Of all the excellent food-related experiences we had in the Valencia area, lunch at Mornell is one we'll be recommending for a long time to come. It's one of many paella restaurants in El Palmar, a small town south of Valencia in the Albufera nature area. There are bigger and fancier places as well as smaller places with a few tables on the street. We wanted a place that had excellent reviews from locals and air conditioning. Since few restaurants have a good website and many are vague about listing hours of operation, Mornell's use of eltenedor.com for restaurant reservations was an added advantage. Some places close on Monday, others on Tuesday.
THE FOOD: the 18.50€ lunch special is a steal! Offered on weekdays only, you have 3 appetizers, a choice of paella (Banda or Negro), dessert, drinks (wine, beer or water) and bread. The appetizers were a great start. Roasted bell pepper with bacalao, all i pebre (the traditional eel and potato stew in a smoky tomato sauce) and a salad of flavorful Perello tomatoes. Excellent bread, served with tomato purée and garlicky allioli. Minimum 2 people for this meal. Every single item was delicious and beautifully presented. To add to our enjoyment, we asked for an order of the fried eel. These were cut to bite-size and fried to crispy perfection, along with 3 cloves of garlic. My 13 yo son, a fried food lover, declared this to be his 2nd all-time favorite fried fish! Quite amazing, considering that he's not a huge eel-lover.
Apart from the lunch menu, there is a regular menu of paella and seafood dishes that are reasonably priced and probably just as delicious. If I were dining with a larger group, that would be a better option.
THE PAELLA: we chose the Banda and it was glorious! The rice was a thin, dark layer with bits of squid. We ate straight from the pan, scraping up the soccarat and relishing its savory crispiness.
THE SETTING: Mornell is a beautiful, modern restaurant with stylish decor and great air-con. The washrooms are very sleek too. It's a nice place to stop on a visit to the Albufara nature park. Across the street from the restaurant, there's a baraca, the traditional fisherman's house. When we arrived, the door was closed so I peeked in the little window and saw only the light emanating from a television. I'm glad I didn't knock on the door. The tourism office representative around the corner told me later that it was a private home.
GETTING THERE: the best way really is to drive or take a taxi but the yellow bus from Valencia (near the bullfighting arena) is also possible. By driving, we were able to stop at various scenic spots including the beach at El Saler and a boat pier of the Albufara (boat rides were offered for 4€, 35 min). If you take the bus, you'll have to check the bus schedule carefully. Arrivals and departures are infrequent.
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