Full of character and food-first attitude, this no-nonsense French bistro is still a delight.
When Au Port de la Lune (C/Pau Claris 103, 08009, Barcelona, Tel. +34 934122224, open Mon-Sat lunch and dinner; Sundays lunch only) was located next to la Boqueria market, it offered a welcome haven of genuine character in an area increasingly blighted by bland tourist traps. Chef/owner Guy Monrepos warned off picky eaters with a prominent sign that read: “There’s no ketchup. There’s no Coca-Cola. There’s no Coca-Cola light. And there never will be.” The bavette came rare or not at all. I loved it and went often.
In 2013, however, the restaurant was forced to move. Its new home, in the more upmarket Eixample, lacks the cramped, ramshackle charm of the original but offers some new benefits, such as the ability to fit one’s knees under the tables. Do not, however, expect cotton table cloths and designer interiors; this is still very much a no-frills bistro. The walls are lined with French books and photos of Serge Gainsbourg, and the furniture is bare and basic. You get the feeling that the smoking ban grieves the owner deeply; the ghost of unsmoked 1960s Gauloises somehow haunts the place. It stops short of outright parody by only the thinnest of margins
Don’t expect an extensive menu either; there’s a selection of salads and a handful of classic bistro starters followed by eight main courses to choose from. Starters and mains alike are in the €10-€15 range, with desserts and cheese courses between €6 and €12.50. In the evenings, the best value is to be found in the four-course €25 “sud-ouest” menu, which is what I ordered, while at lunchtimes there are several menús del día of different prices.
What you should expect is simple bistro food, cooked with superb produce, by people who care deeply about getting it right.
The bread is excellent; the French butter is even better. The temptation to gorge myself on the pale golden pats was only slightly tempered by the arrival of my first course, a half-dozen impeccable Daniel Sorlut no. 5 oysters.
My wife ordered goose rillettes, which came piled high and was delicious. I helped her eat them; a purely selfless gesture. The steak tartare, with raw egg yolk, was a glorious Gallic middle finger to the perils of gastrointestinal distress. I am less nervous when my tartare is knife-cut rather than, as was the case here, freshly minced but it was very enjoyable and had no unwanted consequences.
Though good, the tartare was trumped by my wife’s cassoulet de Castelnaudary, much of which I also
stole helped her with (and apologies for the photo of a half-eaten dish but the camera got forgotten while we duelled with spoons). It was the real deal, with Toulouse sausages and abundant duck confit, leaving our lips sticky and our bellies full. Especially mine.
Not too full for cheese, however. I’m never too full for cheese. And what cheese it was: a selection of some of France’s finest that left me almost tearful with happiness. Make sure you leave room for it, even if you have to skip dessert.
I didn’t plan on skipping anything, of course. As I demolished a pear tart and my wife was rendered insensible by an outrageously boozy pear sorbet, my mind drifted back to previous meals at the the old place, and the joy that used to be had in watching terrified fellow diners clinging to the rickety railing that separated them from a plunge over the upstairs balcony. The new Au Port de la Lune premesis has added space and a smattering of comfort, but perhaps at the price of some personality. What has not changed, I am delighted to report, is the food. It’s as good as ever. It’s no coincidence that a panel of French journalists voted Au Port de la Lune as offering the best French bistro cooking in Spain in 2014. I haven’t been to enough French bistros in Spain to be able to make such a statement, but I’m certainly not surprised.
The new restaurant’s just one street over from the Passeig de Gracia. If you’ve had enough of designer boutiques and five-star hotels and want something honest for lunch, or dinner in a place where what’s on your plate matters more than what you’re wearing, this is the place to go.
And there’s more good news: the sign is still up.