UPDATE MAY 2017: EL TOSSAL HAS CLOSED PERMANENTLY
This traditional family restaurant in Gracia still deserves its excellent reputation for game dishes and seasonal Catalan cuisine.
I last visited El Tossal (c/ Tordera 12, 08012, Barcelona, Tel. 934576382) six or seven years ago after a tip-off from my Catalan mother-in-law. It’s that sort of restaurant; a multi-generational neighbourhood classic that has survived and thrived because of word-of-mouth rather than the spotlight of media attention. On that occasion, it was like entering an extremely comfortable time machine: a grandmother sat knitting at one of the tables, regulars chatted, smoked and relaxed as if they were in their living rooms, and the food was home-cooked and bore no evidence whatsoever of the crimes of the modern food industry. Everything was made by hand, from scratch; everything was excellent.
The owner, Raquel (whose mother now only knits at home, I am told), and her partner Albert had recently taken over and updated the restuarant without pulling up its roots. Revisiting in 2015, I was delighted to find that nothing had changed. El Tossal still specializes in game dishes and traditional Catalan favourites but also offers a few lighter variations that suit the tastes of those more modern, lily-livered clients who shy away from spending the afternoon in a digestive coma.
The restaurant’s interior reflects this: it’s classic but smart; cozy but also light; a welcoming neighbourhood bar without the striplights and slot machines. There’s a four-course midweek menú del día for €15 that offers cracking value, and if you just want a snack there’s a selection of interesting tapas.
I stuck to à la carte and ordered a glass of red (€2) plus a half portion of broad bean salad (€4.50). It was superb. The baby broad beans were tender, served over goats’ cheese and fresh tomato with a mint dressing.
For my main course I chose what I’d really come for: wild boar stew (€14.75). It was rich, dark and thick, with whole peppercorns and rosemary leaves bobbing in its depths like rustic flavour mines. It’s how stews ought to be but rarely are.
The bread to mop it up was delicious and obviously from a quality baker. My low-carb good intentions went straight out of the window and I cleaned my plate. Once on the slippery slope I couldn’t resist dessert. The home-made (like everything else here) cheesecake (€5.50) was ideal; not too sweet, with the sharpness of the fruit allowed to shine.
Unless you have the lunchtime menu, you can expect to pay around €30-40 per person at El Tossal. It’s worth it. The food is built around flavour, not flourishes, and you can enjoy some formerly commonplace home-cooking standards like stewed partridge, oxtail, free-range chicken in beer, hunter’s rabbit, canelloni and garlic prawns. It’s all seasonal, straight from the market and cooked with care. It’s timeless, and I hope I can tip my own grandkids off about it one day.