EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH OWNER ALEJANDRO GARCÍA
In the heart of the historic Cabanyal district you will find Casa Montaña, a family run bodega and tapas bar. It was founded in 1836, and was run by the Montaña family for over 100 years. Despite the name ‘Montaña’ meaning ‘mountain’, this traditional place is near the sea, close to Valencia’s marina. Now, it is in the hands of Alejandro García, son of former owner, Emiliano García. I was fortunate enough to sample their famous, traditional tapas and try some of their delicious wines.
With so much choice and every dish mouth-watering, it was hard to decide what to have but luckily Alejandro knew the perfect dishes. They cater well to vegetarians and vegans, and I started with ‘Michirones’ which are stewed broad beans. I then got to try some tuna dishes, Padrón peppers, and classic Spanish sausage (amongst many others!) Boasting over 300 different types of wine, Alejandro knew the exact one to compliment the dishes; a white wine called ‘El Novio Perfecto’, meaning ‘the perfect boyfriend’ as the wine is very sweet.
I got to sit down with Alejandro where I got to know more about the history of Casa Moñtana and how they are dealing with the ongoing COVID crisis.
24/7 VALENCIA: What makes Casa Montaña famous and special?
ALEJANDRO GARCÍA OF CASA MONTAÑA: First of all, the place is very old, it is from 1836 and is 184 years old. So it is old and traditional and we are also in the sea district so these are all important factors. The second thing is the wine. We used to have a very big wine list with 1300 different types and about 20 years ago we started to offer wine by the glass, although now this is very common, in the past here in Valencia it was not so usual. This meant customers could try many different wines by glass. So, we have this big wine list, wine per glass and then we started to do wine tastings so many people used to come here to try new wines. The third thing is that when we took over this place in 1994, it was a very traditional place but there wasn’t so much wine, so we added more. There was a very small food menu; they only had some beans and a few sea food dishes, so we started to go all around Spain looking for the best products. We improved the quality of the products and although we don’t make very complicated dishes, we found the best produce. For example, if we wanted the best anchovies we would go to the North of Spain and we would bring them here and then we will combine them with a very good olive oil that we get from the South. So, we always use very high quality products and in a traditional way.
Are most of your customers locals or tourists or a mix of both?
Well in the past all of them were local; some from this neighbourhood and some from Valencia, then people from other cities started coming because we were featured in some national guides. After the America’s Cup, which is boat racing, Valencia got more well-known globally, so a lot of people started to come to Valencia for holidays. All the main newspapers in every country started to write about Valencia and they would include Casa Montaña because they were looking for places to have paella that you can find in L’Albufera or on the beach, but they were also interested in tapas and wines so they would recommend us. So, we got very famous internationally and people started to come from every country. It was interesting because you could find your old neighbour from here who is 80 years old having her wine and also someone from Monaco who has their boat here; so there are lots of different kinds of people.
What’s your favourite thing about working here?
I’m a mechanical engineer; I studied in the United States, England, and the Netherlands. I travelled a lot and I worked in a power station. It was enjoyable but just wasn’t enough for me. Then I came here because I used to help my father in a different bar when I was younger so for me this kind of business was special. The people who usually come here, they are very old, around 80 or 90 years, and they tell you that when they were children they used to come here with their grandma and grandad, so all of these stories makes the place very special for me.
How has the business been affected by coronavirus?
We were always full of customers and there were always people outside waiting to come in, but because of Coronavirus we had to stop everything for three and a half months. We reopened in July, and we had a lot of activity and we were happy about that, but then after July and August, in September everything changed a little bit because flight connections stopped. Also people from Spain got a little bit afraid of the situation because of the second wave. After summer is also always a strange period, because people have spent a lot of money and their children are back to school so it’s always a little bit more quiet. So, in September everything went really down, and we had to reduce our employees. We have half of the activity which we had in the summer. It’s been a little bit hard to understand, but now we know that this is the situation and we can’t do much about it. This room is an old tavern where people usually would sit very close and now there has to be distance between people. We could have around 84 customers at the same time and now we have reduced this to 60. Last week they told us we can’t have people seated at the bar, which was something very traditional we did. So, it’s not only that we don’t have as many people as we used to, but also that the business has changed and the atmosphere has changed a little bit.
From the way Alejandro talks about Casa Montaña, you can feel how passionate he is about the restaurant, and ensuring the food and wines are always of the highest quality. With increased COVID safety measures, Casa Montaña is still open for business, despite the fewer tables and fewer tourists. Alejandro tells me that he is hopeful for the future of Casa Montaña as they’ve had the time now to work on things to better the restaurant. He is positive tourists will return once they are able to, but for now you can be guaranteed that Casa Montaña is still buzzing with character, traditional food and an exquisite selection of wine.
Article by Priyanka Nagpal
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