Roig Robí has earned its status as a classic Barcelona restaurant. After 35 years, it still offers deeply satisfying traditional Catalan dishes and exemplary service.
Review: Roig Robí restaurant, Gracia, Barcelona
It’s not easy, running a traditional restaurant in Barcelona. Yes, there’s a deep well of culinary culture to draw from and a shared appreciation for good food among locals. There’s also a constant stream of deep-pocketed tourists looking for somewhere ‘authentic’ to tell their friends about. But despite this, the best old places are often overlooked. Barcelona has a relentless instinct to exalt only what’s fashionable. Reviewers and guide-book writers – me included – rush to rave about the latest thing, and leave the old favourites starved of the oxygen of publicity. The city’s not unique in this but most places aren’t quite so feverishly faddy. In a town where the restaurant mortality rate is matched only by mayflies, anywhere that’s lasted over 35 years is worthy of note. Roig Robí is such a place.
‘Ruby Red’ is tucked away just above Diagonal, squeaking into in the district of Gràcia by only a few metres. In an elegant but un-showy townhouse on a pedestrianised side-street, it attracts the kind of restaurant-goer who doesn’t give a stuff about Michelin stars or TripAdvisor rankings. The people here simply want a delicious meal to share with work colleagues, business clients or friends. It’s a restaurant where one can enjoy the flow of a good conversation without interruptions from waiters explaining the umpteenth dish in a never-ending tasting menu. That’s not to say the food isn’t worth talking about – its is, and we’ll get to that in a moment – but it knows its place.
I brightened immediately when I visited and saw the front-of-house staff, headed by Guillermo, going about their business with easy grace and professionalism. Really good, experienced waiters are vanishingly rare and should be treasured wherever they’re found. Sat near the indoor patio-garden (closed until Easter) in a rattan-and-linen, relaxed-but-classy dining room, I dived into the €66 tasting menu. There’s also a shorter €42 tasting menu, a reassuringly compact à la carte (mains around €21 each) menu and a hugely popular 3-course set menu for €35 (lunchtimes) or €38 (evenings).
This isn’t Instagram food. As is often the case with Catalan cooking, it’s mostly shades of brown. But it’s the palate, not the color palette, that matters. When I visited in February, Valencian artichokes were still in season. Served two ways – roasted and deep fried – with a fresh scallop, they were extraordinary.
Flaky, translucent cod with mango had a pronounced peppery note, which might worry native Catalans, who tend to be spice-phobic, but hit the spot for me.
Guinea-fowl canelons, with truffle, cheese sauce and an excellent béchamel were probably the best canelons I’ve ever had. That might upset my mother-in-law, who sets a very high standard with her own, but she can’t read English so I think I’m safe.
Roast suckling pig with a picada of dried fruit and nuts. This is like a Rolling Stones concert: you know what to expect beforehand, there are no surprises, but you’re definitely going to enjoy it. But also like a Stones concert, there’s a missed note or two; the crackling could be crispier and the puddle of apricot is excessive. Neither slip-up spoils a very good dish.
Botifarra d’ou, courgette soup and a simple salad at the start of the meal were all high quality. There’s usually only one dessert in the menu but I was allowed half portions in order to try both. The winner was the homemade yogurt with mandarin sorbet. The other dessert (chocolate textures) was excellent but almost too chocolatey, even for cocoa-crackheads. A dot of something cold, such as simple vanilla ice cream, would elevate it. But that’s a nitpick: choose the choc with a glass of PX and you’ll finish your meal perfectly happy.
Roig Robí is exactly what I’d hoped it would be. It’s been on my to-visit list for 20 years and I wish I’d got round to it sooner. The consistency on display here is no surprise: original owner Mercè is semi-retired but still rules the roost, keeping a sharp eye on the pass of the kitchen where her daughter, Imma, works. Her affable son, Joan, runs the business. The family’s competence, developed over decades, is evident everywhere. This isn’t a time warp; the restaurant’s interior design has moved with the times and the cooking – while far from innovative – has been kept moderately modern. There’s a time and a place for restaurants that astonish and entertain you. There’s also an enduring need for restaurants like this, where experienced professionals will help you have a good time with your guests; where you will always eat extremely well and drink good wine in pleasant surroundings. Roig Robí doesn’t attract media attention, but it certainly deserves a visit.
Roig Robí: C/ Séneca 20, 08006 (Gràcia), Barcelona; (+34) 93 218 9222; www.roigrobi.com; Metro Diagonal; Closed Sundays.
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