The problem with Barcelona is there is so much good food around that the choice can be overwhelming. Good small-plate food is not hard to find - Cal Pep and Tapaҫ 24 for instance - but when you've had your fill of tapas and raciones, and a proper three-course meal regains its appeal, you need to give it some thought. On this visit, one of my top finds was Gresca. This understated 26 cover modern bistro restaurant came up with almost the best meal I've eaten so far this year (only outshone by the excellent Dabbous in London).
Some find the room too monastic but it suits me fine. Paired down to hard, plain surfaces softened only by white tablecloths, there's an absence of frippery and a concentration on food and service. For me the choice of restaurant was largely informed by a stated commitment to using local produce whenever possible and an emphasis on quality of ingredients. Chef Rafa Peña has worked at Ferran Adrià's El Bulli (now closed) and Martin Berasategui's Lasarte so we expected a few surprises to the simply described dishes, and there were. The cooking though is toned down in line with the Bistronomia movement, of which Peña is a leader. There is an emphasis on Catalan classics updated by some modern techniques.
After the lightest parmesan wafers, a "soufflé" starter arrived as a beautiful flower of puffed egg-white unfolding to reveal a deep yellow yoke centre, set on a tagliatelle of potato and chive butter sauce. Light, gorgeous to the eye, technically intriguing and delicious. Tiny onions on a bed of deeply caramelised onion slices were paired with salty roquefort, the dish given another dimension by a disc of toasted (possibly macadamia) nuts as the base. The tenderest rib of pork came with a pleasantly sweet sticky sauce; the richness cut with a sharp coleslaw - a refined take on 'ribs and slaw'. Succulent squid was served with fondant potatoes and red onions, the dish brought together by delicate saucing. A perfect light, warm chocolate pudding served with crème fraiche and a pretty, flower-strewn dish of citrus panna cotta coated with the thinnest slices of lemon and blood orange ended the meal perfectly.
The wine list was reasonably priced, wide-ranging though predominantly Spanish. A bottle of Catalan Les Paradetes 2007 Conca de Barbera from celler Escoda Sanahuja was delicious and well-priced at 24 Euros - and it was natural. Natural wines appear less common in Spain although given the avid interest in them both in Paris and London, I am sure it is only a matter of time before they become the new trend in Madrid and Barcelona.
Amazingly the restaurant remained empty, save for us, throughout a mid-week lunch service. Where was everyone? Were we seeing recessionary Spain, which is being hit particularly savagely right now? Or had a day and a half of pouring rain dampened appetites? We were assured by both front of house, and by friends, that this situation was very unusual for Gresca. Our bill of 72 Euros for two seemed a bargain to us. On this day the unassuming Catalan chef Rafa Peña cooked just for us, and it was superb. We will probably not be as lucky again. Next time I will be booking ahead as the disappointment of being turned away would be too much to bear. With a charming front of house and a soft background of jazz from Charlie Parker, we walked out into, finally, blazing Barcelona sunshine.
Tel: 934 51 61 93
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