A hidden treasure: A characterful and quirky Barcelona bistro that prioritizes quality produce.
Note: This restaurant review is based on a visit in February 2015.
X no longer marks the spot where treasure is said to lie. Instead, a pointer on Google Maps or Tripadvisor sends adventurers scurrying in search of the mythical prize: an authentic, unspoiled local restaurant in Barcelona. But does such a thing still exist? As tidal waves of tourists crash through the city – to the delight or despair of locals, depending to whom you speak – it is inarguable that finding restaurants unchanged by their presence is becoming more difficult.
But ahoy there, me hearties. What’s this? Piratas ( Carrer d’Ausiàs Marc 157, 08013, Barcelona, Tel. (+34) 932 45 76 42; Metro Momumental, Marina or Glories; closed Saturdays and Sundays) – ‘pirates’ in English – is a cozy, crazy little relic of a restaurant that remains close to the heart of its devoted local clients. It’s just metres from l’Auditori, Barcelona’s state-of-the-art music venue, and is a very popular pre- and post-concert choice; booking is essential. Run by owner Lluis Ortega, who sports flowing clothes and a white beard that any sea captain would be proud of, it offers an eccentric, eclectic selection of dishes that reflect his personality and passion for food.
There’s no elaborate cooking here; indeed, there’s not much cooking at all. There’s a salamander, a single hob, and that’s it. The excellent food that comes from behind the bar where it’s prepared is the result of a devoted attention to detail when it comes to choosing ingredients.
I sat on one of the few tables, surrounded by random decor that looked like it had been assembled from a shipwreck, and reflected as an ancient wall-clock chimed that many new hipster restaurants would kill to achieve this level of effortless, genuine quirkiness.
There’s nothing modern about Piratas, though; Lluis’s family have been in the food business for over 150 years and the restaurant has been open for decades. And it’s so quirky, in fact, that despite nods to matters nautical, it isn’t even named or themed after actual pirates; the name comes from an old poster of the Roman Polanski film that Lluis once picked up and liked.
The menu is obviously very seasonal, with an emphasis on bistro standards: stews, salads, embutits (cold meats and sausages) and cheeses. Starters range from €7-18 and half-servings of most are available. Main courses cost between €12 and €22. The wine list is very limited but carefully selected; bottles cost €15-18 per bottle and several are usually available by the glass.
I started with slow-rendered ibérico fat and chickpeas (half ration, €6). Doesn’t look like much; tastes like heaven. There are deep layers of porky goodness to explore here.
Worthy of note but not photographed is the excellent artisanal bread, offered with a choice of three superb olive oils. I happily dunked until my main course arrived,
magret d’anec (fatty duck breast) and apple confit (€16.80). Served rare, straight from the salamander, with an excellent port reduction, it was generously portioned and absolutely wonderful. Simple. No-nonsense. Delicious.
But the best was yet to come. Lluis takes his cheese seriouly. It’s often imported straight from the villages where it’s produced, kept in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment and served at the very moment of perfect ripeness. There’s a half cheese board available but the full thing (€22) is worth visiting Piratas for just by itself. I can think of few finer things to eat than a plate of this and a good wine. It is outrageously good cheese.
Piratas isn’t especially cheap, but you do get what you pay for: quality ingredients, simply and effectively cooked. It’s got personality, passion, friendly service, is close to the Auditori and the renovated Encants market, and is well worth making a detour for. Book ahead though. And don’t tell the tourists…