El Rinconcillo, Seville.

April 2018.

This place was called traditional by Michelin. It’s certainly been around for a long time, but calling it traditional seems kindly: there’s a “nasty, brutal, and short” character to some traditional things and that applies a wee bit to El Rinconcillo. It was the closest Michelin-named restaurant to our AirBNB apartment in Seville, and once I finally got a wheelchair for Robin with her foot fracture we were able to get there along the narrow old town road in about 12 minutes.

Partly because it was Faria (big local holiday) week in Seville, most bars and tapas places were packed with celebrating people, ladies in backside-emphasizing flamingo dresses and men sporting flat-brimmed gaucho hats, and this place was no exception around the crowded main floor bar. We maneuvered our wheelchair inside and when I finally flagged down an employee in the noisy chaos he gestured “upstairs”. We folded and parked the chair and stumped our way up to the second floor dining room which was pretty well empty. A couple of middle-aged male waiters directed us to a table and started making menu suggestions. We sat down with the menu and tried to make up our minds.

The waiters seemed nervous although there wasn’t much for them to do, but we understood what they were worried about once the second floor dining area filled up, which it did. The three of them were doing orders, packing the grub, busboy, and who knows what else behind the scenes, run off their feet. We went ahead and agreed with some of their suggestions, ordering others, and got ourselves a bottle of 2007 only slightly oxidized white wine, and then the dishes started arriving, fast.

First, a small plate of spinach and chickpeas with garlic flavour. Spinach had been over-wilted to a mush but the flavour was nice. Then, anchovies: a cold plate with radial semicircular tomato slices with lovely tasty anchovy fillets on top. The same deal, really: it tasted good but was nothing other than the above-described. Next, clams. Just littlenecks steamed in garlic and wine. Then, most elemental of all, goat cheese which was just a bunch of slices of firm-textured cheese sitting on a plate.

By this time the waiters were literally running, with the several rooms of the second floor restaurant by now filled up with hungry people. Our last course arrived but it was by far the best. Panfried sea bass with a bunch of roasted vegetables that was delicious, salty, perfectly cooked inside and crispy on the outside. Nicest panfried white fish I’ve had in awhile, which had to have been prepared with non-trivial skill.

All done. There ensued the usual European struggle to get the attention of the server to give us the bill (which wasn’t exorbitant), back to the wheelchair and into the street. I’m not sure what to make of this place. I think if you showed up able-bodied and hung out in the main floor traditional tapas bar scene it could feel like a gesture to no-nonsense Seville of the maybe the 1940s or something. The food we got on the second floor was perfectly okay for what it was, but dead simple, even that perfect fish. I could see going back if I’m ever in town again and feeling like downing some tasty snacks and a drink or two with a lively Spanish-speaking crowd.

Food 8.0, service 8.3, ambience “traditional”, value 8.6, peace and quiet somehow not relevant.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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