It was a Monday night when I was arriving back in Barcelona and I was meeting a couple of friends for dinner. When they told me that the restaurant they chose was located on the Rambla de Catalunya just off the Plaza de Catalunya, the most tourist-heavy plaza in the entire city, I must admit, even though my friendsare very food savvy people and would not have suggested a total dud, I harbored doubts. I had just come off an amazing lunch and wasn’t all that hungry, so I wasn’t really expecting too much. I just really wanted to spend some time with my friends.
The restaurant, BarBas, had only been open for about six months. Given the location and the decor that was totally suitable for a tourist trap of restaurant, I would never have simply chosen this place just walking by on the street. It’s not that the place was dingy, uncomfortable or poorly decorated. It was nicely appointed, bright, shiny and new, but long, narrow and otherwise, generally undistinguished. The setting was neither a detraction nor an enhancement.
To make a long story shorter, despite being tired and full, the food was terrific! It was contemporary Catalan cooking without Vanguardist fireworks. That food like this could be found in such a location was a real revelation. The product was first rate as was the cooking. I had left my big Canon back at the hotel, but managed to snap a few picks with my iPhone. The staff was quite gracious and I made plans to return to take some more photos.
The chef, Enrique “Quique” Valenti is a Madrileño, who came to Barcelona to cook and achieved success with a couple of restaurants (Casa Paloma and Chez Coco) before opening BarBas in the Hotel H10 Metropolitan.
The restaurant considers itself first and foremost a tapas bar and indeed, we started with some tapas.
The quality was excellent. The mussels were top tier canned Spanish mussels served in an escabeche. To say that something has been “canned” has a much different meaning and significance in the US than it does in Spain. In the US, canning is a metjod of food preservation and nothing more. Rarely, if ever, is the product actually enhanced in the canning process, though some products have been canned more successfully than others and actually serve a useful purpose. In Spain, however, canning is actually an art, and some of the finest canned goods are seafood items from the north of the country. Galicia, which has become a place now near and dear to my heart (and stomach) is particularly well known for their high quality canned seafood items, especially the shellfish. Meanwhile Navarra, has become equally well known for their quality canning of their superior vegetables.
As addictive as the mussels can be, the cockles are even more so. These were served with a “secret” house made sauce.
The anchovies hailed from the anchovy capitol of Spain, or at least Catalunya – La Escala, on the Costa Brava, not far from Gerona. These large, juicy specimens had been expertly prepared in house and served with excellent Spanish olives, vinegar and olive oil.
As good as the tapas were, the fully prepared dishes were the real revelation. Using excellent ingredients with an assured cooking touch led to some downright delicious dishes.
I have not had peas better than those that I have had in Spain and despite the fact that this was still only early February, peas were in season. Typically, Valenti serves them with jamón, but given that he knew my dining companions, he upped the ante a bit and shaved a generous serving of black truffles instead. While I like truffles, I’m not generally a fan of them just for their own sake. In this case, however, their aromatic earthiness blended well with the sweet and flavorful peas.
A couple of dishes combined beans and meat with rich broths. The specifics of these dishes, unfortunately elude my memory, but their satisfying effects do not. This was hearty cooking perfect for an early spring-like dinner.
More reflective of the fact that this was actually still February was the rich, expertly crafted ox-tail stew.
Beef tenderloin had been seared and served rare, which is just how I like it. It came with a side of herbed mojo.
While all of Valenti’s dishes were excellent, the one that most impressed me was his tortilla con trufa y chicharrón. In reality more of a French or Basque style omelet than a true tortilla, it was a tour de force of technique. I returned to the restaurant the next day specifically to watch Valenti cook this. It was amazingly fluffy, buttery and arrived as a perfect quenelle. Oh, and with the truffle and chicharrónes, it was totally delicious!
When I think of chicharrónes, I generally think of pork cracklings – crisp-fried pork rinds as in the Mexican tradition. This, however, is pork belly, sliced, but not cured like bacon. For this dish, Valenti julienned the belly.
Curiously (to me, as I use a fork or a whisk), Valenti used a spoon to beat his eggs.
The chef grated a generous amount of black truffle and flor de sal into the beaten eggs.
He then added the chicharrónes…
…and beat the ingredients into the eggs.
He used a non-stick pan with clarified butter over high heat with a constant sautéing motion. I had video, but bad timing with a battery failure meant that it was not fully captured. Alas, as his technique was superb and eye-opening.
The result was a perfectly made, juicy and flavorful omelet.
BarBas is a rare restaurant, located in the heart of a tourist district that is not just for tourists. This is a restaurant that prepares top quality, delicious dishes reflective of the area and the seasons. Catalans as well as Spaniards or people from anywhere in the world looking for a well prepared, delicious and authentic meal using quality, seasonal ingredients need look no further. For those making their gastronomic pilgrimages to Barcelona, BarBas may not be the reason for traveling to Barcelona, but it is a great respite from the creative, high end dining scene for anyone looking for a respite. It is a fabulous choice, for sure, for someone looking for an excellent, honest meal with comfortable surroundings in the vicinity of the Plaza de Catalunya. No doubt! (BarBas on Flick’r)