Hard to find, harder still to know what you’re spending, but also hard to beat for seafood.
Review: El Passadís del Pep restauraunt, Barcelona
Does this look like the entrance to an iconic restaurant?
At El Passadís del Pep (‘Pep’s corridor’), there’s no sign outside; no name on the buzzer. Even forearmed with the correct address, you’ll wander past the unmarked door on the busy Pla del Palau a couple of times before you realize that, yes, this is the place, and you head inside what looks like an ordinary residential apartment building. At the end of the eponymous corridor you’ll find a door, behind which lies one of Barcelona’s best-known – and best-hidden – restaurants. Even here, you’re faced with frosted glass. Transparency, as you may have guessed by now, is not a strength of El Passadís, and the theme is continued inside where you will discover that there’s no menu.
Instead, once seated at a table under stone arches in the cavern-like dining room, you’ll be given a half-bottle of cava and a wine list. Then the veteran waiters will simply start bringing you food. You won’t be asked what you like, or what you want, or even if you drink alcohol. You’ll get what you’re given. If your Spanish (or Catalan) is up to speed you can interrupt to ask questions. The price? It won’t be mentioned.
This, surely, is madness. It’s no way to run a restaurant in the 21st Century age. And yet, for almost 40 years, El Passadís del Pep has filled up night after night. And it still does; alongside tables of nervous and baffled tourists, rotund and happy regulars – well-heeled gourmands of the old-school – tuck in their napkins and get comfortable as the plates start to arrive. It’s at this point that you’ll begin to understand why the restaurant thrives despite its unusual business model.
Everything that comes out of the kitchen is good. It’s simple, no-frills market cuisine, using first-rate ingredients. The ‘no-menu’ concept allows El Passadís to offer only what’s freshest and best that day. Owner Joan Manubens (who named the restaurant after his brother, Pep) followed the home cooking style of his mother and it shows. This is timeless, ‘masia’-style dining that doesn’t even nod towards contemporary trends.
Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar and oil.
Hand-carved iberico ham.
Then the real reason people come here: the seafood. Scallops with a peppery onion sofregit.
Meaty and savoury sea snails ( no photo), then sautéed garlic prawns with heads full of magic.
Tender and perfectly seasoned squid.
Then fat Palamos prawns – griddled this time – so you can suck their heads too, and roll your eyes some more.
Don’t put down your hot towels, because your fingers will stay sticky. Langoustines, to be torn apart and devoured as you lick the tomato sauce from their claws.
Then, away from the seafood at last, a traditional canelón: a Catalan pasta tube of béchamel and roast chicken. Not as good as my mother-in-law’s, of course, but not bad…
And a main course: roast kid with waxy potatoes and garlicky aioli. This simple dish summed up the meal. Cabrito is a small, young, expensive piece of meat (in this case, from a kid that weighed only 2.5kg) that can be tender but can also easily be overcooked. This was perfect, as good as I’ve ever had, with crisp skin and spoon-soft flesh. The potatoes retained their texture instead of dissolving into an oily mush.
Dessert was a freeform splatter of crema catalana, full of cinnamon sticks and abundant lemon, absent its usual earthenware dish but served over strawberries instead.
El Passadis del Pep is an eater’s restaurant. It’s perfect for unfussy but demanding diners who welcome a finger-licking, belly-filling feast of whatever’s good – and don’t mind paying for it. Because while the food can come as a pleasant surprise, the bill can be an unpleasant one if you’re unprepared. That is the downside of the ‘no-menu’ model. Is it over-priced? I don’t think so. These are expensive ingredients, served in generous portions. There’s a big difference between putting three Palamos prawns on a plate and using one prawn to make three carpaccios. Look at the price of prime kid in Barcelona’s markets then work out the margin on the €26 euro main course here. That said, you should expect to pay around €80 per person, plus drinks (around €120 for what you see above and a bottle of good wine). Desserts are, I’d say, inessential here and are the course to forego if you want to economize (or fit into your trousers afterwards). But don’t miss out on the seafood: it’s as good here as almost anywhere in Barcelona. El Passadís del Pep isn’t an old-fashioned bargain full of cheap eats but if you adjust your expectations before you book, you’ll have a great experience. If you can find the place…
El Passadís del Pep: Pla de Palau 2, 08003, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 933 101 021; Metro Barceloneta (L4); Closed Sun.