Perhaps the least-known province of Catalonia, Lleida has a treasure trove of places to discover. Here are three restaurants in Lleida that made quite an impression.
1. Restaurant Mare de la Font, Solsona
This is a restaurant with heart and soul, and one of my favourite places to eat in Catalonia. If you decide to dine here, prepare to go on an adventure.
Just minutes outside the city of Solsona, Restaurant Mare de la Font stands in a wooded park, not a location you would expect to find a restaurant. A gingerbread house is at the end of a drive leading though the park, a magical setting for a restaurant that has been recently refurbished.
Open the door and you step into an industrial-chic ambience: artistic metal ceilings, contemporary wooden beams, contrasting light and glass.
Sophisticated, buzzing, bold and beautiful. And it’s not really my scene if I’m honest, but I feel exhilarated knowing that I have come to eat lunch here.
What really sets this restaurant apart, though, is the owner, Roger, the front-of-house man who guides you through his handcrafted restaurant experience.
The magic starts when he comes to your table and recites the menu with special zeal, like the leading actor in a foodie play. If you ask, he can even do it in English.
The extensive menu features traditional Catalan dishes that have been deconstructed and refashioned into exquisite taste sensations. Roger knows them off by heart, performing at an incredible speed while preserving the poetry, interjected with winks and smiles.
Don't worry, there is also a printed version of the menu on the wall outside next to the main entrance, which I recommend you read beforehand.
The weekend menu costs 26 euros for adults and 15 euros for children. The first course consists of a selection, a "pica-pica", of starters, which includes fish broth, salads, lasagne, croquettes and more.
The main courses and desserts are all home-made and exquisite.
Amazing quality for price at this restaurant, make sure you book well in advance. The waiting list stretches months into the future, although sometimes if you ring on the off chance there might be a table available on the same day in the late afternoon.
2. El Bosquete, Vallfogona de Balaguer
This eaterie stands out for its quirky setting, guaranteed to make you chuckle. A brilliant place for children and the young at heart, this restaurant is like a bizarre holiday camp from the past.
Set in a forest idyll, outdoor wooden tables are positioned under trees next to a marquee and an indoor dining room. A selection of garden gnomes and children’s rides frame the entrance and, once inside, attention is immediately drawn to the Alpine wallpaper.
The food is traditional Catalan cuisine, consisting of pan-fried vegetables, pasta, rice dishes and grilled meats as part of a set menu, 23 euros for adults and 15 euros for children. There are pizzas too. The food is pleasant, although not the highlight of this establishment.
The real attraction of this place is the crazy golf course and trampoline area outside underneath the trees.
Once lunch is finished, or even if you visit just to have a drink or snack, visitors can take golf clubs and a ball from a box in the main entrance (at no extra charge) and spend an enjoyable hour or so playing crazy golf.
While you relax in the leafy afternoon shade with a beer, the children can bounce galore on trampolines beside the crazy golf course.
Although a little shabby now, the restaurant was obviously once the pride and joy of a visionary entrepreneur who sought to give guests an authentic dining experience.
If you go to Lleida city or Balaguer for the day, and you have children, this restaurant is worth visiting. You can eat and relax, followed by a family round of crazy golf in an uncrowded woodland setting.
3. Cafè Modern, Castellnou de Seana
With signature dishes like baby squids in almond sauce, this bar-restaurant has a snug, unpretentious and old-world atmosphere. Stepping into Cafè Modern is, ironically, like stepping into the past to village life of bygone times.
A retro icon of this tiny town, Cafè Modern has an assortment of different sized marble top tables —square, circular, hexagonal and rectangular— dotted around the room. Wood burning stoves warm the high-ceilinged space. Metal tubes protrude haphazardly through the ceiling and windows.
This place looks like a museum, with its green walls, wooden furniture and plastic telephone booth. But it is uncontrived. Authentic and charming, you will feel like you have stumbled upon a jack pot.
A range of specialty dishes are served in large portions, great for sharing as a group: baby squids in almond sauce, tripe in spicy tomato sauce, a fresh salad of olives and onions, rashers of pan-fried salty pancetta and fried eggs. Sample a fantastic and economic brunch at around 12 euros per person.
After completing the experience with a strong cup of coffee, the nearby lake, Llac d’Ivars, is a five-minute drive away. It's a fantastic location for a light stroll. Around the water there are bird hides; some are towers, others are shacks with lookouts.
The area is home to many storks. You're likely to see fields of them in their hundreds, an unusual and spectacular sight.
Walking all the way around the lake takes approximately 1.5 hours, and I recommend visiting in autumn, winter or early spring, when the sunlight is still refreshing.
Genevieve Shaw has been working as a freelance copywriter and translator since 2006, specialising in texts on travel, health, culture and marketing. She translates from Catalan and Spanish into English. A member of the Professional Association of Translators and Interpreters in Catalonia (APTIC) and Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET), Genevieve has a degree in English Literature and Language and a master’s in Marketing. She lives in a village in Catalonia with her husband and two sons. For further information, please visit her blog or website.