Inventive and impassioned cooking from a charismatic chef whose personality shines through in every dish in his restaurant, making it one of the finest in Barcelona.
Note: This review is based on a visit in January 2014.
Chef Jordi Herrera isn’t, at first glance, the kind of guy you might expect to delicately arrange exquisite dishes for a living. The bearded former rugby player has a solid handshake but a light touch in the kitchen. It has earned Manairó (C/ Diputaciò 424, +932 31 00 57, ten minutes on foot from La Sagrada Familia or a couple of Metro stops from the centre of town) a Michelin star and a place in the heart of discerning Barcelona diners.
Sitting down for lunch with him, it’s impossible not to be swept along by his enthusiasm. This is a man who loves food, loves cooking, and loves his restaurant. He designed the metal sculptures and the table in the lobby, chose the art on the walls, and hired the fiercely loyal team that’s helped realize his culinary dreams.
The organic sculpture designs spring from his love of nature. Herrera wanted to be an anthropologist before turning his hand to cooking and signing up at Barcelona’s renowned Hoffman cookery school. There is still something of the mad professor in his approach, which sees him apply science to cooking to naturally enhance flavours instead of just to wow guests with theatrical presentations.
As a result, Manairó offers some of the most enjoyable food in the city. Manairons are elves from Pyrenean legend and Herrera brings a magical touch to transform simple dishes like grilled sardines into something supernaturally good.
Unfortunately I had a malfunctioning camera-phone on the day of my visit so most of the lunch went un-photographed but the true joy of this small restaurant isn’t in looking at the food, it’s in eating it.
A smoky sardine mousse, roast chicken and samfaina croquettes, a clever blue cheese and parmesan ‘pizza’ ball… all surprised, all delighted.
The smoked bonito was delicious, the sardine fillet with cauliflower and beetroot – a variation on classic peasant grape-harvester’s dish – even better.
Ravioli of foie with coffee oil was rapturous, absolutely wonderful. Scallops a la carbonara, sensational.
Steak is Herrera’s signature dish. He uses a patented system of spikes to rapidly cook the meat from the inside out (to retain moisture) over a smoky stove-top bonfire. The result was probably the best filet mignon I’ve had in Barcelona. I was reduced to swearing and nodding and wondering if it would be over-the-top to order another one there and then.
But it was time for desserts; a boozy caipirinha with some unexpected twists, a straightforward but utterly perfect chocolate and nut pudding, then some equally good petits fours.
There was an honesty, a real gutsiness to everything at Manairó that I hadn’t expected. It was fine dining, yes, and it was all technically superb but you can find that in a lot of restaurants. What sets it above most, and makes it certainly one of my own favourites, is the fact that every dish really packs a punch. This cooking is bold and powerful as well as refined and that’s a rare combination. Full disclosure: I was on assignment and didn’t pay for my own lunch but the full Manaió tasting menu, at €86 per person, is worth every cent. There is also a scaled-down version at €70. Whenever food-loving friends hit town, Manairó is very, very high on the list of places I recommend.