Igueldo (c/Rosselló 186, 08008 Barcelona (between Enric Granados and Balmes)), +34 93 452 25 55) is a modern Basque restaurant with a growing reputation in the Eixample district. If you don’t mind traffic fumes, or if you’re a smoker, it has a neat little street terrace where you can eat; most visitors, however, will pass through the attractive lobby and into the white-walled dining room which is softened by exposed wood and clever lighting.
Co-owners Ana López de Lamdarid and Gonzalo Galbete run the front of house and kitchen respectively. Both have impressive CVs, liberally sprinkled with stars in restaurants like Jean-Luc Figueras, Neichel and the mighty Arzak, where they met. Ana’s background as an accomplished sommelier and viniculture author adds authority to the wine list selections. She was unfortunately absent when I visited but Gonzalo kindly came out to introduce himself.
I had a glass of cava with the appetizers: an excellent oyster with a subtle mint vinaigrette and a uncomplicated but very tasty miniature chistorra sausage with honey and wholegrain mustard sauce.
Both were delicious but I was being distracted by a group of American businessmen on the other side of the room whose voices were getting louder and louder as they bellowed boring work anecdotes at each other across the table. The noise from the rest of the restaurant was fine; the usual background hubbub of conversation in a busy but acoustically well-designed room. Most diners were from the shirt-no-tie, midweek post-work crowd but there were plenty of couples enjoying romantic suppers.
Ignoring the Foghorn Leghorn foreigners, I chose a local, organic Finca Viladellops 2011 red for €23. It turned out to be a perfectly adequate Grenache/Syrah which didn’t quite deliver the anticipated wallop but which was nevertheless just about up to the task of pairing what was to come.
My starter of aspic pig’s trotter and pickled vegetables (€7.70) looked great and tasted even better. The unctuous, de-boned trotter meat was perfectly complemented by the vinegary sharpness and the sticky reduction surrounding it was lip-lickingly good. The dish perhaps lacked a little texture but it certainly packed in plenty of flavour.
Unfortunately, I then encountered the first misstep of the evening. I’d eagerly reached for some bread to mop up that delicious reduction only to find that it was dry and had obviously been left out cut since lunchtime. This was a great pity as the bread had clearly been of very good quality when it was fresh.
All was well in my world again when the steak tartare (€13.20) arrived. This is one of my favourite dishes but it’s made badly much more often than it’s made well. There’s often a thrilling frisson of uncertainty too, as you wonder if it’s going to kill you, or at least leave you clutching the toilet for a week. There were no such concerns at Igueldo: tartare is one of chef Gonzalo’s own favourites and it shows. It was fresh, served at the right temperature (not fridge-blasted cold), perfectly seasoned and of top quality. The ‘beer yoghurt’ topped it off very nicely. Full marks.
By this point the braying business idiots ten metres away were updating the whole room about what an asshole Chuck was, and that thing that happened when Nancy went into Bob’s office and the governor got involved, and the problems with beta distribution, and that bitch of an ex-wife. The Spanish hosts at the same table looked rightly embarrassed. Fortunately the loudest bore then rose unsteadily to his feet and barrelled out, still bellowing farewells, leaving me to enjoy my next course.
The ibérico-and-leaf-wrapped parcels of slow-cooked oxtail (€17.60) weren’t the most attractive thing I’ve ever eaten but they compensated for it by being delicious. The meat was suitably rich and tender, with just the right note of sweetness from the red wine sauce and the accompanying sweet potatoes. It’s basically a deconstructed beef stew, but a damn good one – if a little overpriced.
Sadly my dessert was disappointingly bland. There was nothing wrong with the ‘egg yolk cake’, but it lacked punch. There was no eye-rolling eggy goodness, surprise or gustatory delight, just a slightly soggy spoonful of yellow sponge. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it didn’t reach the heights of the other dishes.
Despite the slip on the dismount, Igueldo is a restaurant I’ll certainly recommend. It gets the important things right: excellent location, attractive design, good service and great food that’s obviously cooked with both passion and skill. Full disclosure: I didn’t pay for the meal I had there but at the price point of around €50 per person, Igueldo is an excellent option.