Friday 28 November 2014

Igueldo, Barcelona, Spain

Fortunately, the problem of where to get dinner in Barcelona is (it is generally considered) not one of lack of resource.  On the contrary, I understand that it is far more difficult choosing which restaurant from the myriad options rather than there being none to choose from.  The second difficulty is booking a table.

That's pretty much how we ended up at Igueldo, a restaurant in the (sort of) centre of town peddling Basque cuisine. A review courtesy of Time Out and rankings amongst their best restaurants of Barcelona helped us pick it from the crowd, and our ability to score a table made our visit a certainty.

The restaurant itself is smart and appealing, in that white and brightly lit way that restaurants on the continent can be appealing.  Service was slow though – something that always makes me a bit cross, my mood not being improved one bit by the fact that (being Englishfolk, not Spaniards / Catalans) we chose to eat at 8.30pm and so were literally the first table to be seated.  Frankly, if you can't service a restaurant with only two people in it, how will you cope when it's stuffed to the gunwales.

We were approached with little amuse bouche of local sausage wrapped in toast and served with a honey and mustard sauce.  If this sounds a little bit like something your gran might serve at Christmas drinks, it's because it was.

For starters we both chose to have the crab meat and chickpeas.  This came as a kind of chickpea stew, floating in rich, unctuous brown meat / fish soup, with a scoop of mixed, spiced crab meat and a drizzle of saffron aioli to keep it company.  I thought this was absolutely top banana.  GrubsterGirl described it as "a bit peasanty" which was, in fairness, bang on – but really very, very good with it.

For mains we diverged.  Mrs Grubster went for fillet steak and foie gras, served with a port wine reduction and dauphinoise potatoes.

A treatise in richness - so much so that, tragically, half of the (enormous) portion of liver that came with the meat had to be abandoned.  But otherwise, nice.

I went for the duck breast – largely on the basis that I always order steak and am trying to get out of that habit – which came accompanied with a jus, steamed vegetables and sobresa.

Sobresa is a soft of soft chorizo, a sausage that is so soft it can be (quite literally and often is) spread on toast.  The combination of flavours was excellent – fatty, rich duck and smoky chorizo work remarkably well together, it turns out.  The vegetables were... fine, I guess.  I can’t get excited about sliced, steamed veg, I'm afraid, and I couldn’t help wondering if something more innovative could have been offered.  But the real problem with my dish was the meat.  It tasted fine, but it was as tough as boots.  Which is odd, for duck, and I can only assume is the product of not letting it rest properly.

For pudding, I had the cream cheese soufflé with raspberry ice cream and chocolate soil.  

The chocolate soil was extremely soil-ly (almost gritty) but otherwise the dish was superb.  The soufflé was nice and light, with a twang of the soft cheese, and the raspberry sorbet was the perfect accompaniment in acting as a foil to the rich pudding.

Mrs G went for the melon granita, which came with hints of coconut, pineapple and jasmine.  Very refreshing, just what you need after a big rich meal like ours.  Although frankly I could only really taste the melon in there.

On balance, I have slightly mixed feelings about Igueldo.  I can’t really figure it out: either it's a wonderful restaurant that sometimes misses the mark (badly), or it's an outfit that has some major, structural problems that are offset by the occasional spark of genius.  Because when it was good it was brilliant - the duck / chorizo pairing, the cheese soufflé.  But things were definitely off – the tough duck, the over rich beef, the very slow service... So when it was bad, it was a bit grim.

Verdict?  Difficult to say.  Would I go back?  Not in a hurry.  Could it have been amazing, on a different night or if we'd ordered different food?  Definitely.

 - GrubsterBoy - 

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Dry Martini, Barcelona, Spain

Dry Martini is a funny name for a cocktail bar, I reckon.  This is mostly because it's not really the name of a cocktail bar, it's the name of a drink.  And not just any old drink, quite possibly the most famous cocktail of all time.  If you're going to name yourself after the world's most renowned drink, you'd better be damn sure you know how to make a good one.

Fortunately, for Dry Martini, they do.  Oh, they do.

Dry Martini bills itself as a bit of a speakeasy joint.  Before that sends you running for the hills – and who wouldn’t, given just how many 'speakeasy' abomination bars there are out there, especially in the trendy zones, like Greenwich Village in NYC or Hoxton in London – I can safely say it's not like your average speakeasy.  Largely because, however much you want it to be like a speakeasy, it just isn’t.  Oh no, this is the Gentlemen's Club style of bar, and it pulls it off with aplomb.  Oak panelling covers every surface, the bar is shrouded in perfect white, starched linens, the floors are marble, the lighting is low, and every singly instrument used by the staff to mix, stir or shake your drink is solid silver.

By the way, you see that digital counter there?  That's a live counter of every dry martini they've ever served.  Wish I'd been there for number 1,000,000.

But faffing aside, we were here for one thing: a dry martini.

Mixed with Bombay Sapphire as standard (although you're welcome to ask for something different if you'd like) and the tiniest dash of French vermouth, it is then stirred – not shaken, which dilutes the drink something rotten – before being strained into glasses fresh out of the freezer.  Then there's a spritz of lemon peel (but not the peel itself) and a salty green olive gets popped in there.

Is it any good?  Yes.  It's bloody marvellous.

(This was martini number 1,044,562, by the way.)

There is no menu, which is a bit of a pain, but then I reckon – genuinely – that you could call out the name of any cocktail – certainly the name of any of the classics – and they'd know how to make it for you.  And I say that because, for our next round, we decided to test them. GrubsterGirl ordered up her soft-spot drink, a margarita, whilst I opted for a Vesper – a personal favourite of mine.  The Vesper was perfectly executed – especially with the inclusion of Cocci Americano, a slightly more herbal and bitter vermouth more reminiscent of the Kina Lillet Ian Fleming intended, rather than the modern Lillet Blanc.

Monday 24 November 2014

Tapas 24, Barcelona, Spain

This is completely cheating because I basically wrote about this place about a year ago and now I am writing about it all over again.  But I have three reasons why I shouldn't be criticised for doing so, which I think are pretty valid and compelling:

  1. Last time I didn't have my fancy camera so you had to make do with crappy iPhone pictures only (and not that many of them);
  2. Last time we arrived at 12.30 and ordered all the food only to realise afterwards that there was a lunch menu from 1pm that was much better but we which we were now too full to eat; and
  3. This place is absolutely flippin' amazeballs and deserves to be written about at every opportunity.
So with that in mind I am now going to write a lot about Tapas 24.

Basically, I was in Barcelona for a work thing, which ended on the Friday night (technically, Spain being Spain and keeping very Spanish social hours, it ended on the Saturday morning).  We had a preferential rate on the hotel if we wanted to stay on so I said GrubsterGirl that she should come and join me and we'd make a weekend of it.  She agreed on one proviso: we went to Tapas 24.

Tapas 24 is run by Carles Abellan, a former El Bulli chef, so it's a fair guess that he knows what he's doing.  We timed it right this time and managed to bag a seat at the bar during the peak lunchtime.  Operating out of a tiny kitchen hardly much bigger than a toilet cubicle, these lads knock together some of the best tapa I have ever had the immense pleasure of sampling.

We kicked off the proceedings with a couple of croquettas, as you do (it being Span and all).  They were good – and as freshly made as you're ever gonna get them – literally, we watched them being made and going into the fryer from where we sat.  But, frankly, Tapas 24 has so much else in store I'd recommend looking elsewhere on the menu.

Next up was the bikini sandwich.

Now, this is a quandary.  It's immensely popular in Barcelona / Catalonia but seems to be utterly unheard of elsewhere in the world.  And that's the quandary part, really, because it's bloody luverly.  A combination of soft, mozzarella-esque cheese, Iberico ham and black truffle, squished flat by a heavy toastie maker and baked so that the cheese oozes and the truffle mingles.  It is quite simply a work of art, and undoubtedly the best sandwich I have ever, ever had.  Better still, I now understand that Tapas 24's contribution is amongst the sandwich's finest examples.

Moving on to the more substantial dishes, there was a plate of corvina ceviche (corvina being a kind of salt water fish that's a little like trout).

This was delicious – absolutely fantastic, it managed somehow to be both immediately similar to a run-of-the-mill ceviche and be something unique and unexpected.

We also had the Iberico presa pork.

Presa is the end of the loin, at the neck, and is regarded as one of the finest cuts of meat from the pig.  Because of the quality and responsible rearing of the meat in Spain (and, I expect, in particular from their personal suppliers) you can have your presa rare, as opposed to the well done form in which all pig meat in the UK comes. This one was served Argentine style, with a chimichurri sauce full of herbs and spices.  Another definite hit (albeit not quite reaching the gargantuan heights of the ceviche).

For pudding we had the mango and chilli.

Another wonder, the range and matching of the flavours was intense.  A mango flavoured foam with lime zest stirred through it, topped with crushed chillies – it had it all.  But then, the surprise at the bottom was the lime grantia - slightly effervescent, almost pétillant - that just brought it all together.

But perhaps the star of the show – and possibly Tapas 24's signature dish – was the chocolate.

It's basically a beautifully smooth, heavy moose – almost unmoussey altogether, a thick chocolate cream perhaps – served with olive oil, sea salt and crisped bread.  I have almost no words for this.  The combination of a really fruity, peppery green olive oil and the chocolate, intensified by the salt, was extraordinary.  This is quite possibly the best pudding I have ever had, and definitely amongst my all time, top ten favourite dishes.  Superb.

One of the great things about Tapas 24 – and you've probably figured out by now that I think that there are a lot of great things – is the bill.  You've had food cooked for you created by a man who learned to cook in what was, at the time, the greatest restaurant in the world.  But it is far from bank breaking.  Whenever I've been asked over the last year or so where's good to eat in Barca, I always say here.  On this recent visit I was proved right.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Wednesday 5 November 2014