One day in late January I headed out to try a new restaurant only to have second thoughts upon arriving at the place. The menu, and the food I could see through the window, looked bland and uninspiring.
My friend Dan was running slightly late so we agreed to head in each other’s general direction from our respective locations and let serendipity decide where we’d try for lunch. As we converged I spotted an old favourite with some blackboards outside and decided to investigate further.
La Yaya Amelia (C/ Sardenya, 364, 08025 Barcelona, +34 934564573), very near La Sagrada Familia, has been around since 1976 and it was one of the first good restaurants I went to when I arrived in Barcelona 14 years ago. It was near my first flat and I was stunned enough by its traditional cooking to drag a succession of visitors through its doors. It had a Michelin bib gourmand in those days and its popularity was such that the owners decided to open a sister restaurant/deli around the corner to deal with the overspill.
Gradually I fell out of love with the place. It was never cheap and a few mediocre meals there, plus the blossoming of Barcelona’s restuarant scene over the last decade, meant that I simply stopped going. The cooking wasn’t consistent enough and I felt they were resting on their laurels or perhaps simply over-extended; whatever the problem, they were neither keeping pace with developments elsewhere nor paying enough attention to detail to distinguish themselves as a superior traditional restaurant.
I evidently wasn’t the only one who felt the same. La Yaya Amelia’s second dining room closed and the bib gourmand award quietly disappeared. It seemed destined to limp on as one of those fossilised traditional-but-unsistinguished restaurants so common in Spain, kept alive as long as their loyal but ageing customers kept returning but unlikely to ever attract new clients.
There never used to be a menú del día but when I approached the blackboards this time I saw that at least this one thing had changed since my last visit. A laminated printout promised a selection of some of the specialities I remembered, plus dessert but not including drinks or coffee, for €19.50. Not cheap but much more reasonable than the €40-50 a head the evening a-la-carte used to end up costing.
Going inside was like stepping through a time machine: the same staff, the same 70s decor and furnishings, the same bottles lining the walls. I love it, this unflinching and unbowing resistance to fashion that’s found in restaurants like this, as long as the food’s good enough to back up the bravado.
On this occasion it was. I didn’t take any notes so I’ll not comment on individual dishes but the overall experience was satisfying on a number of levels. The portions were gut-bustingly generous, perhaps even overly so, and the quality was excellent. There was nothing evenly remotely creative about any of it but sometimes, especially on cold days, you don’t want to be dazzled you just want to be fed really well.
Appetisers: Superb olives followed by fois gras with (I think) marrowbone jelly on toast
Starters: Goat’s cheese crotin with salad
Red bean and pig’s ear stew
Bacalau (salt cod) and potatoes au gratin
Plus a chocolate fondant of which I have no photos. We drank a pleasant if unremarkable bottle of Rioja Otoñal from Bodegas Olarra at, I think (no notes…) about €12.
Around us people were really, really enjoying their food. No posing, just eating with gusto. It’s the sort of place where people can come and eat alone order, order a whole bottle of Cava, unbutton their belt a notch and get stuck in before waddling off to a long afternoon of snoozing at their desk. It’s the kind of atmosphere, of cooking and of eating that represents pre-crisis life lived at a happier and more relaxed pace. I miss those days and I missed La Yaya Amelia. Maybe it never really went away, maybe it was just me, but either way I was very happy to get reacquainted with the old girl and I will be back soon, the next time the mood for a lazy lunch coincides with the opportunity. There are better places to spend your money in the evenings but the lunch menú is an indulgence worth the money and the siesta time you need to properly complete the experience.