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When the neighborhood of Horta (meaning “vegetable garden”) was still just a village, it was known for its abundant streams and the bountiful vegetable farms that drank for those waters. It juts up against Collserola Natural Park, a large green space in the northern part of the city, from the top of which one can enjoy incredible views of the city.

Behind Barcelona’s skyline, the sea slopes beyond the horizon, far in the distance. But thanks to Horta, there’s no need to be waterside when looking for great fish and seafood dishes. The former village’s authentic fish corner, El Racó del Peix, is the neighborhood go-to for amazing dishes direct from the market.

Arturo Garzón and María José Millán are partners in both life and business, each with a long history in the market of Montserrat in the Nou Barris neighborhood. There, Arturo’s family has owned a fruit and vegetable stall for three generations. María José, meanwhile, comes from four generations of fishmongers. Her family’s market stall, Pescados Angelita, is currently run by her father, José Millán.

Arturo and María José tell us that, after many years of building relationships with customers from the restaurant industry, they started to visualize a restaurant project of their own. The opportunity arrived in 2017, when they took over what is now El Racó del Peix (“the fish corner”). “Of course we knew the products very well, but it was a very different business, and at the beginning it was really difficult for us to learn the ropes and find a good team,” they explain. These days, the restaurant is like their fourth child. The two decided to jump headfirst into the adventure, with the objective to provide only the best to the neighbors of Horta. “We are out of Barcelona’s whirlwind, and [most of our customers are] neighbors, so we need to really take care of our clientele. Our customers come very frequently to eat the lunch menu and during busy weekends and special events, we have to be careful…we really try to never fail our clientele.”

The restaurant is located in an old farmhouse built in 1908, in front of Horta’s now-disappeared creek bed. The restaurant is part of a historical area in the neighborhood with other interesting old eateries nearby, like the Masía de Horta, Els Bandolers or Bodega Massana. The entry to El Racó del Peix is flanked by two beautiful terrace spaces ideal for the warm days of spring and fall (in summer, the locals prefer air conditioned interior), with abundant tables and lovely plants, which are under the special care of Conchita, Arturo’s mother. Inside, there are semi-private rooms available, each named after Catalan fishing villages. The old house has a rustic charm, where every stone, every chip in the paint is authentic – no false decorative tricks here.

The restaurant is a Mediterranean-style marisquería, based on market ingredients with a variety of seasonal vegetables, quality fish and seafood (and a few meat options) at good prices. The seafood is prepared as tapas, aperitif and main dishes, a la carte, as seasonal daily specials or as part of the daily lunch menu, available for around 14 euros. Arturo and María José work with suppliers from all over the Iberian peninsula – prawns, lobster, and squid from the east; juicy cockles, clams in a tasty marinara sauce and grilled razor clams from the Atlantic; or the fantastic wild turbot and monkfish from the north.

But the specialty here are the rice dishes, from the classic seafood paella or black rice to a special version called “Arròs del Senyoret” (“Little Lord’s Rice,” made with already peeled langoustines). They also prepare fideuá, a close relative of the paella, but made with short noodles (fideos) instead of rice. “The difficulty of rice dishes is that everybody has their own taste and version,” says Arturo. “So we have ours, with a certain [recipe]. We don’t use anything to give artificial flavor or color and we prepare the stock from scratch, a real fish fumet. We are super honest – this is real market cuisine. If [María José’s] father has cool seasonal products that morning, like oyster from the Delta de l’Ebre or sonsos (Gymnammodytes cicerelus, tiny fishes fried for tapas), I take them directly for the daily specials.”

About the seasonal products, Arturo insists, “It is very important for us to follow the seasons, for fish or vegetables, and always respect the season despite requests. This is how we can get the best quality and best price.” One of the most delicious dishes we had lately from those seasonal dishes included in the daily specials was a rice dish with langoustines, with fabulous, high-quality pieces of shellfish, cooked to perfection.

But probably our favorite at El Racó del Peix, a must-try always present on the menu, is the brothy rice with blue crab (arròs caldós de cranc blau or arroz caldoso de cangrejo azul del Delta). The blue crab from the Ebro river delta, originally an invasive species (Callinectes sapidus) introduced accidentally from the western Atlantic Ocean, today has become the main natural flavor booster for the local rice dishes in the area. At El Racó del Peix, the secret of this dish is the powerful flavor of the blue crab fumet, a concentrated stock used for paella and other traditional rice dishes. Next onion, tomato, red pepper and cuttlefish are added, and topped with crabs in big pieces nestled among the bomba rice, which also comes from the Delta de L’Ebre. The dish pairs perfectly with cava or a local white wine with some body to accompany the intensity of every bite.

Arturo and María José’s culinary ventures don’t stop at El Racó del Peix. They plan to grow their family with a second restaurant in the newly remodeled market of the Sant Andreu neighborhood, where they will focus their efforts on el esmorzar de forquilla, the magnificent Catalan institution known as “the fork breakfast.” Another story, another culinary tradition, and Barcelona neighborhood. We can’t wait to see what they cook up.

Published on October 17, 2022

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