There are days when you just don’t want to gamble. It’s always great to try new places but if you want a guaranteed good lunch, a no cabe duda certainty that you will sit down, eat and leave happy, then you need to go to somewhere tried and tested.
It seems strange to refer to Gresca (C/Provença 230, www.gresca.net) as being anything other than new and exciting but its been around long enough now to have earned the status of ‘old favourite’ with Barcelona diners. Chef Rafa Peña’s self-owned restaurant was one of the first to be mentioned as part of the ‘bistronomic’ scene and, while that clunky term is probably near the end of its useful life, the restaurant itself continues to impress.
For the full Gresca experience it’s probably best to go in the evening. Order the tasting menu and allow your mind to boggle at how Peña, like his contemporaries at Gelonch and Embat, can produce food of this calibre in such a small and unprepossessing restaurant.
But I wasn’t going for an evening meal. At times — with a young child and another on the way — I doubt I’ll ever go for another evening meal again. No, I wanted lunch.
Dan will never turn down the chance to eat at Gresca but he was a minute late which was all the excuse I needed to order a fino.
When he arrived we enjoyed the complementary cheese triangles and made two easy decisions. One was to order a bottle of Montsant red and the other was to just have everything on the set lunch menu. That’s not as gluttonous as it sounds: there are only two choices for each course. It’s Rafa’s was of keeping costs down so he can offer the menú del día for only €20.
First out was a dish described as scrambled eggs with spring garlic and pancetta. The eggs were rich and creamy, wrapped in a translucent, almost invisible parcel of ham and topped with little tomato seed islands.
It was wonderful but matched for quality by the other starter, extremely thinly-sliced presa ibèrica, a lovely cut of pork from the inside shoulder served in a vegetable and pork broth. This was deep and delicious and had us fighting to dip our freshly-baked bread into the last of the caldo.
We’d ordered each of the courses on offer but had we not been sharing, we’d both have chosen the glazed kid over the red mullet with tartar sauce. It would have been a mistake.
The mullet was cooked to perfection: crisped-up skin and tender flesh. It sat on as good a tartar sauce as I’ve ever tasted, the capers cutting through without overpowering and the fresh dill complementing. Simple but unexpectedly, impressively good.
That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with the kid. Tender and melting, it was a great dish but it took something of a back seat to the fish on this occasion.
For dessert we had a dish of three sorbets which were also as good as I’ve had. Vanilla, fresh strawberry and yoghurt (or perhaps kefir). Nothing remarkably creative, but executed extremely well.
The other dish, sadly, I eyed with great disappointment. The ‘banana, cocoa and vanilla’ featured, as I’d feared, my personal bête noire, cooked banana. Dan enjoyed it but I just can’t understand why anyone would ruin such a noble fruit by turning it into a slimy atrocity. The cocoa and vanilla were extremely good — my unhappiness was entirely of my own making and had nothing to do with the quality of the cooking.
Coffee and grappa rounded things off nicely and we left, as most patrons do, satisfied and impressed.
Everyone knows about Gresca by now. It’s no secret, but sometimes we overlook what’s consistently good in our chase for novelty. If you still haven’t been, then go. If you’ve been before, go back. Gresca’s as good as it ever was, and that’s high praise indeed.