UPDATE: CLOSED An ambitious new Michelin-star contender opens in the Mercer Barcelona hotel: Kresios Barcelona adds a welcome Italian element to the city’s fine-dining mix.
Update: Kresios didn’t last long. The restaurant is again called the Mercer and has a new chef: Click here for my review of the latest iteration of Mercer restaurant.
Review: Kresios Barcelona restaurant, Mercer Barcelona Hotel, Gothic Quarter
The Mercer is one of my favourite luxury hotels in Barcelona. It’s built into the Roman walls of the oldest part of the city, with evidence of centuries of subsequent re-use and reinvention visible everywhere you look – a testament to the enduring power of change.
The hotel’s main restaurant, however, has been more of a testament to the problems of change. The late Jean-Luc Figueras was the first head chef, followed by Xavier Lahuerta who was cooking here when I last visited. When Lahuerta left last year, the restaurant was in limbo, but – in a bold move – the management have brought in Giussepe Ianotti, whose Krèsios Telese restaurant in the south of Italy already has a Michelin star.
Ianotti is well-known to Italian diners but doesn’t have much culinary celebrity power in Catalonia. Despite this, the Mercer team have given him carte blanche to change the whole brigade of cooks, raise the price of the menu and create a challenging and technical series of dishes. It isn’t a hands-off, executive-chef-by-email arrangement either; Ianotti will be spending 3 or 4 days a week in Barcelona from now on. He has also changed everything at the hotel’s tapas bar, Le Bouchon, which I hope to revisit soon.
At the time of my visit in early February, Kresios Barcelona had been open only two weeks. That sort of statement is often a prelude to a list of kinks that still need to be ironed out but in this case Ianotti and his team have hit the ground running.
The two tasting menus on offer here, the Tarantino-inspired ‘Mr. Pink’ and ‘Mr. Black’, have been reduced in price since my visit (but, at the time of writing, this is not updated on the hotel website). They currently stand at €90 and €125, which is still at the high end of the one-star dining market in Barcelona. Your money does, however, buy you a lot of dishes; those looking for a three-course rustic Italian feast will be disappointed (and should try the €40 lunch menu instead) but fans of creative fine dining will find much to admire. They’ll certainly have time to admire it – this is a LONG meal and it might be advisable in future for Kresios to find a way to group some of the starters together. Wine pairings range from €35 to €70. As always, full disclosure: I was invited to the restaurant to give my feedback on it.
The Mr. Black menu starts with a series of finger-food snacks. Delicious breadsticks with creamy Normandy butter.
A fermented Jerusalem artichoke with grated almond.
A fried cod skin with paprika that reveals itself as the box of sunflower seeds is shaken, not unlike (but not as good as) the beetroot dish at Disfrutar.
Courgette taglialini with black truffle pearls and mint is a very pretty dish, light and translucent, served on a glass plate. Elegant and delicious.
‘Pizza’ – a flavour bomb of three kinds of tomato, anchovies and olive oil dust in a steamed Asian bun.
Also excellent was the chicken skin and rice crisp. I prefer the version at Suculent, but this was an interesting and worthwhile variation.
The Raffaello of foie was a big hit with my wife: instead of the Ferrero Rocher cream and almond coconut-covered sweet, we got a smooth foie version that didn’t honestly do much for me but had her eyes rolling.
Veal popcorn with San Marzano tomato ketchup. I really liked this. It’s light, fun, made me laugh and followed up with a big hit of flavour.
An oyster in a vodka and cocktail with dill, mixed tableside, was refreshing, with just the right amount of booze and set us up for the main courses.
A “cured” egg yolk, still liquid, in tuna mayo with a freeze-dried caper, was a knockout, an oligarch among Russian salads that needed no peasant-like potato. Probably my favourite dish of the night.
It was followed by my least favourite, and least fitting within the context of the menu, a swerve towards Japan and a katsuobushi (white beetroot) minestrone. It smelled great but failed to live up to the promise of the aroma. In the end, it was a weak veal dashi with some meagre vegetables and my wife and I both left it unfinished.
Beef tongue, cooked for 80 hours (which seems excessive and resulted in a degree of mushiness but presumably this was the desired effect) with pepper and vinegar sauce and a herb dusting, delivered interesting textures and unusual flavour combinations. I liked the idea of the dish more than the dish itself, but it grew on me as I ate it. The wine pairing was excellent and helped considerably.
Rice vongole, like spaghetti vongole, but, err, with rice instead, was powerful and full of big flavours. The seasoning was jacked right up to the limit (but not beyond) and the rice was very al dente, bordering on undercooked, which I liked but my wife didn’t (can’t please all the people all the time). The clams were impeccable.
Ravioli with tomato and veal ragu were as close as the menu got to traditional Italian and left me wanting more. Excellent pasta.
And then… a taste of home. My home. Italian immigrants are responsible for many of the best fish and chips shops in the United Kingdom, and Ianotti’s fine dining version of my homeland’s most iconic dish made me laugh with joy. A juicy fillet of cod, a curled potato ‘chip’ imbued with vinegar and a perfect pea puree ticked all the boxes. Wonderful.
Then goose three ways, served on beautiful plates. The serving dishes throughout are worth mentioning: with the exception of the pointless ravioli casserole, everything was functional, attractive and sensible. Top marks. The goose dish, with seared breast, stuffed and breaded heart, and tongue, served with salsify, shitake mushrooms and apple was straightforward, well executed and enjoyable.
A mojito sorbet to cut through the richness, again, beautifully presented.
Then a dessert that could have been carved out of my dreams. If you sat down and tried to make the ultimate sweet to represent my tastes – cigars, dark chocolate, malt whisky, sea salt, not too much sweetness – this would be an excellent effort. A tobacco infused passionfruit ice cream on chocolate sable, served with a glass of peaty Laphroaig – it’s enough to put hair on your chest.
My wife probably doesn’t want hair on her chest, so she was happy to choose the other dessert option instead, a yoghurt and fruit (some of it freeze-dried) soup. She seemed to enjoy it but, honestly, I wasn’t paying attention as I drifted in my personal cloud of smoky happiness.
The petit fours were delicious but I could only manage one or two after such a large (and long) meal.
Kresios Barcelona has certainly changed the Mercer. There are more front-of-house staff now (personnel shortages used to be a glaring problem with the hotel in general) and they are all enthusiastic, competent and well-prepared. Ianotti is clearly a talented chef with a clear vision. He should be in contention for a Michelin star here, to match the one he has in the Italian guide, if he can keep the standards up and the price under control. I’d like to see him make an even stronger statement of his Italian background and use it to set Kresios apart from the other international hotel restaurants in the city. The restaurant has been conceived to make the most of the captive audience of well-heeled hotel guests but it deserves a place on the list of anyone looking at fine-dining destinations in Barcelona.
Kresios Barcelona: Hotel Mercer, C/ dels Lledó 7, 08002 (Barri Gòtic), Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 310 74 80, Ext. 705; Metro Jaume I or Liceu. Closed Sunday night and Mondays.