Gresca Bar in Barcelona’s Eixample district is a new wine-and-food annex of one of the city’s best restaurants – and a total delight.
Review: Gresca Bar, l’Esquerra de l’Eixample, Barcelona
I really like Gresca restaurant. I always have. You can read my reviews of it here and here, but if you’re in a hurry, here’s the short version: Gresca is a tiny restaurant that serves Michelin-star-worthy dishes at relatively bargain prices. It’s not stylish. It’s not luxurious. It’s not even especially comfortable. But the food’s never less than fantastic.
Chef/owner Rafa Penya always wanted to expand and considered a number of new locations before a solution presented itself. The owners of the premises next door agreed to sell and, eventually, a deal was done. But instead of making Gresca’s dining room bigger, Rafa took a different track and created Gresca Bar.
The new annex is a narrow strip with, yes, a bar near the door. It opens up into a large open kitchen that’s shared between the restaurant and the bar. It’s certainly a contrast to the phone-box-sized space in which Rafa used to work his culinary magic. Now, a small brigade of young cooks toil under his instructions in full view of customers who sit at a surrounding bar. I’ve complained about eating at bars before but it makes more sense here than in a fine-dining restaurant.
Forget about draft beer here: Gresca Bar is fully focused on natural wines. There’s a well-curated wine list at sensible prices and I liked everything I tried, but I hope Rafa reconsiders his stance. Some of the dishes he serves here cry out for a quality craft beer.
And what dishes they are. Like all of Rafa’s cooking, the emphasis is on bold, clean flavours and the elevation of humble, unpretentious ingredients. Here, however, the cooking is more simplified – though no less careful – than in the restaurant. The menu lists half-portions but I was allowed quarter portions in order to sample more for review purposes, so bear that in mind when looking at the photos. Expect to spend €35-40 per person including drinks.
A warm, smoked oyster (not on the menu).
Clams with a salad-vegetable vinaigrette (€12)
So far so good, but better was to come. Leeks with a salpicón of pickled peppers, fresh cheese and herbs (€7.50).
Then a not-quite-sauerkraut of cabbage in vinaigrette with Parmesan and mayonnaise (€7.50). Like everything Gresca serves, it works well, although I found myself wishing for a hint of mustard or something else to deliver a picante edge. A greasy, gloopy, glorious piece of bar food: a bikini (grilled sandwich) of Iberian pork loin and comté cheese (€10). It is utterly wonderful, as was the Bierzo red I drank with it, but an IPA would have taken it to near-perfection.
Improbably, the following dish was even better. Veal brains with butter and lemon (€15). There are quite a few offal dishes on the menu and if anyone’s still a sceptic about the merits of such things, eat here. You will be converted. This dish, especially, will have you howling “Brains!” and craving more, like a method actor in a Romero flick. Salt crystals burst on the tongue, the lemon zings, the butter seduces and the rich, delicate brains slip down effortlessly. Waxy potatoes too? Perfection.
The aroma of smoked pimentón (paprika, though don’t let the locals hear you calling it that) announces the arrival of a veal snout stew (€12). Forget the name; just eat it. Sticky, rich, satisfying and superb, a carnal delight enriched with chorizo and blood sausage.
Excellent bread from Forn Sant Josep (€2.50) reveals its usefulness here, as you mop up every drop of this. To finish lunch, torrijas (€6). This French-toast-like dish is one of my favourites but Gresca Bar’s wasn’t the best I’ve had. There was a snowdrift of sugar on top, not a dusting, which detracted from the otherwise deliciousness of the rich dessert, which is complemented by a dollop of quality ice-cream. It’s nothing you can’t fix yourself with a spoon or a finger, but a lighter hand in the kitchen would be preferable.
Gresca Bar is everything I hoped it would be. In fact it’s better. Chef Rafa’s cooking style adapts perfectly to more informal offerings, keeping all the punch and potency even if some of the subtlety is inevitably sacrificed. Stews and offal make welcome appearances, reflecting the trend toward reevaluating such dishes in a more modern context. The wine selection will please most people but – I repeat – I hope the considerable quality of Catalonia’s booming craft-beer scene earns a place at the bar for at least two or three examples on draft. You may or may not like sitting at a bar while you eat. If you don’t, there’s a great restaurant called Gresca next door. If you do, the open kitchen of Gresca Bar buzzes with energy and provides an entertaining backdrop. It’s not the spot for a special occasion, but gastronomes will love it.
Gresca Bar: Carrer Provença 230, 08036 (Eixample), Barcelona; (+34) 93 451 6193; www.gresca.net; Metro Diagonal/FGC Provença; Closed Sun; No reservations
Take a look at other restaurants in the left Eixample (l’esquerra de l’Eixample) area.
Or look up Gresca Bar on the FoodBarcelona map.