Friendly and affordable fine dining in Barcelona’s Eixample.
Etapes (c/ Enric Granados 10, 08007, Barcelona, Tel. (+34) 933236914) opened in 2010 and I visited the following year. Despite some rough edges, the restaurant showed great promise and duly went on to win a Michelín Bib Gourmand. Etapes has undergone a cosmetic facelift since then but remains a clean, cozy, contemporary space that suits its Eixample environs.
It’s a family-owned affair: Didac handles front-of-house while his brother (and former Hofmann student) Pol oversees the kitchen as executive chef. Their grandmother makes the desserts. The €15.50 lunchtime menú del día is still a bargain and attracts mainly locals. In the evening the client base carries passports: lots of French guests – attracted by the Michelín guide – among an international mix of diners. Not coincidentally, Didac and the other staff switch easily between languages.
There are two tasting menus: a €35 version and the complete €60 menú del chef. I chose the latter but both are absolute bargains given the category of restaurant.
An amuse bouche of pineapple soup and salmon tataki started the meal in tongue-tingling style. Sharp but balanced and beautifully presented.
My first wine was an organic 2012 Albet i Noya Rión. This is a varietal I’d never tried before: it comes from old vines recovered by Jose Maria Albet.
Red prawn tartar with lemon, lime and prawn reduction started the menu proper. It lacked a touch of acidity but nothing else; the prawn reduction was complex and deep.
Tuna tataki with sesame mayo, wasabi, soy and seaweed jelly . This was more product-led than some of the other dishes but Didac pointed out that they try to put their own spin on it. Good tuna, well presented.
1999 Viña Tondina Blanco Rioja Reserva was served; bright yellow and complicated, with a LOT going on. Not a session drinking wine but one with enough character to handle what was coming next.
A ‘false’ duck ravioli with foie sauce and orange. It’s ‘false’ because it uses wonton dough not Italian pasta. Duck and orange is a winning, though sometimes overused, combination. It worked here. Creamy, rich, layers of flavour and spot-on seasoning.
Usually there would be lobster served next but I’d requested the Mar i Muntanya of scallops, ibérico pork belly and oyster sauce.
It’s a hard dish to pair wine with but a glass of trepat proved a good choice. The dish? Wow. Obvious, but outstandingly executed. Perfect caramelization, perfect balance and a sail-billowing, full-speed-ahead gust of flavour from the oyster sauce.
A big 2013 Cal Pla Priorat was poured for the final savoury dish: roast suckling pig (cochinillo) with calçot (Catalan green onion) confit, chestnut and red apple puree. It’s hard to get suckling pig too badly wrong and Etapes gets it very right: tender meat, crisp crackling, rich sauce.
I couldn’t make my mind up about dessert so we went off menu and I was offered a “tasting menu within the tasting menu” of some specialities – including those from that day’s set lunch.
‘Red soup’ of berries (tangy and definitely my favourite; I’m a sucker for red berries), banana cake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, tiramisu, and strawberry meringue. No showing off here, just good home cooking by Grandma.
Etapes is an interesting restaurant. It doesn’t offer the creativity of the likes of Gresca and Hisop but, by keeping concepts relatively simple and concentrating on the execution, it offers a solidly satisfying fine dining experience. The staff are charming and the passion of the people running the place shines through. It’s relaxing and unstuffy, and attracts everyone from local businessmen with visitors to hipsters and tourists. When I was there, everyone was having a great time. If you’re looking for cutting-edge new Catalan cuisine, look elsewhere; if want well-cooked, sophisticated food at an affordable price, come to Etapes.