Spain is a favourite destination for foodies, and not just for the theatre of El Bulli. Throughout the country there are restaurants worth seeking out, among them a compelling mix of traditional and modern cuisine. From tapas bars to Michelin stars and, as we saw last weekend in Barcelona's fabulous markets, some of the best ingredients you could hope for.
Barcelona is a fantastic city, replete with amazing architecture (which we mainly ignored) and cool bars and restaurants (which we didn't). The highlight was dinner on Saturday night at Comerç 24. As his first placement since leaving catering college fellow blogger Aidan Brooks (aka Trig) has been working in the kitchen there for six months or so now, during which time it has won a Michelin star. I'm sure he won't want to take all the credit.
I understand that as little as twelve months ago Comerç24 was squarely a tapas bar, albeit an upmarket one. It has kept the general style of small dishes, which lend themselves particularly well to a couple of decent priced tasting menus, but there are influences from all over the place now and real ambition and creativity in the cooking. One dish in particular will stay with me a long time.
Annoyingly, my new phone/camera jobbie ran out of juice early on so three photos are all I have in terms of evidence and memory joggers...
Openers were some grissini (which were fine), olives stuffed with anchovies (big and slightly scary for someone who's not a big olive fan), pig skin crackers (an improvement on the prawn crackers you might get in your local Chinese but not worth crossing continents for) and gold-dusted macadamia nuts. More interesting things were happening on the veggie side of the divide: some cute filo tartlets that seemed to contain just heaps of parmesan but actually had something liquid inside too (apparently yuzu was involved). I was too slow to taste one so I imagine they were very good. Likewise a pair of dainty toasted asparagus sandwiches.
The dishes proper tended to arrive in pairs, which makes me think I must have forgotten some, but here goes...
Mackerel and citrus fruit salad arrived with alongside a tuna tartare in a moat of egg yolk and soy. Both lots of fish were super fresh. A lovely start to the meal. For Antonia (who was having a full vegetarian tasting menu alongside my version - top marks there) the avocado maki roll that finally killed off my camera's battery, and probably something else at the same time. The roll was very accomplished, involving delicate slicing and quick work to get it to the table before it lost its colour (it was one of Trig's).
There followed some or all of the following in approximately this order. (Two bottles of localish Nunci, from a big separate list of reds that came handily accompanied by a nice French chap who seemed to know what he was talking about, have further conspired to blur records of the evening.)
Favas al a Catalana: broad beans and catalan blood sausage in a soup made from the bean pods. The sausage came as small grains of intense porkiness and worked well with the beans and the soup. The signature Kinder egg was presented only to Antonia, but at least this time I did get a taste of it. A lovely suspension of perfectly cooked egg in a creamy potato (I think) foam, probably with some truffles thrown in for good measure.
Cod tripe with artichoke two ways: a tiny dollop of artichoke ice cream with a blob of fishy mousse shared equal billing with a tiny cod and artichoke stew. Good stuff. The winter garden salad I can't comment on, other than visually it was stunning: lots of ingredients and pretty flowers. Antonia loved it. Maybe I should buy her flowers more often!
Then came my highlight: a single cuttlefish raviolo, the fish forming the pasta rather than the filling, which was an intense morel thing. It came with a very thin toast, a few smears of ink and instructions to eat the whole lot in one go. Good advice. Quite one of the best things I have ever eaten. It all but brought tears to my eyes. Antonia was almost as impressed by a glassful of piping hot cauliflower mousse topped with truffle oil. I later had something similar with dense oxtail buried within it. Very good.
There was a cold soup poured over some more delicate veg and flowers (interesting but a bit similar to the earlier salad), some more cuttlefish, this time draped over a line of black rice, and a simple but successful salad of asparagus and mandarin.
Sweets started with a delicate shot glass of mint soup with passion fruit foam. Then a quartet of bitesized goodies, three of which were a chocolate mousse with salt and olive oil (a traditional local combo), a tiny financier and an Oreo cookie stuffed with vanilla ice cream. There was also a fun bowl of yoghurt with "muesli" and frozen raspberry pieces and more passion fruit. The cheese plate we requested while we waited for Trig to help clean down the kitchen (a spectacle in itself from the vantage point of our seats at the bar) contained an unexpected but very welcome stinky stilton.
All this, a quick chat with the chef and a few more glasses with Trig added up to a very fine evening indeed. Planes were nearly missed the next day...
Restaurant Comerç 24, C/ Comerç 24, 08003 Barcelona, Spain +34 93 319 21 02