Often the most interesting restaurants are to be found tucked away in districts of the city which are not normally plethoric with eateries.
La Cuina de Pilar is pretty well tucked away, although it is just around the corner from the better known Ca Sento, a restaurant that, like the Cuina de Pilar is steeped in history, although the renovation to its facade is enough to make your eyes water; a sore for sight eyes indeed. Also, unlike La Cuina de Pilar, Ca Sento has now closed.
Simplicity and good taste are the keys to Pilar; simple decor that makes the few efforts at extravangance more noticeable. One example is the African paintings hanging in one of the two dining rooms, including a poignant one of a child fallen asleep while breast feeding.
The candles burning in the toilets are another detail, although when the automatic light goes out and leaves you still shaking, you realise there is a practical reason for their welcome presence.
The toilet, and here I end this unnecessarily obsessive information on personal hygiene, also offered a range of shaving foam, mouthwash and other creams and ungents, either a staggeringly generous display or I had stumbled into the wrong bathroom.
La Cuina de Pilar is run by Pilar’s grandson Ximo Vivas, and a very lively chap he is too. Personally I like those restaurants where, after agonising indecisively over an extensive menu, someone turns up at the table to offer you a whole load of stuff that isn’t on it, but which is still threshing around on the dockside. I refer of course to fish; I wouldn’t fancy a threshing rabbit either.
The menu has been translated into English, although unfortunately it doesn’t help, as the translator was either incredibly bad or had a wicked sense of humour. He or she did leave us with a few gems however, such as the wild croaker, porgy, dentex and lace battered.
There is a wide range of fish on the menu and a whole page of rice dishes, but as I said, being so close to the port, you’re better off trying Ximo’s suggestions.
Despite the fish, one of the star dishes, and from what I could gather a popular one, is the poached, fried egg (yes, you heard right) served on a bed of tiny fish with a single black eye called ‘aladrop’ (I think).
Part of the success of turning something so simple into an exquisite culinary dream is the careful use of products such as the Castillo de Canena olive oil, which they have been producing in Jaén since 1780.
The oil was put to good use soaking the acorn-fed cured ham on a bed of roasted aubergine served on plates as wide as an American praerie. In fact I noticed that one of the brace of blonde waitresses sprinkled just about everything with the oil.
Also on offer is the traditional Valencian tomato, the authentic one grown on the sandy Meditteranean soils and with the texture of a sirloin steak, a meal in itself if I wasn’t so greedy.
Other delights you could try are the Huelva prawns, the Cullera tellinas, the Norway lobster, or the wild corvina (croaker according to the translation and I for one cannot say that he lied), one of those delicious fish where the meat separates itself from the bone on touch.
For 20 years Ximo has worked the restaurant, and consequently everything runs like clockwork, but with a personalised attention that you only get when the owner loves what he does.
We rounded off the meal with the sorbet with green ice cream floating inside (translated intriguingly as ‘natural straw’ but I was past caring), and ignored the offer of French champagnes, South African, Australian and US wines in favour of a Heredad de Ferri Verdejo, which just seemed to be never ending; as soon as I got the ice bucket to my end of the table and mumbled something like “keep them coming” to one or other of the blondes, who, as the evening frazzled on, had fused into a single person. Actually it’s not easy to relax when the staff are so fast on their feet, whipping away your old cutlery in the blink of a beaver’s eye.
I just googled croaker and dentex and they are in fact fish, although I remain stubbornly adamant that I did not drink natural straw for my dessert.
C/ Mendez Nuñez 36
963 312 364