One name kept popping up – Elche. While many people acknowledged that it wasn’t the cheapest restaurant around, it was held up as an affordably-priced traditional paella restaurant where all dishes are freshly cooked to order. That was good enough for me!

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K and I went along to Elche one afternoon for lunch, and were seated right by the window in a restaurant that was much fancier than I had originally anticipated. Still, for a casual fine dining restaurant, the prices on the menu weren’t quite as extravagant as I thought they would be.

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We started our meal with a bottle of sparkling water to share. The Vichy Catalan is the local Catalonian brand of sparkling water, and even the bottle proclaims its status as a product of Catalonia. The mosaic effect on the bottle is reminiscent of the colourful mosaic tiling (trencadis) that can be found all over Barcelona, most notably on the famous Sagrada Familia.

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The complimentary starter at Elche is a foie gras mousse, served with slices of baguette. The soft foie gras was quite strong and livery, and won’t be to everyone’s taste. I thought it was quite delicious and more-ish though, and the only missing element was some crackled black pepper to top it all off.

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A few different breads were delivered to our table to accompany the meal, but as much as I wanted to rip into them (freshly baked at a local bakery), I wisely decided to wait until we got our mains so as not to spoil my appetite. This ended up allowing me to use the bread to sop up the paella sauce and oil left on my plate, which just enhanced the fresh bread and really took it to the next level.

Verduras de temporada a la parrilla con langostinos, $8.90
Verduras de temporada a la parrilla con langostinos, $8.90

We shared an entrée – a Chargrilled Vegetable Platter with Prawns. Disappointingly, there were only four prawns offered on the plate, so we only got two small prawns each. Also disappointingly, the tomato was a little bit rotten inside and was in the process of going black, so we ended up just leaving that on the plate. The grilled eggplant and zucchini was excellent, but not enough to justify ordering the whole dish. I probably wouldn’t order this again.

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If I could order this tapenade that came with the vegetable platter by itself though, I would! This tomato and olive tapenade was ridiculously more-ish in its saltiness and went well not just with the vegetables but even by itself on a bit of bread as well. There was real depth of smoky flavour in the tapenade, as though the ingredients had been roasted beforehand.

Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada, 16.40 Euro per person (min two people)
Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada, 16.40 Euro per person (min two people)

The piece de resistance of any meal at Elche is the paella though, and we had the Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada – a chicken and seafood paella (without shells). Unfortunately, you only get this not very picturesque photo, as I was much too slow with my camera and didn’t get a shot of the beautiful paella in its pan when the waiter brought it out for our inspection.

For the record, this is how the process works at a ‘proper’ paella restaurant: 1) order your paella (always a minimum of 2 people); 2) kitchen prepares and cooks the paella; 3) waiter brings it out to the table for your inspection; 4) waiter takes the pan away and dishes out the paella onto plates for you. So contrary to what we would normally expect, the paella pan is never actually left on the table for you – it’s always taken away and served onto plates!

For what it’s worth, the paella was quite delicious with super tender chicken thigh pieces and a good range of tender seafood. I did feel that it was missing something though to help lighten what was otherwise a very heavy dish – perhaps more herbs to add a lighter flavour, or even more peas which would have helped to give a fresh burst with every mouthful. That’s the only thing I would change!

Overall, I would suggest Elche as a good genuine paella restaurant in Barcelona. Non-paella dishes (entrees) seem to be a bit hit and miss, but the paella is pretty special and a much better option than any of the usual street-side paella restaurants. Here, you know that your paella is specially cooked to order for best results!

Elche is located at 71 Carrer de Vila i Vilà, Barcelona.

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