Note (Dec. 17) BistrEau is once again called Blanc and is now run by Carme Ruscalleda. Read the review of Blanc here.
Bold start in Barcelona by seafood specialist ‘Chef del Mar’ Ángel León at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Note: this review is based on a visit in November 2014. The menu is now different but I hope the post will still give a flavour of the restaurant’s style.
I used to have a real soft spot for Blanc restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Barcelona (also home to the wonderful Moments restaurant). It was high-class dining but not overly ambitious. It kept things relatively simple and did them remarkably well. It was also a beautiful place to eat. When I heard that Ángel León (holder of a Michelín star at Aponiente in Cádiz and star of Spanish TV show ‘Top Chef’) was taking the reins, I was keen to revisit. The restaurant was rembranded BistrEau (Passeig de Gràcia 38-40, 08007, Barcelona, Tel. (+34) 93 151 87 83; Metro Passeig de Gràcia) to mark his arrival, a name that hinted, like León’s ‘Chef del Mar’ moniker, at the seafood slant the menu would take.
BistrEau remains one of the most pleasant spaces to eat in Barcelona. Light, bright, airy and elegant, it occupies much of the ground floor of the elegant Mandarin.
León’s Andalucian roots can be seen in the profusion of sherries – finos and manzanillas – that are recommended as pairings for his dishes (at €7-€9 a glass). The menu is, as expected, 90 percent seafood, though there are some meat dishes on offer. The menu is short and informal; this is more of an upmarket gastrobar than a fine dining restaurant. There’s a €35 menú del día at lunchtimes; otherwise expect to pay €50-60 per person.
My wife and I started by trying the bread spread with green ‘plankton’ butter and a glass of Guitierrez Colosia fino. I can’t say that green butter was the most visually appealing thing I’ve ever eaten but it was interesting to eat: mineraly and rich.
We chose the seafood charcuterie selection (€16). This is León’s take on Spanish classics like chorizo, salchichón, butifarra and sobresada but using fish (flathead grey mullet to be precise) instead of pork.
It’s a technical triumph. The textures were amazingly authentic, and the skill required to create such a close resemblance using completely different products was evident. Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It was a gimmick and I found myself wishing that we’d been served a plate of the real thing instead. It’s worth trying – I know people who love this dish – but it’s not for me.
The smoked mackerel, harissa and seaweed (€12, no photo, sorry), served with a glass of manzanilla, was, however, both fishy and delishy.
‘Acedias Made in Spain’ (€17, also no photo) was fried fish, filled with quality ham, and a salmorejo dip. These were absolutely magnificent. Order them Order two plates. They’re wonderful: rich, crunchy, fresh and tender.
Roasted tuna (€29) had the look and texture of steak, served with a superb sweet sauce and potato chips (fries, if you’re reading this in the U.S.) just like they should be: crisp outside, cloudlike and fluffy within. Again, really enjoyable.
My wife’s seafood rice (€25) was even better, with a citrus note running through it that pulled it all together. The marisco is cooked to perfection and served apart from the rice (which itself is perfectly al dente) then mixed at the table. It’s as good a rice dish as I’ve ever had. 10/10.
Azahar and fig dessert (€10) was a knockout. Lots of contrasting textures, complex, not overly sweet.
‘Black Chocolate’ was unexpectedly light, with citrus cutting through. The cake in the centre was cloud-light and the chocolate ‘drops’ with gold leaf were liquid heaven.
Ángel León is a chef at the top of his game, rightfully receiving plaudits (he was voted one of the world’s top ten chefs by the New York Times in 2014). His whole Aponiente team decamps here when that restaurant is closed from November until mid-March so he’s not phoning it in and relying on his name like some celebrity chefs. Not every dish worked for me, but that’s no bad thing – it’s better than being boring. BistrEau is a bold and welcome addition to Barcelona’s eclectic culinary scene.