La Barraca, Madrid


Several readers, including a foodie relative, suggested La Barraca for paella in Madrid. When we asked the concierge at our hotel where to get the best paella in town, he said “La Barraca” without hesitation. So we made reservations early one morning, and were thinking about paella the entire day, saving up room in our stomachs for the heavy meal ahead. Located on Calle de la Reina, just parallel to the Gran Via, this temple to paella has been in business since 1935, and was in the midst of celebrating its 75th year…


We arrived a few minutes before our reservation and reviewed the menu posted outside the restaurant. And the three of us were famished. We were seated at a comfortable table in one of the well-appointed, if rather quirkily designed rooms. We were among the first diners to arrive, having booked an 8:30 dinner, so I knew the kitchens/stoves would not be busy…


After reviewing the menu, we were a bit disappointed with some of the “house rules” such as pricing the paella by person, rather than by serving size or size of the paella pan or paellera. No matter how you cut it, it was a very pricey rice experience. But at this stage, we were expecting the world, so we looked the other way and ordered what we wanted, a paella valenciana for two (minimum order), an arroz negro for two (minimum order), and a plate of jamon iberico to start. I glanced at my wristwatch as soon as the waiter had taken the order and disappeared into the kitchen…


The jamon was excellent, and wonderful with the wine or drinks we had ordered. We stayed away from the bread basket so we wouldn’t get full early. Surprisingly, after about 18 or 19 minutes, our paella valenciana arrived. I say surprisingly, because I can’t ever seem to get a paella done in less than 28-30 minutes total time, but then again I put more rice in a paella pan than most Spanish restaurants typically do. Also, restaurants have hotter burners and possibly ovens. But the nagging thought that part of this paella was somehow pre-cooked lingered…


The Valenciana had nice chunks of rabbit (a classic ingredient) and some fresh favas and a rich saffron infused sauce. The rice was perfectly cooked, and the aroma intoxicating. But the first fork full was a bit of a shocker, it was incredibly salty. At first I thought I have have just gotten portion that the salt had nestled in somehow, but subsequent mouthfulls were consistently salty. I know restaurant food tends to be saltier than home cooked food, but this was SALTY. However, not salty enough for us to send it back or anything. We managed to finish to finish a little less than half of a 14 or 16 inch diameter pan between the three of us. I would have given it just a 7.5/10.0, probably 1.5 points less than it could have gotten, if it just weren’t so darned salty. Oh, and it had hardly any socarrat or tutong, another downer.


But the disaster was truly about to arrive. The next paella pan filled with nearly jet black rice and squid and squid ink looked fabulous. A bowl of garlic mayonnaise looked like the salt cutting savior. No lemons served. But one taste and I knew that if we ate more than a fourth of this pan, we would be having salt attacks the whole night through. This wasn’t just salty, this was like dining on rice with rock salt. Yuck. We thought about saying something, but decided against it, already pretty full and not wanting to eat any more rice for the time being, period. We ate less than an eighth of this pan. So we asked for the bill, paid the Euro130+ or so for the expensive salty experience, and would NEVER recommend this restaurant to anyone who was headed to Madrid. Once we got home, I looked up the restaurant, and not surprisingly, there are several disappointed reviews that point to the extremely salty food and diners feeling fleeced. So while it may be the way Barraca makes their paellas, we didn’t find them so appealing. If they had cut their salt quotient in half, it would have been pretty good.

I’m sure there must be other places in Madrid that you can manage to find a good paella, but if not, order something else. Eat some place that doesn’t use a broth so intensely salty that small bugs could walk on the surface without sinking. :) If you want to make paella at home, here are a couple of versions (not totally authentic) we enjoy… Paella a la Marketman and an Arroz Negro that was the result of several attempts to get it right. Here, a trio of paellas done with less stuff in each pan. And just in case you were curious, a pan of fideua. If you want a paella that looks more like those served in a Spanish restaurant in Spain, remember these tips… use only a short grain Spanish rice like Bomba (not the arborio I use out of necessity), do not overload the pan as pinoys are likely to do, just end up with maybe 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick rice when cooked. Make sure you use lots of powdered saffron (that’s what the restaurants do) but whole saffron is really better. Use a well flavored home made broth, well-seasoned as the rice absorbs a lot of flavor, but NOT TOO SALTY. Do not over “lamanize” it… in order words, resist the urge to put too much stuff in it (I am always guilty of this). Make sure you have some socarrat or tutong. Cover pan with newspaper for a few mintues after taking it off the flame and before serving to make sure the rice is cooked through. Enjoy. :)


38 Responses

  1. On our first night in Alhambra we also ordered paella and were very disappointed. We had to send it back because the rice was uncooked. I think our version of paella is much better.

  2. I’ve been disappointed by some paella dishes in Spain, too. Recommendations are so hit-and-miss, aren’t they? My husband and I have had better luck (in Spain and everywhere else) finding little tucked-away gems on our own, but since this place was so highly endorsed, I would have done the same.

    Oh well, the arroz negro looked great, though!

  3. But I can see why we tend to pack our paella with meat and seafood. We want ‘em to be sumptuous whereas restaurant versions look spare because they “spared no expense to save money on it” to maximize their profit.

  4. Two decades or so ago we had paella for my birthday at the ‘raved’ Spanish paella restaurant around St Francis Square, Ortigas, and it was soooo salty we returned it back to their kitchen. They did change it to a less salty version, but took like an hour or so to get served. (Did not mind the wait as Claudine Baretto and Mark Anthony Frenandez were there too. We were busy listening in their conversation.) I think paella restos prepare huge batches al dente, then just finish it with the meats upon order. I have never ordered paella since then, I just make it at home for birthdays, alongside pancit bihon.

  5. Ooohh, bummer..hope you find a better restaurant, MM..I can’t have salty food now, for health reasons, so I would have been so disappointed too

  6. You should have tried what Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow ate when they went to Spain. It
    looked simple not overloaded with different “sahogs” and I think not salty too. I forgot where they went.

  7. I though you have typo when the intro say “pest paella in town”. I guess you did that on purpose ;)….. its tough to get satisfaction when you already nailed the best.

  8. Hi Marketman.

    I lived in madrid for a couple of months and i highly suggest you eat in any or all of the restos of this particular group which has, time and again, proven to me that a meal worth 20 euros max is enough to have a great-tasting and memorable meal. Plus, many of these restos have Pinoy waiters. I’m talking about La Finca de Susana in Calle Arlaban (not far from Puerta del Sol), Public Resto in a street parallel to Gran Via, La Gloria de Montera (also somewhere near Gran Via), and Bazaar in Chueca. I’ve eaten in all four several times and I can’t remember a time when I got disappointed. In fact, it’s my go-to restaurant whenever a friend was visiting. Do blog about it if you decide to eat in any of these.

    P.S. If you’re going to barcelona, the same group has restaurants scattered all over the city as well.


  9. The disappointment is worse when your expectations are so high; I feel for you and your family. Famous places believe they have a winning formula, and so there is extreme inertia towards change, and improvement. Perhaps 75 years ago salty paellas were favoured. The problems is that when we travel, we want to try the best of the best, and disappointment becomes a tragedy because we dont know when we will pass that way again.

  10. While the short grain arroz bomba is the gold standard, I read in an article that Valencian chefs are starting to use the medium grain Bahía or Senia instead. They claim that the Bomba variety doesn’t absorb the other flavors in the paella. Personally, I find restaurant paella not as well prepared as a home cooked paella.

    Also, I would never order paella in Spain unless I was within an hour’s drive of the coast and preferably cooked outdoors, like the classic pinakbet you did 2 years ago. It’s almost like Cebu lechón, you’ve got to get it at the source, that’s why a lot of Manileños have theirs flown in from Cebu. I’m surprised you didn’t try more platos típicos de Madrid, like cocido madrileño, callos a la madrileña, pepitoria de gallina, caldereta de cordero, etc. Or perhaps you did try these dishes and just haven’t posted them yet. Please tell us there are more posts to come!!

    Regarding the saltiness of the paella, did it ever occur to you to check who was in the kitchen? Maybe it was another Filipino like at Restaurante Sobrino de Botín!?!?!? You already know that the Filipino palate is rather fond of salty flavors!

    You’re right about Filipinos overloading their paella, it’s because they don’t know that in a traditional paella, the emphasis is not so much on the toppings, but on the ARROZ (y por lo tanto el socarrat, ¿no?)

  11. And I thought I was going to read about how wonderful their food is, and was expecting an experiment for you to find their recipe. Sayang naman. :(

  12. I’ve always been disappointed when I order paella on my trips to Spain and I’ve tried it in different parts of the country just to make sure that the other time was just an accident or just the failure of that one restaurant and always they are salty and the rice al dente. My Spanish friends say the best could be had in Valencia but I’ve never been there. So unless I get a chance to go to Valencia, I’ll settle with the Spanish restaurants here in Chicago. Not the best but better.

  13. In Spain, I tend to stick with tapas bars since the food preparation is simpler, fresher. Like you, MM, I have tried paellas in Madrid and been disappointed, the best paella I ever had was a little family resto in Alicante – something like 7 tables under a grape arbor. I guess those serendipity moments make up for some over the top, overhyped and recommended places (some do have ‘ambience and history’ though’ so maybe it is part of the experience. Win some, lose some. How come Italy somehow , in general, serves up better food, even their truck stops have tastier provisions?

  14. Thought I was the only one who had a similar experience. I found Spanish fare at restaurants generally salty and a lot of dishes swimming in oil.

    Everywhere we went on a couple of trips to Spain, I remarked to my husband the relatively frequent sights of elderly folks who must have suffered a stroke , judging from their gaits and appearance. Must be the salt and the jamon Iberico, no doubt a usual ingredient to flavor the stock.

    Once we were invited to dinner by a Spanish neighbor and were served paella. Not too long after, I cooked my own version. Hubby said: ‘mas masarap ang iyong paella”.

  15. Sorry to hear about your experience… next time try St. James, been there more than my fingers can count and it has been excellent. Look it up the next time, you wont regret it.

  16. Wow and to think that the Filipino palate is on the salty side one can just imagine how salty those paella’s are if we are complaining.

    Paella being one of my favorite dish, i was looking forward with the experience of tasting it in its authentic locale. Like most of you, boy, was I disappointed. I did the rounds of paella restaurants in Barcelona and I concur that each and every dish i tasted could have done with less salt and some with the rice not evenly cooked as well. I enjoy my paella regularly in a Portuguese restaurant here in Calgary and all i can say is that the ones i tasted in Barcelona cannot compare. But then again what do I know, i just visited one small region of Spain and and I’m sure there are real winners there somewhere.

    From memory the best one for me is the Arroz Valenciana bought in the public market stall in Cavite City when i was a young boy. Come to think of it, I enjoyed that with patis on the side.

  17. We had paella at a small resto in Sevilla near our hotel. It was recommended to us by the hotel staff. We had to call 45 minutes to pre-order as the resto said it would take about that long to cook it. It was good and there was a totong, dukot in Cebuano. Not salty at all.

  18. that’s what we experienced in barcelona as well, most of the food we had in restaurants were a bit salty, i was suprised by that actually

  19. Spanish food is really very salty. My husband who is of Spanish descent would add salt even in dishes that I already find too salty for my taste. I remember having a hard time eating at my in-laws’ get-togethers because their food is not only too salty but swimming in oil as well. Yikes! Being very health-conscious, I hate overly salty and oily foods. One thing I can say is, Spanish food is not at all healthy. My husband’s Aunt used to give me Arenque, a kind of salty fish from Spain and she would be so proud because it is expensive and comes from Spain but I would always give it to my husband because it tasted like solid rock salt! We ate at La Paella Restaurant in Los Angeles and the paella for two which cost $60 was not too salty but was nothing great. I have tried your Paella a la Marketman and it is even better and did not cost $60 for 5 servings…ha ha ha. The best paellas I have ever tasted are actually from Spanish restaurants in the Philippines like Alba’s, Mario’s, etc. The saltiness is probably already tempered to Filipino taste.

  20. I was reading your Paella ala Marketman recipe and I just realized that whenever I follow your recipe, I have to reduce it in half, and that still is more than what we can finish! :) It’s like throwing a party at your place everyday :D

  21. Lilibeth – I wonder if “Arenque” is hering and would therefore be close to our “tuyo”; you might enjoy it with sinangag or champurrado.

  22. a few years ago, i was unexpectedly delighted with my paella valenciana at hola espana in cebu. it is a small restaurant in banilad. it was even better comparedto the paellas i had in spain and in the states. i will check it out again when we return to cebu next month.

  23. I have tried MM’s paella and IT IS THE BEST, so far…Wonderful flavors. Served it amongst Filipino friends here in Melbourne. They were probably disappointed then as all I served was paella, salpicao and gambas al ajillo. After their first spoonful/forkful, the group fell soo eerily quiet…then a burst of “ang sarap!” Thanks MM!

  24. Sounds disappointing, though I do understand that sometimes the consistency of the food can change depends on the mood of the person cooking it. hehe! Paella is my specialty so I really appreciate this post because I am going to Spain around October but maybe in Barcelona and Cataluna to taste an authentic Paella.

    Hope you can also taste my special Paella when you visit Ho Chi Minh :)

  25. MM, although it had been years since we visited Madrid…that was exactly our experience as well…super salty paella that left a bad taste in our mouths. My sister visited last year and likewise said the same about paella being salty in Madrid. What a pity!

  26. And here I was craving for paella. Was already planning to hunt one down tomorrow. Hmmm. Makes me think twice about blowing money to satisfy my craving.

  27. I lived in Spain for 14 years and frequented restaurants throughout the country. One thing for sure, Madrid makes the worse paella. In Zaragoza, restuarante Berges on Calle Avenida Navarra makes a great paella. In Valencia down in the port area, there are several restaurants that make great paella and arroz abunda. In the town of San Lorenzo Escorial, we went to a restaurante and had a paella, arroz abanda, and arroz tinto con pulpo that was just terrific. The price of 130 euro is outrageous. You should have signed their complaint book (every restaurant had one). To get a good meal, always ask what is on “El menu del dia.” Here you will have a choice of a first plate (several dishes and may include a simple paella which is always delicious) and a choice of a second dish. It also includes a bottle of wine, bread and dessert. Coffee is extra. The going rate is about 10 Euros.

  28. What an interesting post and comments too. Very timely since I’m going to Spain in two months. Now I know why our Italian and Aussie friends don’t like Spanish food. And it seems Filipinos got their salty tongue from the Spaniards!

  29. @quiapo: Yes, I think Arenque is a type of herring fish but it’s a lot saltier than our tuyo so I won’t even have it with sinangag :D

  30. I’ve eaten the best paella in Can Pilis (located in the coastal town of Calafell).

  31. I live in Madrid. The best paella place is Restaurante St James in Calle Juan Bravo 26. Yummy!

  32. I love paella! Though I think its best eaten in Valencia…. Casa Salvador and Eliana Albiach in Culleres (small town about 50 kms south of Valencia city), or my all time favorite La Dehesa de Joaquin Castello in Playa de Saler. There’s something about eating rice in the beach that just makes the meal extra special. If you ever do find yourself there, please try the Arroz Abanda (rice with seafood “himay”) and Arroz Negro and to start with, Coquinas which are small clams cooked in garlic and olive oil. They are addicting!

    If you need to eat rice in Madrid, my husband and I like La Buganvilla in Calle Almagro, 12. Aside from arroz abanda, valenciana or arroz negra, try the arroz caldoso (soupy rice) with scarlet shrimp (carabineros), monkfish (rape) and cuttlefish (sepia). They also make a mean vegetable paella and to start with, the brandade de bacalao and the warm squid salad with fried leeks. Albufera in La Moraleja is also pretty good, but maybe too out of the way.

    Hope this makes up for your rather disappointing rice experience in Madrid. There’s nothing worse than being served poorly made rice.



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