Like mama used to make – but better. Top-quality traditional Catalan food at affordable prices, served in style .
UPDATE 2018: Freixa Tradició has now CLOSED due to the retirement of Josep Maria and Dori. Thanks for the memories!
Review: Freixa Tradició restaurant
The Freixa family knows how to cook. Josep Maria Freixa won a Michelin star at el Racó d’en Freixa in the Sant Gervasi-Sarrià district of Barcelona, then handed the restaurant over to his son, Ramón. He, in turn, updated the style, kept the star, then left for Madrid where he would go on to win two Michelin stars at his own eponymous restaurant. The old el Racó, however, was not abandoned: it was returned to the safe hands of Josep Maria, who is still active behind the stoves in his 70s, still cooking some of the most outstanding traditional dishes in the city in what has been re-branded as Freixa Tradició.
The new-old Freixa is an unobstrusive presence on a car-lined backstreet. Inside is one of my favourite dining rooms: small, elegant, classic and cool; lit by hidden bulbs behind magnificent copper pans. Young, smartly dressed staff are directed by maître d’ Dori Riera, who also came out of retirement to work with her husband Josep Maria at the restaurant.
Anyone expecting a modern menu to match the snappy decor will be disappointed. If, however, you just want straightforward cooking done to a very high standard then you’re in for a treat. The dishes on offer are the kind of things you’d get in a typical Catalan home: croquettes, roasted peppers, canelons (stuffed pasta), fricandó (braised veal and mushrooms), meatballs, roast kid… but no-one at home can cook them like this – I don’t care how good your mama or your iaia is in the kitchen. Dishes, many of which are available in half portions, range from around €10-€15 for starters and €16-€27 for main courses.
Things start with the Catalan staples of fuet (a long, thin, cured sausage) and perfect pa amb tomàquet (coca flatbread rubbed with tomato), €2.95.
The fuet is great but the bread will make you do a double take. It, like all the bread here (€3.95, served with quality olive oil), is made in-house by Josep Maria who still gets up at dawn each morning to turn the organic flour and mother dough into something amazing. What compels a man in his 70s to work so hard when he could, presumably, be comfortably retired? I don’t know, but I can imagine that it must be difficult to stop doing something when you’re as good at it as this.
Dori pointed out the daily 5-course set menu (evenings too) for €38. I was tempted, but chose only tomato soup from the tasting menu and instead opted for wild mushrooms, one of the daily specials, and an à la carte main course. The cold soup, bursting with freshness, was a smooth, velverty puddle poured over fresh basil, sheeps’ cheese and roasted tomatoes.
Then a plate of mixed wild mushrooms, some of the first of the autumn, to bridge from the summery starter into a wintery main course. There’s no secret here: just skillfully selected and cleaned mushrooms, cooked perfectly with oil and a little garlic, and a generous scattering of pine nuts.
My choice of main course was made the second I saw it on the menu: beef tripe and snout, blood sausage and chickpeas. This is the sort of dish that I keep twisting people’s arms to try. I do understand why most people don’t listen to me. When it’s made badly, it smells (and looks) like a wet but unwashed dog that’s just been run over. But when it’s made right, it tastes incredible: a spicy, sensual, sticky feast of gelatinous tomato sauce clinging to jelly-soft pillows and meaty mouthfuls of flesh. I make my own version at home most weeks (secret ingredient: pigs’ trotters) that’s a bit more picante than this one and, until now, had been my favourite. Not any more. This is the best I’ve ever had.
The crema catalana was perfect too. Smooth and silky below, with just the right balance between the cinnamon, citrus and bitter crisp of burnt sugar. There’s only so much you can do with crema catalana (which means, to be fair, that good versions exist in lots of restaurants) but Freixa’s is textbook.
Petits fours to finish – and almost finish me off. I’d O.D.’d on bread and I was wobbling on the precipice of a carbohydrate coma, groaning with fullness and contentment.
Comfort food in comfortable surroundings, cooked by a team led by a veteran chef who knows Catalan cuisine inside out. What’s not to like? This Michelín Bib Gourmand restaurant has sensibly steered clear of star chasing and is all the better for it. Josep Maria has instead returned to his roots and created a restaurant offering everyday favoruites with uncommon attention to detail. These are the dishes of family get-togethers, truck-stop cafés and neighbourhood bars, elevated by attention to detail and quality produce but not needlessly deconstructed, re-imagined or pushed to within touching distance of fine dining. There is, of course, the individual interpretation of the chef, as with any restaurant but these are recognizably the same dishes that form the backbone of the region’s cuisine, made about as well as they can be made. The price is an absolute bargain, given the quality of service and ingredients on offer. If you visit Barcelona, you should certainly seek out good tapas restaurants and some of the city’s superb, creative modern restaurants. But you should also eat some classic regional dishes – and for that, Freixa Tradició is as good as anywhere.
Freixa Tradició: Carrer Sant Elies 22, 08006, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 209 75 59; Metro/FGC Sant Gervasi/Pl. Molina; Closed Sundays and Mondays