La Castanya in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter serves smart, creative tapas giving local ingredients an Italian twist.
Review: La Castanya creative tapas bar and restaurant, Barri Gòtic, Barcelona
I knew for sure that La Castanya would be good as soon as I saw the chef arrive. But I was already pretty confident by then. Why? Well, the view from outside was a big clue. In a part of Barcelona where many kitchens are small, hidden away and of uncertain hygiene standards, La Castanya’s is in full public view, thanks to a huge street-facing window. A glance inside at the gleaming, well-organized work area tells you that this is a place where care is taken. So I was feeling pleased even as I sat at the bar and a familiar face appeared; Nicola Drago, a young Italian chef who’d impressed me the year before at Le Bouchon (which now has a different focus and culinary team).
La Castanya’s been around for a while and used to be an undistinguished cheap eats destination for diners on tight budgets. This year, a revamp that included Drago becoming a partner, resulted in a new menu and new focus. Prices have nudged up to standard Barcelona gastrobar levels but the quality has also skyrocketed. There are still sandwiches and burgers available but they’re a step above the standard fare. The real draw is the tapas menu, which features mainly KM0 ingredients given an Italian/international twist and a quasi-fine-dining facelift by Nico. Expect to spend €25-€35 per person if you’re feeling hungry.
The interior of the bar has been reworked too. As well as the aforementioned kitchen window there are some funky interior decorations and light fittings made from bicycle parts, as befits La Castanya’s location in the increasingly boho Barri Gòtic.
As always, full disclosure: on this occasion I was invited to try La Castanya and didn’t pay for what I ate. Also as always: if it wasn’t good it wouldn’t be in the blog. The difference between going as a customer and going as a reviewer in this case was the quantity. I wouldn’t have tried as many dishes under normal circumstances but the team were keen to show me their favourites. There’s a sense of pride about the food here that’s almost always a good sign.
Highlights included croquetas of ossobucco, with crispy shells and a citrus-tinged, rich, deep filling (€1.80). Roast chicken croquettes (same price) were more straightforward but equally good and came served in a funky egg box.
Sweet Pléiade Poget spéciales oysters (€3 each), both au naturel and with a Bloody Mary breeze.
A rainbow trout tataki, enlivened by herby mustard and sour apple (€6.90). Outstanding.
Italy meets Spain in a caprese salad with salmorejo (Andalucian bread & tomato purée) featuring basil bread and buffalo mozzarella (€6.90).
Tender grilled octopus (€8.20).
Iberian pork secreto (a specialty cut from between the shoulder and ribs, much beloved in Spain) with yoghurt and lavender (€7.20).
There was more, but there isn’t space for it all here.
La Castanya offers creative tapas of a very high standard at sensible prices (by Barcelona standards). The food is very much a personality-driven affair; Nico puts his distinctive stamp on it and, like all such cuina d’autor, how much you enjoy it will depend on how closely your tastes align with his. I thought the dishes were universally good and occasionally excellent. You’re not really getting a taste of Barcelona here but you are sure to eat well. It’s the sort of place where the menu will always be a work in progress as the chef tinkers with new ideas but that’s not a bad thing. There are already plenty of places where you can find dishes being made the same way they were 50 or 100 years ago (Los Caracoles, for example, further along the same street, which is a wildly overpriced tourist trap but does serve authentic traditional food). La Castanya is doing things differently, but with an emphasis on good taste, care and quality ingredients.
La Castanya Tapas Bar and Restaurant: Carrer Escudellers 30, 08002 (Barri Gòtic), Barcelona; Tel. +34 93 6671617; Metro Drassanes; Sun-Thurs 9am-2.30am, Fri-Sat 9am-3am.
Find La Castanya on the FoodBarcelona map.
Read about other restaurants in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
I must go and try the food here – I’ve walked down Escudellers a few times recently and back in 1991 I lived at number 33.
Let me know what you think!