The Spanish Civil War may have ended five years earlier, but in 1944 Barcelona was still recovering from the conflict. Franco’s budding dictatorship had put in place a complicated social and economic situation, while the city’s port – home to a humming underground black market – was rebuilding its fishing fleet, as fascist bombs had destroyed most of the boats during the war.
Amidst all this action and uncertainty, the Galician Millán family opened a restaurant named Carballeira on Reina Cristina Street, in the Pas de Sota Muralla neighborhood of Port Vell (Old Port). Fisherman and port workers flocked to the restaurant, where over fish soup, grilled sardines, prawns or a bowl of hearty Galician Caldo Gallego – and almost certainly a glass of wine – they talked about the situation.
A lot has changed from that time, but Carballeira is still there on Reina Cristina Street, one of the local institutions that has witnessed the port’s transformation over the last 70 years. And, like always, the restaurant still continues to serve its high-quality seafood, often to customers whose parents and grandparents were among is original patrons.
While the new owner is not a member of the Millán family, the restaurant still retains that family feel – in fact, the owner was a former customer who used to come here with his family as a kid. Carballeira played such an important role in his life that he decided to buy it in 2012 and preserve this family favorite, a restaurant whose appeal has spanned generations.
True to its roots, Carballeira’s menu revolves around excellent Galician seafood, complemented with recipes from Basque Country, products from the Bay of Biscay and, of course, Mediterranean ingredients and specialties. Although a few updates have been made to the interior, the nautical decor has stayed almost untouched, and a large portion of the waitstaff and the kitchen crew has worked at the restaurant for 30 or 40 years. Despite being a white tablecloth establishment, Carballeira exudes a sense of familiarity and casualness that’s best described as formal informality.
Carballeira’s menu revolves around excellent Galician seafood.
The real game changer was around seven years ago, when they decided to open up the kitchen. Now, customers can select their seafood at the fish counter and see the whole cooking process as waiters come and go in the open space. In addition to the bar seating in front of the kitchen, there are tables in the main rooms as well as discreet private rooms for a big group.
The seafood is pure satisfaction: shrimp from Vinaròs, a city on the coast between Barcelona and Valencia; mussels from the Ebro Delta; prawns from Palamós; cañaíllas (Bolinus brandaris); and hairy crabs, clams, razor-clams, oysters and barnacles from the Galician rocky coast.
The menu also includes Mediterranean rice dishes, from basic seafood paella to arroz a banda (rice with fish on the side) and lobster rice. If you want to eat like a regular, order the Caldo Gallego, a comforting vegetable and pork soup with greens, potatoes, carrots, lard and bacon or chorizo, or the always-exquisite kokotchas (cod cheeks, a Basque specialty). Of course, there are a few specialties for meat lovers, including steak and entrecote. The wine list now includes a larger range of local wines. To finish off a meal, we recommend either oreja de fraile, a delicate baked dough made with lard and topped with anise liquor, or cañitas, puff pastry with custard inside – both are traditional Galician recipes.
We can’t think of a better place to observe the steady beat of time and all the changes it brings than from the comfort of Carballeira, with a glass of Albariño wine and a seasonal seafood dish coming from the kitchen.