Scruffy but scrumptious: Il Birrino restaurant in Barcelona serves craft beer plus great value Italian comfort food that’s cooked with care.
Review: Il Birrino restaurant and craft beer bar, Eixample, Barcelona
Appearances can be deceptive. At first glance, Il Birrino hasn’t got much going for it. It’s well off the beaten track and in the unlikely event you were strolling past, you’d probably keep going. The promise of craft beer is alluring and there’s live music at certain times but it looks more like a fun hipster bar than a food destination.
Inside, it’s a happy mess. The walls are cheaply painted with an Exorcist-green paint redolent of neglectful care homes in a documentary about society’s sad abandonment of its elderly. The kitchen is so small there’s no room for the Imperia pasta maker, which is clamped instead to the end of the bar. There’s a tiny, battered domestic oven that would look more at home in a student flat, or a divorce court case. The mise-en-place is out of place in the bar where the drinks shelves should be but aren’t. There’s flour everywhere. And in a badly judged but increasingly common second-language misjudgment, there are swear words scrawled on the blackboards that display the day’s dishes.
None of this matters.
I’ve been to Il Birrino twice myself in the last year. I’ve sent innumerable friends and recommended it to several fellow food critics. And they all agree: this place is great.
The reason it’s great can be found sweating into his bandanna in that impossibly cramped kitchen. Italian chef Emanuele de Angelis has been in Spain for 15 years but first caught my attention when he worked at Mikkeller bar. Now, in his own place, he is cooking simple Italian dishes, with some local Catalan influences, to a very high standard and at bargain prices. Ingredients are sourced with care from local markets. Everything is freshly made. There’s no pretentiousness, just good, honest, rustic food.
On my most recent visit I had sauteed baby squid with baby green beans amid chunks of courgettes and waxy potatoes (€8.50).
My wife and I duelled for possession of crusty bread to dip into a terracotta bowl of sizzling provolone — basically weaponized cheese on toast.
The house special that everyone raves about is the spaghetti with clams. I can confirm that the rabbit stew is very good too but on this occasion I chose pesto tagliatelli (€10.50). My wife ordered walnut, squash and burrata ravioloni (€11.50), which lay freshly made and floured in a basket on the bar, ready to be slipped into boiling water for a minute or two. Emanuele makes all the pasta himself, with one exception, often rolling and cutting it as it’s ordered. I make my own too. I even have the same machine. It doesn’t taste as good as this.
I had a couple of pints of a powerful 6.2% IPA, the name of which I neglected to note. At €6, it’s at the lower end of the Barcelona craft-beer price scale. Other draft craft beers cost only €5 per pint.
We were invited to our small but, of course, delicious and home made desserts (tiramisu and panna cotta) so I don’t know what they cost but it can’t be more than a few euros. If you try really hard, you could spend €40 per person here. You could easily eat very well for €20. For this standard of food, in Barcelona today, that is a steal.
Il Birrino is small, scruffy and scrumptious. It won’t be to everyone’s taste; if you’re looking for comfortable chairs or sophisticated surroundings of any kind, look elsewhere. But it’s got heart in abundance. It’s the kind of rustic Italian home cooking that puts a smile on your face; it’s fun and full of love, with big flavours that burst forth from quality ingredients treated with respect. It could do with a tidy up, frankly, and the blackboard swearing is puerile not cool. I fancy myself as a skilled and enthusiastic vulgarian but there’s a time and a place; I wouldn’t bring my kids here, for example, because of it which is a real pity because they would love the food. I know I did. I loved the prices too. If you can overlook or embrace its eccentricities, Il Birrino is a real find.
Il Birrino | Carrer d’Alí Bei 123, 08013 (Eixample) Barcelona | Facebook | (+34) 686 69 09 88 | Metro Marina (L1) | Sun-Weds 11am-4pm, 7pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 11am-2am)
Check out Il Birrino on the FoodBarcelona map