The area around Plaça Catalunya is something of a gastronomic desert. The vast majority of restaurants exist only to take money from the hordes of tourists that pour incessantly out of the underground train and metro station like water from a broken mains pipe. These disorientated souls stand confused and blinking in front of El Corte Inglés, rotating their maps to find Las Ramblas where they will go to enjoy €10 beers, microwaved paella, deep-frozen tapas and other authentic Catalan delicacies.
If you find yourself there but don’t have the time or energy to hike up an appetite and go somewhere less overrun, your non-atrocious options are, frankly, limited.
One of the best is Lluís de les Moles (C/ Les Moles 25, 93 3175866), tucked away in obscurity in a nondescript side street. A lunchtime-only establishment run by chef Lluís Piera (formerly of Jean Luc Figueras and Via Veneto), it serves a quality set menu to discerning locals and the very occasional tourist.
You’d walk past it if you weren’t looking for it and, once inside, you’re unlikely to be blown away by the decor which is pleasant and funcional but over-crammed with tables.
Lluís de les Moles’ set menu isn’t hugely expensive at €18,90 but nor is it particularly ‘set’: the price doesn’t include IVA, coffee or wine and several of the choices carry a supplement which serves to hike up the bill, including such baffling additions as a €3 charge to have a glass of orange juice as a dessert. I don’t know where they’re buying their oranges but they need to start haggling, immediately. There’s not a great deal of variation either — some of the choices have been on the menu for years. Signature dishes are all well and good but a bit of creativity to balance them out wouldn’t go amiss from someone who’s obviously a talented cook.
One of the ever-present menu options is the timbal de huevo frito con patatas de sartén, pimientos de cristal y salsa jabulgo, a pile of savoury, artery-clogging fried egg, potatoes and ham. It’s delicious but I’ve had it before so I went for the callos (tripe).
As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of offal and this didn’t let me down. Slightly spicy, extremely rich and mercifully free of the ‘wet dog’ smell that can sometimes spoil this dish.
My wife chose the warm goats’ cheese in filo pastry salad (€2.50 supplement). It was excellent and the tomato jam accompaniment was just right.
To follow, my generous slab of fresh cod couldn’t have been cooked any better. The bed of samfaina (Catalan vegetable sauce, similar to the Provençal ratatoille) was good too.
My wife went for the Argentinian-style hamburger which meant no bun, a pile of decent chips and some chimichurri sauce on the side to spice things up. The burger wasn’t the biggest but it was well-seasoned and well-cooked.
We’d had some bread while waiting for our starters so we were pretty full by this point but neither I nor my wife can say no to mel i mató, fresh cheese with honey. This one’s impossible to get wrong and is a safe choice in pretty much any restaurant.
I like Lluís de les Moles. It’s not perfect: its positives (good cooking, lack of nearby competition) are counterbalanced by its negatives (slightly overexpensive, lack of variety) but the balance definitely tips in favour of the former. I first ate there about five years ago and it’s maintained its standards although on my recent visit it wasn’t as busy as it used to be. That’s probably a result of the economic crisis but I’d still advise ringing ahead to reserve a table if you visit which, if you’re in the area at lunchtime, you should.