40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St.
41003 – SEVILLA
Phone +34 954 223 183
Opening hours: 13.00pm – 1.30am
by Matthew Dyson
Squinting into the light from this dark corner of Seville, there is something menacing about El Rinconcillo. There is no enticing welcome. No illuminated signs. No outdoor seating. Just gentle, relentless activity from the locals inside. Then again, this is the oldest tapas bar in the region, dating back to 1670. With that sort of history, there’s no need to make a song and dance to the tourists.
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And once inside we’re left to let it all seep in. Old Sevillianos are drinking, hunched over barrels, eating the same tapas that their great, great grandfathers ate. In every corner local families are laughing and leaning against the aged tiled walls, lavished with plaques honouring the first owners. Dark oaked shelves are stacked high with the traditional spirits of the region. Waiters, smartly dressed for a part in a film noir are huddled by the bar. Their poker faces shadowed under a ceiling illuminated with slaughtered pigs legs.
As we look at the menu chalked on the wall, my girlfriend gets a tap on the shoulder. A man in his eighties hands her a napkin and shuffles back to his glass of beer. It’s a love poem. She blushes, thanking him and the waiters roll their eyes. Before we’ve had a chance to decide on the chorizo omelette or spinach and chickpeas, he’s back with a chair for her. Once again he slumps into the corner. He only rises to dig a fork into his squid.
“Muy guapa”, he croaks and sits down again.
I ask if he wants a beer. And of course, he does. While I’m queuing, a burly waiter, built like a retired boxer says, “Dyson?”
“Relax my friend. I’ve settled it with your girl. I’ll get you some wine.”
In no time, we’re all the best of friends. He tells us that the old gent is a poet called Vallentino who’s been proclaiming his love for women on their napkins since he was twelve.
We get the omelette which turns out to the best and cheapest in all of Seville. With perfectly cooked chorizo melting in our mouths, Vallentino is up again handing out napkins. Over an hour of more wine and tapas, a line of attractive young women make their way to his corner, wetting his head with kisses.
My girlfriend also gets a sweet and a flower. And by the time we get the bill, I’ve got my very own napkin poetically suggesting my likeness to Robert Taylor. I kiss him with another beer and the waiters roll their eyes again.
At dead on nine his wife arrives. She sighs and settles into the corner. Resigned. Her tapas and a large glass of sherry arrive within seconds. Time stops but service goes on. You see things don’t change around here, least of all Vallentino.
What we had: Chorizo omelette | Spinach and chickpea | Cod in tomato | Veal sirloin steak | Homemade croquettes
(Photographs below by Matthew Dyson)
Meet the Romantic of El Rinconillo
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