L´Argilaguet 9 – when art and food collide

Interview with Pau Lope – enterpreneur and patron of the arts

Amongst mayhem and unprecedented worlwide pandemic this last year has been anything but stable or progressive. Many things have changed in the way we live, work, communicate and socialize with each other.

Art, like many other aspects of our daily life, has been severely affected in the last seven months, as unprecedented restrictions have been placed on cultural events and agendas. The sphere of artistic expression, an area already volatile and fleeting by nature, is more than ever suspended in a cloud of uncertainty and constant transformation.

In all that, one thing has stayed the same: situated in the city of Vendrell in the Catalan province of Tarragona, L´ Argilaguet 9, a gastronomic space keeps on exhibiting emerging and established artists while serving gourmet food to its patrons.

This October it clebrates 14 years since the restaurant first opened its doors to foodies and art lovers alike.

Today we talk to Pau Lope, its owner, about food, art, life and the future.

Full name: Pau Lope C.

Ocupation: Founder and executive chef

Which five words describe you best? Hope, simplicity, quality, professionalism and responsability.

Tell us a litte bit about the Argilaguet 9: L´Arguilaguet had been a pizza restaurant for over 35 years, when I leased it. For the last 14 years I have been restructuring and remodelling it into a mediterranean cuisine restaurant with elaborate dishes and fresh products from the local markets.

Where does the name come from? I chose to keep the old name and added the 9 ( in Catalan 9 (nou) means new).

How many are there in the Argilaguet 9? Staff of three.

What was the plan? The plan was to create a restaurant in the Baix Penedés where to indulge the senses, a place inclusive of all ages from younger kids to senior patrons.

What were you doing when you had the idea? I was a sales rep for a milk brand, I travelled a lot until one day I had had enough. I said to myself, Pau that is it, this is where you need to be. No more kilometers, no more sales pitches, no more scheduling and meetings. I thought about it long and hard and eventually decided to find a commercial space where I can express myslef. And here you find me!

Do you remember the first dish that you served? No, not really, but I bet it was a pasta dish or a pizza most probably.

Was the beginning difficult? What was your biggest hurdle? All beginnings are difficult, that said the restaurant was already popular and during the first years people came to see what had changed and taste the new menu and little by little we got a chain of stable and loyal clientele .

What is still difficult? It is never easy, but the excitement of doing what you love always drives you forward to create new projects, new dishes, research recipies and seasonal ingredients and always create, create, create, so the customers get never bored.

How did the idea come about to make the Arguilaguet 9 an art space? It already was one with the previous owner, I just decided to uphold the tradition and continue with new artists.

Do you remember the first artist you exhibited? It was a group of artists from Baix Penedès.

Do you know how many artists have been through here for the last 14 years? I would say about 50, give or take.

Cooking is an art in itself, what is the most artistic dish you offer? Oh, artistic! There are many artistic ones, but one very special to me is definitelly the Xató. It is a typical dish for Vendrell, one my mother served in winter when I was a little kid.

El Xató: a local dish made with curly endive, romesco type of salsa, shredded cod fish, green and black olives and 3 types of seasonal tortillas)

What is the ingredient that cannot be missing in your kitchen? The love for things well done.

What do you do to get better at what you do? Travel, experiment, read, research…

Which is your major source of inspiration? Oh, these would be the moments when I am listening to music in my favourite armchair and focusing on creating new dishes, notepad in hand, and I simply let my imagination fly.

If you have to create a menu featuring only 3 dishes, which ones would you choose?  Xató, calçots and pizzas.

Calçots: a type of small bulb sweet green onion, roasted on wood fire and consumed with a special romesco sauce, made of tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, almonds and hazelnuts.

How would you describe your cooking style? Mediterranean cuisine, always with market fresh ingredients, sourced locally.

When do you feel most fulfilled? With the smile of a customer when I present their dish.

What do you have to sacrfice when you own a restaurant? Well, a little bit of private life, I guess.

Which is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far? To listen!

What do you do when you are not in the restaurant? I go to the gym and travel as much as I can.

If you could travel in time, would you go to the past or the future? Why? I´d stay in the present, the past is gone and the future will come sooner or later.

If you could be anyone else for a week, who would you be? I would be myself, I have never wanted to be anyone else, I am very proud of the road I am on and the life I am creating day after day.

Do you think the customers´ tastes have changed a lot through the years? The tastes maybe not so much, what has changed is the presentation of dishes.

What is that doesn´t change?  Mmm, I am not sure, people always want to enjoy good food in a pleasant athmosphere at reasonable prices.

The restaurant industry has suffered a big blow this last year, how do you see the next 3 years? The next three years: who knows, but I believe we are going through some unprecedented and extremely challenging times. Closing a restaurant for over three months is never easy to overcome, but we give thanks every day to our returning customers. We have had to cut back the full capacity of the restaurant because of all the Covid-19 restrictions, which makes the income go down significantly but we are still here and we continue to experiment and create new dishes and re-invent old ones, so we can continue to delight and surprise our customers.

Would would you tell your younger self from 20 years ago? It has been 20 years and I am still here, just KEEP GOING!

The last trimester of the year at the Arguilaguet 9 opens with an exhibition of the contemporary artist Silvia Capi, featuring large abstract paintings in vivid colors and energetic brush strokes.

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