In the Horta Nord, the agricultural land to the north of Valencia, everybody knows Toni Montoliu, and Toni Montoliu likes to know everybody who eats in his restaurant, fluttering from table to table like a butterfly, trying out languages if you look foreign, as I habitually do.
Located on the edge of Meliana, this sprawling restaurant comes alive every day with the cacophony of animals who share it with the diners.
Sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, chickens, and a large plot of land where Toni grows most of the vegetables that end up on your plate; there’s plenty to see, most of which is ideal for children and childlike adults.
Arriving early is not a bad idea as you will be able to chat to the chef, who likes to explain what’s going on in his life before getting back to his paellas, cooked on a fire of orange tree wood as they should.
You can also take the opportunity to try a Socarrada craft beer from Xátiva, a rich and tasty way to start the proceedings out on one of the two patios, where you are likely to find Toni’s family shelling beans or just listening to the football on the radio.
When the families start arriving, the Shire horse comes into its own, galloping up and down with its cartload of kids (all included in the price of the menu), taking you down the road to the traditional barraca house that Toni has set up as a kind of museum.
The food is what you would expect in a traditional Valencian restaurant, and apart from the drinks, you needn’t bother ordering as you will be told what you’re eating and not vice versa, so if you have issues with certain foods, it’s best to check when you make your reservation on 629689805.
On the Saturday we were there it was traditional paella, snails included, and for starters there was Esgarraet; cold roasted peppers and cod, a Valencian classic, followed by what looked like Humus but turned out to be a carob paste with paprike; absolutely delicious.
Next came patatas bravas, roasted potatoes with spicy garlic mayonnaise, and then All i pebre, eels and potatoes, also spicy, and again a traditional Valencian dish from the Albufera lake.
By this time you’re beginning to wonder where you’re going to put the paella, when a copious salad arrives to distract you.
Inside the traditional barraca where you eat, the walls are covered in traditional farming implements. In fact the whole area is a museum, and you are as likely to stumble over a knife grinder as an old, abandoned steam engine.
After the paella has disappeared and, at a nod, plastic containers are issued to take home the excess, the sweet arrives and is stared at morosely. This time you get a choice, fruit sald, fruit, ice cream; all depending on the season.
Finally the sweet Mistela liquor and the coffees are sprawled across the table, although that might have been me, and if you can raise your hand, the bill might arrive, at which point you are in for a surprise, because the menu only costs 24€, 10€ for children, drinks not included.