The contemporary Catalan cuisine scene in Barcelona makes the city one of the best food destinations in the world.
The dishes coming out of Barcelona’s kitchens are often wildly creative, yet utilise locally sourced ingredients with a nod to dishes of the past, reinterpreted with finer attention to detail, creativity, presentation, and contemporary cooking techniques. And surprisingly the cuisine is often very affordable — even in those restaurants that have Michelin stars, and especially if you go for lunch.
These often small restaurants with young chefs at the helm, have been labelled ‘bistronomic’ restaurants; ‘bistro’ for the influence of the traditional Catalan dishes that inform their menu, and ‘gastronomic’, referring to the avant-garde techniques used.
Call them what you will, but we are smitten by their inventiveness, the lack of pretence in the décor and the service, and the number of different dishes and flavours that a diner can sample at one sitting. They make a traditional three-course à la carte meal look decidedly old-fashioned.
As Jordi Artal from Cinc Sentits (one of the best of this breed of restaurant in our opinion) explained to us, “We took a-la-carte off the menu last year and, really, no-one seemed to care. Most guests order the degustation menu anyway.” You should do the same.
Any visitor to Barcelona who has an interest in food should make sure that they visit one of these restaurants and order the degustation menu. If you’re only here for a few days, do one of these restaurants for a ‘date night’, but be warned you’ll be staring at the plates with lust rather than longingly into your partners eyes!
Once again these are restaurants that we’ve visited personally. This is no guidebook, folks.
Why? A gifted chef, a great sommelier, and welcoming maître d‘, it’s bistronomic at its best in a warm, but modern space.
Terence says: Jordi Artal is a true culinary talent and despite no formal training as a chef, has a well-deserved Michelin star for his creative cuisine. I’m jealous and his food makes me weep. These two things may be related.
Lara says: It’s one of the few restaurants we’ve returned to and not been disappointed on subsequent visits; the creativity and quality are consistently brilliant and pleasantly surprising.
Star plate: The only thing that isn’t a seasonal dish is the ‘Grand Cru’ Chocolate! Pray it’s on the menu.
Address: Aribau 58, L’Eixample, http://www.cincsentits.com/
Why? Often crazily creative, boundary- and genre-pushing cuisine, served up in a spare, white space.
Terence says: Not all dishes worked for me but it was never less than fascinating. The Asian twist in the middle of the degustation menu was genius.
Lara says: After Cinc Sentits, this is my favorite restaurant in Barcelona; the service was easily as warm and friendly and although the dishes weren’t as consistently exemplary the flavour combinations were sometimes even more dazzling.
Star plate: Pickled oysters with glazed cheek and spinach sauté.
Address: Industria 79, Gràcia, www.alkimia.cat
Why? This is a favourite of many Barcelona chefs for the fact that it’s incredibly creative but still not crazily priced.
Terence says: Staff changes since we visited last summer have affected the service (for the worse), but not the creativity of the chef, that’s for sure! Expect the unexpected.
Lara says: Last time we ate here I left thinking this was Barcelona’s best restaurant, but last week I was disappointed by the service, and only 80% of dishes excited me. Still, that’s a lot more than most.
Star plate: The scallop with truffle, watercress and rucola sauce.
Address: Passatge Marimon 9, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, www.hisop.com
Why? Haute cuisine by the famous Roca brothers in an environment that visitors will warm to, but with unexpected flavours and aromas, alongside a brilliant matching wine list.
Terence says: Simply a flawless experience, despite being located behind the lobby of the hotel. Loved the wine pairing — some special wines on the list.
Lara says: The food and service were impeccable, but I actually like the busy off-lobby location; it reminds me of Dubai. Very few European hotel lobbies can match the buzzy atmosphere of a Dubai lobby.
Star plate: Golden egg. Don’t ask, just make sure it’s on the menu.
Address: Hotel Omm, Rossello 265, L’Eixample, http://www.hotelomm.es/
* Since our visit the restaurant has had a refurb and been renamed Roca Moo.
Why? Carlos Gaig is legendary in Barcelona and this restaurant expresses his haute cuisine to a tee.
Terence says: Probably the most ‘old-fashioned’ of the restaurants of this calibre we tried, but the flavours were phenomenal.
Lara says: Loved every dish, but equally memorable was the service of Antoine Schepper, now at Carlos Abellan’s Bravo 24 at the W Hotel I believe.
Star plate: Gratinéed cannelloni
Address: Aragó 214, corner Aribau, L’Eixample, www.restaurantgaig.com
Why? At this cosy, faux-French bistro you definitely won’t hear the ubiquitious ‘ding’ of France’s beloved microwave! Chef Francesc is a one-off, and one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets.
Terence says: The night we went it was great food borne out of chaos. The assisting chef was ‘a hindrance’ according to Francesc and the ‘front-of-house’ was his charming family, his father (who left in a huff), mother and auntie, who were hugging everyone. Fascinating food, though!
Lara says: We did wait a very long time for our food; Francesc needs to sort his staff out, as delightful as they are. But the food we enjoyed was imaginative and the dishes that missed were still hits because of the creativity and conceptual ideas behind them.
Star plate: ‘Oyster with pea soup’ — theatrical presentation and tastes are amazing.
Address: Carrer de Manso 42, Eixample Esquerra, 934 240 628 (no website)
Why? Great reputation, with Rafa Peña considered to be one of the leaders of the ‘bistronomic’ movement.
Terence says: Even though we booked days in advance by phone, they didn’t tell us that you need to book the degustation menu in advance. Off-hand and occasionally rude staff soured some serviceable dishes. I’m still baffled, quite frankly.
Lara says: I wanted to like this place so much after all we’d read about it, and despite a couple of mildly interesting experiments, it is in no way in the same league as the other restaurants we’ve reviewed.
Star plate: The bill. The lunch menu, which we didn’t really want to order, is inexpensive.
Address: Provença 230, L’Eixample, www.gresca.net
Why? Off-beat creativity that has Barcelona’s culinary luminaries both fascinated and frustrated by the cuisine.
Terence says: Only a couple of dishes really worked for me, but when they were good they were really quite extraordinary.
Lara says: Agree. The dishes were either daring or confused, while the service was either caring or distinterested. Shame.
Star plate: Soup with green beans, razor clams, basil, mint and avocado. But they never sent us the menu as they promised…so no guarantees.
Address: Passatge Marimon 20, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Tel: 93 200 7532