Cal Xim is as good a choice for a traditional country lunch as you’ll find in Catalonia. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Barcelona, in the Alt Penedés wine region where you can also enjoy some excellent vineyard tours.
I don’t get out on my motorcycle as much as I used to; it’s not very practical when you have kids. As a result, it had been a couple of years since I’d been to one of my favourite places, Sant Pau d’Ordal (Subirats) in the eye-wateringly pretty wine region of Alt Penedés, just west of Barcelona.
With good wine goes good food, and this tiny village has three restaurants worthy of inclusion in the Michelin guide. The pick of the bunch, if you’ll pardon the pun, is the chosen restaurant of many local wine-growers, Cal Xim (Plaça Subirats, 5, Sant Pau d’Ordal, +34 93 899 3020).
It’s located in a cosy square, where villagers were buying local peaches from a single market stall when I parked my motorbike there last weekend.
The restaurant was refurbished a few years ago and is surprisingly modern inside. Unsurprisingly, there are wine bottles everywhere but the star feature is undoubtedly the huge wood-fired grill that looks like Satan’s piano and fills the air with the scents of oak smoke and sizzling meat.
Families relax on the terrace and village children run into the restaurant, picking up snacks of fruit from the owner, Santi, before dashing off to play. It’s all very bucolic, and the sense that the restaurant exists as part of a larger rural community is reflected in the menu, which is dominated by local and seasonal meat, game, fruit and vegetables.
I don’t know if the olives were local or not but they were excellent, served before delicious pa amb tomaquet , with some exquisite tomatoes to rub on the grilled bread and drizzle with fruity Catalan arbequina olive oil.
The peaches being sold outside made their way into a pretty salad alongside goat’s cheese, green beans and slivers of crispy bacon fat. It was delicious and bursting with freshness.
The escalivada that followed looked as good as I’ve ever had. It tasted even better. Cal Xim sets the bar for escalivada; it’s the one to beat. Unlike most places, where the vegetables are roasted in an oven then finished on the grill, Cal Xim cooks them only over the (specially sourced) oak, infusing them with a truly exceptional flavour. The romesco sauce served alongside was great too but it wasn’t really needed. Almost €10 for a plate of veg sounds expensive, it IS expensive, but it’s worth it.
My local pularda (poulard) was also deeply flavoured by the wood grill. Tender where is needed to be and crispy in the right places, it was served with some early season wild mushrooms and waxy potatoes.
As usual, my wife and I were sharing everything and I saw a look of surprise cross her face when she tasted the “hamburger” of pigs’ trotters.
“Just try this,” she said quietly.
I did. It was one of the nicest things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Soft and peppery and fatty and rich, lightly flavoured by the grill, the meat was wrapped into a burger shape that melted in the mouth. Superb.
The standard was maintained with the desserts: a perfect, traditional crema catalana with carquinyols, almond biscuits with just the right balance between crispness and hardness
And a vanilla cheesecake with fresh and tart mango ice cream.
After coffee, Santi gave me a tour of the wine cellar, which features a large oval dining table for groups. Cal Xim is renowned for its wine list but in recent years he has focused more and more on the surrounding region. New winemakers have sprung up and there is now a wide range of outstanding young Penedés wines that Santi is obviously very proud to share with his customers.
I agree with him but it was a cruel conversation; I could only have one small glass because I had to ride my motorcycle back to Barcelona….
The bill for two including a couple of glasses of wine came to €80. There’s a €20 menú del día through the week which offers outstanding value.
If you have a designated driver, Cal Xim should be near the top of your list for a day trip. If not, consider staying overnight at the Crestabocs B&B which is only €60 per night for two people sharing, breakfast included.
You could make your trip even better by including a visit to the village’s organic winery, Albet i Noya, which has a range of guided tours, especially at this time of year (September).
I keep meaning to find other places to head for when I go out on my bike. But Cal Xim’s so good, I keep going back.