Dos Pebrots – the new restaurant in Barcelona’s Raval by former El Bulli head chef Albert Raurich – is a masterclass – and history class – in Mediterranean cooking.
Review: Dos Pebrots restaurant, El Raval, Barcelona
A confession: I didn’t walk into Dos Pebrots with an open mind. Every since I heard about chef Albert Raurich’s plans for it last year, while eating at his other Barcelona restaurant Dos Palillos, I had been forming preconceptions and building up my expectations. That’s not fair, I know, but then Albert isn’t unused to living up to high expectations; he was chef de cuisine at former World’s Best Restaurant El Bulli for ten years and his own trans-Asian tapas restaurant Dos Palillos has had a Michelin star since 2012.
But it’s more than that. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Albert, and his culinary knowledge and enthusiasm are intoxicating. Turning his talents to a menu of Mediterranean ‘greatest hits’, in a renovated classic bar? Yeah, I was looking forward to that.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Dos Pebrots (‘two peppers’) is just around the corner from Dos Palillos, in what was once Bar Raval, one of the classic bars of this old-city barrí. The new design takes inspiration from its location in many ways, some of them surprising: the toilets aren’t, as you might at first fear upon entering, haunted by the departed actor and director Pepe Rubianes. Instead, a humorous monologue by Bar Raval’s most famous patron plays there on a loop, which is why my wife was up there for ages, and came back downstairs laughing. At least, that was her excuse.
The concept behind Dos Pebrots is to use old Mediterranean recipes in a contemporary context. That means bringing together everything from garum – the ubiquitous anchovy-based sauce of ancient Greece and Rome – and medieval recipes to techniques from Bullipedia, the post-ElBulli food knowledge project of Ferran Adrià, with which Raurich is still involved. A day may come when I can write about Barcelona dining without the influence of ElBulli; but it is not this day.
We sat at the Japanese-style bar around the open kitchen, which offers great views of the cooking but suffers from high levels of noise and heat. The smoke from the hot coals of the grill does wonderful things to the food but the extractor fan it requires makes it hard to hear the chefs when they explain the dishes. It’s not outrageously loud, but if you’re there to have an important conversation, ask for a table.
The menu suggests 3-4 dishes if you’re not hungry, 6-7 if you are, and one of the tasting menus if you’re feeling gluttonous. We chose the €40 menu and left feeling very full; the €60 menu must be quite something. As a minimum for a full meal, plan on spending €30 pp plus drinks. The design of the dishes may be Albert’s but the chef in charge of the pass is Borja Garcia, whose C.V. includes stints at restaurants like Noma and Arola, and he was hard at work nearby.
Xarab – a refreshing and colourful start with this 10th-century dish of liquor-and-herb-infused fruit.
Then a dish of pure, unadulterated, prime-quality ingredient: Steamed langoustines (the exact source of which I couldn’t hear). Sweet and perfect.
Fresh anchovies in vinegar and dill. The menu points out that vinegar was used by the Egyptians in 2000 BC. They probably didn’t make anything better than this with it, though.
“Ancestral leeks” – roasted with beer and vinegar to a point of sweet tenderness, are also attributed to the Egyptians.
‘Chopped cow” will divide opinions. I loved it. Oxtail, cooked slow, dressed beautifully and served with cubes of rich meat jelly, alongside lettuce leaves that you use to wrap and eat the meat. The Spanish salpicón is an old term and this dish was, the menu asserts, popular in the “golden age” of Spain and mentioned a number of times in Cervantes’ Don Quijote (1605).
The true worth of the glowing coals of the grill is revealed in baked potatoes with all i oli. Spuds with crisp, salty-skins and fluffy interiors score top points but it’s the all i oli that really impresses. Carved and jelly-like, not poured like a halitotic mayonnaise – this is the real deal: a gloriously garlicky slice of thick, pestle-pounded pungency.
‘Black onion’ is also kissed by the grill. The charred outer layer peels back to reveal the sweet flesh beneath, cradling a puddle of garum, the anchovy-based, fermented sauce that was widely used by ancient Greeks, Romans and Byzantines. People have been roasting onions over fires for millennia. Taste this, and know why.
One-sided pine-nut omelette is made on the bar in front of you. Eggs (obviously), chervil, a drizzle of honey, and some more garum, then a scattering of toasted pine nuts. It’s salty and punchy, thanks to the garum, but balanced, theatrical and fun.
Then… pig’s nipples. Sow’s tits. There isn’t a delicate way to describe Pezones de Maldonado, nor of making them sound appetizing. Dos Pebrots doesn’t shy from the provenance of the star ingredient either, serving the scabby-looking nips on an upside-down porcelain porker, whose undignified legs-in-the-air pose suggests that she, too, has given up any pretence. But for the unsqueamish, a treat awaits. These salty, gelatinous, crispy slices of pig skin are pure pork heaven. They’re served with a glass of ham consomme, which doubles down on the piggy pleasure. They’re utterly, udderly, sublime. I’d come here every day just for this dish.
A case could be made for naming the kebab as the signature dish of El Raval, Barcelona’s great multicultural melting pot. The best examples in the city are found here – delicious street food that transcends the horrible versions I grew up around in the UK. Dos Pebrot’s version, which they note can be traced back to Persia in 1500 BC, is simply, unfussy and wonderful. Roast lamb, red onion, yogurt (perhaps too thin), pitta and a tomato and chilli mix. The portion is generous, the lamb is unctuous and tender and it all comes together to leave you in in a greasy lipped, grinning mess.
Desserts are mercifully small, and less show-offy than I’d expected, but good. A smoked milk ice-cream with strawberry infusion has been borrowed from Etxebarri restaurant, presumably by Borja who used to work there.
“Roman dessert” is an “interpretation of a possible” Roman dish. A wild guess, in other words, but who cares? Nougat, figs, orange sorbet and whipped cream make a fine finish to the meal.
Dos Pebrots left me smiling. Any lingering sadness at the passing of the old Bar Raval was chased away by plate after plate of good-to-great food in the welcoming, well-conceived new restaurant that’s taken its place. Dos Pebrots pays its respects to the Raval (both the bar and the barri) but isn’t held back by nostalgia. The vintage china and cutlery may look like they’re straight from your yaya’s (granny’s) kitchen but the cooking and interior design reach high contemporary standards. It’s not a modish temple of gastronomy, thankfully; it’s family friendly (there were plenty of parents with kids in on the night I visited, all tucking in and enjoying it) and you could drop in for a couple of snacks and a draught beer from the stainless steel tank system just as easily as you could sit poring over the tasting menu with a bottle of fine wine. The negatives? Dos Pebrots only opened in late September and there’s still a palpable sense of new-restaurant nerves. The cooks have a lot to do, both preparing and explaining dishes, and I got the sense that they’d be happier just getting on with the former. The waiters are attentive and helpful but still look jittery. This, I’m sure, will pass. Dos Pebrots is already fully booked most nights so they’ll get plenty of practice. Albert Raurich’s new restaurant is as good as I’d expected it to be – and that’s high praise.
Dos Pebrots: Carrer Doctor Dou 19, 08001 (El Raval), Barcelona; (+34) 938 539 598; Metro Catalunya/Liceu; Weds-Sun 1pm-11pm.
Find Dos Pebrots on the the FoodBarcelona map.