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SITAR RESTAURANT

APPETITE

Metallic shutters clatter upward, the door unbolts and Patricio Martinez steps out onto the paved urban courtyard and takes a deep breath of the cool morning air. He stands on the threshold of his home, livelihood and very being. El Valle Hermosa ‘the beautiful valley’; an eating and drinking institution at the centre of a crisscross sprawl of apartment blocks in the Eastern Madrid suburb of Barrio de la Concepcion. Chrome and wood chairs are un-stacked, scraped across the forecourt and arranged around corresponding tables. Canopies are unwound as the sun rises and the summer Spanish heat begins to beat down on the concrete oasis. It’s Sunday morning and the first few patrons saunter in for hits of strong, sweet espressos; greeted like long-lost friends by Patricio. From the kitchen emanates smells of garlic and fried fish; dishes of oily coloured Tapas are lined up along the bar and the first cold frothy-topped caña (small draught beer) of the day is poured. After midday the first families filter from the surrounding neighbourhood and take seat in the shade, joining tables together to congregate their chattering gatherings of relatives and friends. White starched tablecloths are flapped over the tables, wine is poured and Patricio appears with the first small plates of tapas; green olives, toasted salty almonds, fried potatoes with tomato salsa, pungent anchovies and spicy chorizo slices. For a sizeable character he is nimble on his feet, taking orders, retrieving trays of drinks from the serving hatch and balancing numerous plates in both hands. Men’s hands are enthusiastically shaken, women’s cheeks are warmly kissed and small children affectionately patted on the head as they are all ushered to a waiting table. Madrid’s recent football win is discussed with a lone-luncher munching on a Bocadillo at the bar while simultaneously orders are hollered to the frantic cook juggling steaks and squid in the small kitchen. Children mingle excitedly with their friends, scurrying back to the table as Patricio serves a plate of piping-hot cheesy ham croquettes and mini fingers scramble for their snack. Spanish Sunday lunches are delightfully unhurried, people relax unashamedly and clearly enjoy the greeting, meeting and eating. Kids boot a football, almost taking out the glass pane window of the fruit and vegetable shop next-door, scurrying between legs under tables to retrieve their ball. An old man leans over his balcony in an apartment above, curiously observing the hustle below. Grandad nods off sitting upright at the end of the table while two trendy young women, deep in discussion, sip glasses of cold white wine. Emerging through the hubbub strides Patricio, skilfully kicking several strayed chairs from his path while he balances a tray of calamari plates in one hand and three large glasses of beer in the other. The lunchtime clamour dies down around 5 O’clock; people bid their goodbyes and lethargically meander homewards for a siesta. Pigeons peck at scattered breadcrumbs and the two bar girls relax with gossip and cigarettes. Surrounding apartment shutters are closed to block out the glaring sunshine while multi-coloured laundry flutters from balcony washing lines. Nearby are stark indications of a struggling Spanish economy, many neighbouring shops and businesses remain permanently closed with graffiti sprawled steel shutters. Patricio clears the last of the empty plates and drained glasses and settles down with a couple of comrades for a serious game of cards. A larger-than-life personality, Patricio took over the running of El Valle Hermosa from his uncle who established the Cerveceria in 1968. Immense pride in his work is evident, meticulousness that extends beyond a shiny-topped bar to the genuine wellbeing of his BECAUSE QUALITY MATTERS

clientele. With a grin as big as his waistline, he is the embodiment of community spirit and neighbourhood unison. There’s a twinkle in his eye as he playfully scolds customers who have ventured to other neighbourhood bars or cheekily ask for discounts on their meal. He describes his commitment to his business as never compromising on value and always striving to deliver his utmost best to his customers. Bighearted and generous, Patricio goes out of his way to welcome new clients and regulars alike. He is resolute in the values that are imperative to a small community business; attention to detail, service and quality and it is on these principles that he bases his success. Although he sees himself as an important character in the community he recognises the importance of not interfering in the lives of others or judging people and is careful and respectful; focusing on his job and providing a service. Despite his flamboyant façade he shyly comments that he is not a handsome man so people do not come to look at him but for the food and friendly atmosphere. By late evening the neighbourhood is stirring from its siesta and folk clinging on to the remaining weekend hours order bulbous glasses of gin and tonic from the bar. The kitchen fires into life again and Patricio distributes small platefuls of Tapas to hungry drinkers; Octopus in garlic olive oil, steak cubes in whisky, creamy potato and egg salad, chunks of soft cheese omelette and rolls of thin Iberian ham. He jokes with an evening punter who has won a handful of euros from the fruit machine stating that he spends less in a week in the restaurant than he wins from that machine. This modern, unlikely icon, a fundamental thread holding together the fabric of a microcosm of society. A character plentiful in curves and charisma. An iconic epitome of Madrid family and community. If you’d like to read an interview with Patricio Martinez and see more photographs from our day at El Valle Hermosa you can visit our website at www.aroundtheworldin800days.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/aroundtheworldin800days Twitter: @mrs800days Andy and Emma. Main Image: Unlikely Icon Patricio Martinez Pours a Beer

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Profile for Gallery Magazine Guernsey

Gallery Guernsey 19  

Issue 19 of Gallery Magazine Guernsey - the 'Iconic' issue

Gallery Guernsey 19  

Issue 19 of Gallery Magazine Guernsey - the 'Iconic' issue

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