Another week, another Eixample bistronomic restaurant…
Please forgive the somewhat monothematic nature of this blog recently. In my defence I would make the point that the restaurants visited represent some of the best value in the city and as this is a blog without an expenses budget, value is high on my list of desirable attributes when choosing somewhere for lunch.
It’s certainly a strong selling point for Topik (c/ València, 199, +34 934510923, www.topikrestaurant.es). When a solid local reputation coincided with recommendations from the erudite readers of this blog, I decided to investigate; when I saw that the ambitious menu del día was only €11, I decided to visit.
Topik has been open since late 2009. Its owner/chef Adelf Morales has an impressive CV, with stints in Michelin-starred kitchens in Valencia, the Basque Country and Italy. Even more interestingly, he then spent time cooking in Japan before bringing his skills back home.
From ferran Adrià outwards, a wave of Nipponophile enthusiasm has washed through the Spanish food scene. As well as restaurants and ingredient stores (such as the excellent Tokyo-ya, c/ Girona, 119) there has been a fair amount of experimentation and fusion. Many chefs have incorporated Asian flavours and techniques into their own styles — with varying amounts of success. Few, though, have actually been to Japan to learn first-hand the fundamentals of its cuisine. Morales is one of those few and I was looking forward to a more informed take on fusion food.
Topik is typical of the restaurants of the barrio: small (about 30 seats) but well-organised, with a busy design that stops just short of being cluttered. Intelligent lighting compensates for the limited amount of natural daylight in the back of the dining area. Topik is at heart a tapas restaurant, and the seats at the long bar are ideal for those on a tapeo through the area. It’s well-stocked with a good selection of wines by the glass, mainly in the €3 to €4 price range.
Accompanied yet again by my amigo Dan, we decided to supplement the menu del día with a couple of choice tapas although we were also tempted by the menu del chef and its offer of three plates of tapas and a speciality rice dish. Sadly, the three plates included didn’t appeal so we ordered some that did.
First up was the artichoke with foie and ceps. It sounded rich and delicious. It was. Simple and perfect with good oil and a sweet reduction to complement it, it was small but perfectly-formed.
Next was cap-i-pota. This is a huge favourite of mine. Literally “head and feet” it’s a stew of calf’s foot and cheek. Meaty and gelatinous, this had all of the deep, primal goodness I hoped for, cut through with an atypically Catalan note of chilli warmth. It was excellent, but at over €8 for a single tapa of something with negligible ingredient costs, it was also expensive. One of the few things at Topik that did NOT represent value for money, even if the quality was unquestionable.
The menu del día proper started at this point, with Dan having courgette soup with a cold canneloni of curd cheese and beef. We both thought that the beef was probably tongue, but it was all the better for that, thin and delicious. Neither of us are cheerleaders for courgette soup but this was an inventive and well executed dish that we’d both be happy to order again.
At this point, there had been nothing fusion whatsoever about the dishes but my starter promised a taste of the east. Oddly, however, of Thailand and not Japan. The stir-fried rice noodles with Thai sauce and vegetables looked good but it was a strange dish to include in the menu. While it was pleasant enough, the excessive sesame oil made it all almost too greasy and any sweet notes were lost in the savouriness of the sauce. Some chilli would have helped, too. I don’t wish to be over-critical: it was okay, but while a mediocre, quasi-pad thai might make for a good student supper it’s not a dish fitting for this restaurant. It didn’t match up to the rest of the meal in terms of concept, inventiveness, or execution and its inclusion was puzzling.
Happily, the next dish out put a smile on our faces. The fresh tuna belly, served on a stone hotplate was worth the €6 surcharge. Simple, nicely cut and done to perfection, it was an excellent choice.
In fact it looked so good it gets another photo:
My main course was stewed rabbit with a yoghurt sauce. I’m still not sure what to make of this one. It was very well cooked. Very interesting. Different yet pleasant; rich and with some spices in the sauce that I struggled to identify. I’m glad I ordered it, but I’m not sure how much I actually enjoyed it as opposed to how much I was intrigued with it. The presentation added to the curate’s eggness of it all — two small pieces of potato were marooned in the sauce and four rigatoni lay there looking like they’d arrived accidentally from another dish.
I must mention at this point a dish we didn’t order but saw on the table next to us (I always like a good snoop when I’m eating out). A meaty helping of hake served with a terrine of cap-i-pota came out and we both immediately wished we’d ordered it. This was a dish included in the standard €11 menu and it looked fantastic.
Time for dessert. The cheesecake was, sadly, finished so we went for the spongecake and a chocolate coulant. Both were triumphs. The spongecake was one of the best-textured I’ve ever eaten and the coulant (a €2 extra), served with some quality ice cream, was everything it ought to be. No points for clever presentation but a standing ovation for flavour.
I am at a loss when it comes to summarising Topik; it just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The tapas menu is like a teenager trying out different looks while it seeks its own identity: patatas bravas one moment, sashimi the next. The menu del día, at least today, was solidly modern Spanish with only a few tips of the hat towards Asia. Morales can clearly cook and the standard of execution here was very high. He can run a restaurant, too — the value of the menu del día is staggering. Even with a bottle of wine, the choice of two courses with price supplements and two added tapas dishes the bill came to only €50. Go and have lunch here. I highly recommend it.
It’s just a bit too unfocussed, a bit too random. Like expensive cap-i-pota and bargain hake, some of the oddness of the choices here hold it back from being able to truly go toe to toe with the leaders in this class of restaurant. I’d happily have lunch here again, and I’d drop in during a tapeo, but it’s not a destination restaurant or somewhere I’d choose to sit all evening.