Lasarte – Barcelona’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant – offers distinctive, sure-footed cooking of the very highest standard.
Review: Lasarte Restaurant, Monument Hotel, Eixample, Barcelona
Barcelona’s reputation as a destination city for fine dining has mushroomed. But until recently, it did not have a restaurant with three Michelin stars. This irked local food journalists no end. They griped about French prejudice and championed their favourite two-starred contenders but it made no difference; to get to the nearest three-star (El Celler de Can Roca or Sant Pau) required a train ride. Finally, in the 2017 guide, Lasarte Restaurant became the first in Barcelona to receive the red book’s top award, after over 10 years of trying.
So what changed? Probably not much. Lasarte is more about evolution than revolution. Although head chef Paolo Casagrande is in charge on a day-to-day basis – and deserves much of the acclaim for Lasarte’s success – the big name on the door is Martín Berasategui. The Basque chef also has three stars at his eponymous restaurant near San Sebastian and two at MB in Tenerife. In other words, he knows how to impress the Michelin inspectors. A recent redesign of the Monument Hotel, where Lasarte is located, bumped the hotel up to 5*GL status and also perhaps nudged the restaurant over the three-star line.
But you don’t look up at the stars in a restaurant, you look down at your plate. So let’s get to what matters: the food.
Lasarte’s tasting menu is €210, the wine pairing €125. There’s also a ‘Lasarte’ menu for a mere €185, which has a €75 wine pairing. Eat à la carte and you’ll spend a similar amount – or more, when you order second helpings, which you will want to. The restaurant is usually fully booked so plan ahead. And start saving.
As you’d expect, the interior is beautiful. Pale wood, undulating lines and a giant, not-at-all-megalomaniacal Berasategui signature across one of the walls. There’s quality evident everywhere. Well, almost everywhere; the texture of the table linen is more profound than the plinky-plonky jazz piano of the background music.
The waiters are well-choreographed by veteran manager Joan Carles Ibáñez. They swirl around in an unobtrusive manner, bringing menus and cava and then hors d’oeuvres. These appetizers are surprisingly bar-snackish, with twists appropriate to the location: a battered and fried sea urchin, then a spiral prawn cracker. Caviar on what is basically red Rice Krispies is heavenly.
A wooden wheelbarrow is pushed to the table, looking like the kind of expensive traditional toy that well-meaning elderly aunts buy for baffled modern children. It bears fresh loaves of bread and five cylinders of butter, each a different colour and flavour. Resist. There is much food to come. We haven’t even made it through the appetizers. A caramelized millefeulle of mi-cuit foie and smoked eel is brought into harmony by an acidic apple note. A marble serving cup arrives and cucumber freshness hits your nose; the bright green splodge of chilled jalapeño and razor-clam-tartar mayonnaise within carries a kick.
Wine is brought (Rafael Palacios, Louro, 2015). A very good course – marinated oyster with iced watercress slush and sea mist – is followed by an excellent one. Scarlet shrimp Royal with red curry and raw vegetables is un-Spanish in its use of spices but still, somehow, absurdly delicate. It in turn is followed by an ever better course: a salad.
Yes, a salad. And leaves have never tasted so good. Tangled among them are petals, herbs, baby vegetables and a wobbly heart of tomato seeds. Drawing it all together is a transparent tomato water that transcends its description. There are also some nuggets of lobster on the plate but they’re superfluous: vegetarians who ask the kitchen to omit them would not be missing out.
“La Trufa” is an explosion of earthiness, with fermented mushrooms and collard greens. Horn-of-plenty mushrooms camouflage foie to form a false truffle but there is a sliver of the real thing lurking beneath the mushroom foam. It’s well-paired with a glass of Emrich-Schönleber Mineral Riesling Trocken 2014.
Wagyu beef carpaccio is dusted with various unlikely flavours, including frozen mozzarella powder, then rolled up to eat. It gets a mar i muntanya infusion of fishiness via a light, yellow caviar, the provenance of which I missed.
The wine changes to Taleia (2015 D.O. Costers del Segre, sauvignon blanc & semillon). Citric risotto with cockles and sea urchins is divine, like a savoury lemon curd rice pudding.
A Palamos prawn – without which no tasting menu in Catalonia is complete, it seems – arrives on a recreation of the sea floor, complete with an maritime waft of iodine. The prawn, I suspect, has departed this world very recently indeed; the freshness is unsurpassable. The coral emulsion and codium seeweed don’t improve the prawn – I think that’s impossible – but they put it into an interesting new context.
A bright Dover sole, arranged like an art piece with goose barnacles (percebes) “mariniere” and octopus, shaved with squash and topped with saffron foam, is gorgeous.
The sommelier pours a 2009 Muga Rioja Gran reserva for a bloody and beautiful charcoal-grilled pigeon breast. This is (tri) stellar. Flakes of salt pop on the tongue as capers and spheres of black olives melt and mingle with a smokey citrus galangal sauce. It is, let us be honest, a bit of a mess on the plate. If my 5-year old painted this, he’d get lukewarm praise. But there’s nothing slapdash about the flavour combinations, which are bold and delightful.
Shiso and mint leaves sorbet with acid touches that aren’t despite the description, light but are balanced by a creamy custard beneath that stops just short of icing-butter richness. A 2009 Gutierrez Colosia Moscatel Sherry is the last wine. The second dessert, a salted almond praline with apricot and rum ice cream and caramel, must come sponsored by a local dentist. It clings fiercely to your teeth while your brain is processing its deliciousness. But even as your enamel fizzes away, you won’t care. It’s worth it. Petits-fours follow. They’re great too.
Lasarte is a world-class restaurant. Every dish – without exception – works. It is the absolute embodiment of culinary sure-footedness. That overwhelming competence can, ironically, negatively affect your initial impressions. You should feel dazzled but at times Lasarte makes brilliance look so easy that it doesn’t seem like anything special. So pinch yourself and pay attention: this is masterful cooking. It’s not showy and not whizz-bang exuberant. It’s not even particularly photogenic. But it is an iron fist of flavour in a velvet glove of elegance. These dishes pack a punch.
Despite that, I can’t get as enthusiastic about Lasarte as I am about the other Catalan three-stars, Sant Pau and El Celler de Can Roca. And that’s purely down to the location. Lasarte is a hotel restaurant. A beautiful one, in a great hotel, but a hotel restaurant nonetheless. Eating there lacks a sense of occasion. The same problem affects Enoteca and Moments, my own favourite two-star restaurants in Barcelona. In the city, hotels are where it’s at.
Lasarte has evolved over time and is now at the peak of its powers. The restaurant’s service is refined and its accomplished cooking has a distinctive character. It deserves all of the praise and recognition it has received.
Lasarte Restaurant, Monument Hotel, Carrer Mallorca 259, 08008 (Eixample), Barcelona; (+34) 93 445 3242; www.restaurantlasarte.com; Metro Diagonal; Closed Sundays, Mondays, public holidays and 3 weeks in August
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