Paella hunting, Valencia

Tuesday, 26 February 2013



I think I was prophesying things to come when I wrote a post on a Valenciana paella (Pie-yay-ah!) I tried out at Portobello Markets, London. That one was very good so I was pretty chuffed to be in the birthplace of Paella itself. Valencia, classically known for it's namesake orange is also where the humble paella has its origins. Never before has any rice dish had so much appeal!

La Pepica
This oldy worldy restaurant that specializes in paella (that's what I like to hear!) has been churning out these puppies since 1898. La Pepica sits pretty on the beach side, lining a boardwalk with dozens of other restaurants vying for your attention. Not only does La Pepica win in the longevity stakes, it is also the most famous Paella Restaurante in Valencia thanks to a Mr Ernest Hemingway who recommends La Pepica in his memoir The Dangerous Summer.

This place is a real riot. We arrived past 3:30 in the afternoon on New Year's Day and the place was still bumbling and chaotic in the most endearing way. Local families, sometimes up 14 people sat elbow to elbow with several generations at long tables. Glorious. Steeped in history, the walls are crammed with memories captured in black and white photographs and the waiters are dressed in bow tie & vests. It really couldn't be any other way. The floor and walls are a profusion of tile mosaics and the whole time I was thinking, 'museum'.

Paella marinara: prawns, scallops and squid. Sad to say this one was cumulatively very salty. The lemon was a tiny saving grace here. Because they were 'freshly' made i.e. in 20 minutes, they didn't have the valuable time needed to develop a socorrat, the elusive dark crust that signifies a good no, great paella. I was so willing it to be perfect but it was simply a matter of quantity not quality

Despite speaking next to none Spanish, there was a wonderful communal feel to this great hall of Spaniards (plus us). Amongst literally hundreds of diners the noise level was through the roof the entire time, waiters were dodging each with two paella pans apiece, there was a certain flourish and pride with which we were served. It put a smile on my dial ;)

Paella Valenciana: chicken with snow peas. This version was a lot better than the marinara in terms of salt levels. The chicken was lovely and tender. I was expecting a bit of rabbit in this one, thinking the Valenciana was a combination of the two meats. I was sorely mistaken!  Again, no socorrat in sight (what a shame)

Half a paella (each) later, did we still have room for dessert? Hell yes!

Degustación de Semifríos: everything about this dessert is screaming old school to me, the way the caramel is first swirled on the plate. This dish just oozes character for me.

Tortas Capuchina: a sponge soaked in sugar syrup and coffee. Despite appearances, it was lovely and light. I definitely had the need for a walk after this carb bonanza!

In Hemingway's words, "Dinner at Pepica's was wonderful". I tend to agree, in terms of atmosphere this place ticks all the right boxes. I mean, it's a century old restaurant still doing what it has always done. I think that deserves plenty of brownie points. On the other hand, if you're a stickler for perfection (like I am a lot of the time), you may be sorely disappointed by this paella because of the sheer volumes this kitchen pumps out. The good 75 minutes a paella should be cooked for is shorn in half. 

Frank Camorra, of MoVida (fame) puts in his 2c on the paella question. He recommends La Pepica but rates it second to L'Alter (15km SW out of Valencia) describing this one as "the best paella I've ever had". Bold words (pun intended). The name of the game here is a pre-ordered paella that has been rested and is ready when you arrive. This sounds a bit more like it. As they say, you can't rush the process. Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore this venue but it's surely staying on my list!

La Pepica Paseo de Neptuno 6 y 8, 46011 Valencia
L'Alter Ca Juliet 3, 46220 Piccasent (near Valencia)

Thanks for reading! xGourmand

7 comments:

  1. Viva paella!! And yes, I would have space for dessert like these too! :)

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  2. Oh my god it sounds absolutely amazing. And sometimes, not speaking the language is part of the fun especially when you feel so entirely included like that. Looks sooo yummy! x

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  3. Hello! Just saw your comment on Kinfolk - wouldn't it be wonderful if they come to Australia this year? I've been looking back through your posts, Spain sounds wonderful of course! We're watching Rick Stein's four-part series of Spain food and travels at the moment.

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    1. I liked that series by rick stein, his passion really shows!

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  4. Hi there! And thanks for your lovely comment on my blog. How lovely this all looks, I'd almost kill for that Paella right now (post training!) and a piece of that sponge soaked in coffee... Yum!

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