Happy New Year, everybody! What a London I returned to – when I did manage to return from Barcelona, that is. The winter wonderland at the airport was quite breathtaking but my journey to get there took a while when my first flight home was cancelled and the second was delayed, delayed, delayed until we were sent off for the night and told to return the next day. It was strange to have to say our goodbyes to Blai’s family twice! But we made it back safely though it’s sad to leave such a fabulous city and lovely family too.
But the food! Oh, the food in Barcelona is always fantastic. Mangolisa sent me a link to a New York Times article on Barcelona where they describe its citizens as food-mad. Mad seems like quite a strong word to use but it’s not far off the mark! I love the culture of their long lunch breaks, their food markets and the city’s numerous little independent food shops, all not common in the UK.
The day after I arrived in Barcelona, Blai had booked dinner for us at Gresca, the first on a list of restaurants I’d provided him previously. Gresca went right to the top of this list when I first saw a review at Aidan’s blog. This was going to be my first visit to one of the bistronomics (offering modern cuisine at affordable prices) popping up around the city and this little bistronomic (9 tables) was run by Rafael Peña along with his wife in front of house. We were going to have their tasting menu – a relative bargain at €50 for 9 courses and as it turns out, two extra appetisers. I don’t even want to think about how much this would have cost in London.
We were told that the first two appetisers were not officially part of the tasting menu. The parmesan and pimentón crackers were lovely and buttery but the real standout of the two was the sardine fillet (very lightly salt cured, I think, but mostly raw) and topped with a thin slice of butter with spices. This was a good start.
Parmesan and Pimentón Crackers
Sardine with Spiced Butter
Then it was on to the tasting menu proper. First came a few slices of cured duck topped with herbs. Oh, but no, the roll was stuffed with raw prawns. Ah! We saw that the chef had recreated the look of a prawn with the slices of duck – clever! This was my first go at uncooked prawns which, surprise surprise, tasted like the cooked version only squishier. This was followed by foie gras marinated in anchovies (that’s what we were told – there was no paper menu). The foie was stunning – rich and creamy and melt in your mouth tasty and whatever it did with the anchovies, I don’t want to know but it was all the better for it. The portion was small but I think it was just right – any more and I would have started feeling too full and possibly a bit ill. We munched on some wonderfully crisp and warm bread with this as well as the rest of the meal.
Cured Duck, Raw Prawns, Herbs
Foie Gras Marinated in Anchovies
The vegetable fondue was a very meh dish. Cauliflower, courgette, carrot, cornichons, and spinach were cooked and topped with melted cheese and a foam that added nothing to the dish. Unfortunately, the result was not more than the sum of its parts.
One of the chef’s signature dishes seems to be the souffled egg below – this time served on creamed potatoes. Blai’s egg came out perfectly intact – the cloud of puffy egg white perfectly surrounding the liquid yolk. My poor one was already starting to droop and reveal itself shamelessly. I suppose mine started coming apart somewhere between the kitchen and our table and it was a bit of a shame as the surprise was thus ruined. The potatoes were very lightly cooked and so still crunched in the mouth and were coated with a creamy sauce. Not fantastic on their own but very nice with a burst egg yolk all over them.
Souffled Egg with Creamed Potatoes
Then followed three richer courses. Firstly St Peter’s fish with a pinenut puree and roasted onions. We had to google the fish afterwards…turns out it’s tilapia. On it’s own, the pinenut puree was reminiscent of peanut butter, only with a pinenut flavour of course. But with the fish and the sweet-sour roasted onions, it made for an amazing and unexpectedly successful combination; this more than made up for the vegetable fondue dish. Afterwards, sweetbreads with lemon and potato puree – not mind-blowing but very well cooked and delicious. I think I got the better piece as mine had lots of crispy crust! The last savoury dish was a pigeon with ginger. A breast cooked medium and a well cooked leg was covered in a dark, thick and unctuous sauce with a hint of bitterness from the ginger that went well with the richness of the game bird. A couple of chanterelle mushrooms underneath the pigeon breast made for a lovely surprise.
St Peter’s Fish, Pinenut Puree, Onions
Sweetbreads with Lemon and Potato Puree
Pigeon with Ginger
The two desserts were light and refreshing with the lemon sorbet roll being much zingier than expected (this was not a children’s dessert) and the pina colada one of the most fun things I’d eaten last year. The latter was a frozen coconut foam with pineapple juice within; the shell was made of a thin layer of chocolate and crispy pastry vermicelli. I wanted to demand the other half of my ‘coconut’!
Lemon Sorbet and Cream with Pistachios
Overall, the meal was fabulous with some really fantastic and often surprising dishes coming out of the kitchen; I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the city. However, there is one little problem that I had: the restaurant allows smoking and we had to continually smell the smoke from other tables as the diners lit up their cigarettes and pipes between courses. Not cool and I wish the Spanish government would just ban smoking in all restaurants once and for all.