UPDATE: Tradición Moderna is now PERMANENTLY CLOSED. The good news is that another Peruvian restaurant, El Chalaco, has taken over the premesis. It’s less elaborate but good, no-frills traditional food.
I feel a bit guilty about this review. I know, obviously, that for reasons of time, money and stomach capacity that I can’t check out all the restaurants in Barcelona but I like to think that I have a reasonable grasp of the places within a 1-minute walk of my own home.
This is not, apparently, the case. I’ve passed Tradición Moderna (C/ Castillejos 397, Tel. +34 934 356 880, closed Sun PM & Mondays) dozens, perhaps hundreds of times since it opened in 2012 and never felt compelled to check it out. In my defence, it’s not exactly inviting; the exterior is completely nondescript, it’s impossible to see inside and the area isn’t exactly renowned for its high-quality ethnic dining options. Even if I could have seen inside, I’m not sure if it would have made much difference; the restaurant looks like a completely unreconstructed 1970s-decor barrio bar with a few Peruvian paintings hung randomly on the walls.
After stumbling across a couple of positive online reviews, however, I decided to give it a try and I’m very glad I did.
My wife and I visited on a quiet, mid-week November evening and the place wasn’t exactly busy but there were a few tables full of Peruvian clients eating with big smiles on their faces. I soon discovered why.
We were shown to our table by the charming co-owner Carolina Sihuay who runs the front-of-house while her brother and sister rattle the pans in the kitchen, creating new dishes based on the traditional Peruvian cooking of their father.
I know next to nothing about Peruvian cuisine, something which Carolina is evidently used to. She gave us a clear and helpful run through the menu and we settled down to eat.
The appetiser of cold, mashed potato balls with a chicken sauce and olive tapenade looked ok but was very underwhelming, despite a nice finish. It certainly didn’t reflect what was to follow and I’m sure they could think of a better dish to represent their philosophy.
The first course was, however, a triumph. In a Peruvian restaurant with aspirations of quality you expect a good ceviche, and this was a very good ceviche.
I can’t remember the fish of the day that was used, but the dish was a perfect balance of flavours and textures, full of acidic bite, crunch and melting softness. The sweet potato was particularly good.
A Peruvian-style plate of chicharrónes, not to be confused with the Andalucian dish of the same name, was next. Meaty and rich, it had an unfamiliar but pleasant note that I couldn’t identify. This turned out to be a herb from the Andes Mountains which, unsurprisingly, I’d never tasted before. It was served with sweet potato (again) plus marinated sweet onions for acidity and crunch. The onions were great but they seem to be the favourite accompaniment of the chef as they showed up again and again in dishes. That’s not a criticism – they’re delicious – but perhaps a little more variety would be nice.
Almost unimprovable, however, was the next course of anticuchos de corazón, griddled beef heart served with an absolutely sensational sauce of Peruvian ají panca chili peppers and black beer. It was served with an olive-based paste plus mash and some popped sweetcorn. This was very much to my liking – simple, bold, strong, flavours – and I could have quite happily ordered another plate of it.
A dish of northern-Peruvian- style green rice with coriander- and black-beer-rich duck had the unenviable job of beating the beef heart. It didn’t succeed, but it was a very good dish anyway. Our first hint of ‘sweet onion fatigue’ was setting in by now but it made sense as a choice to cut through the tender fattiness of the duck.
My wife chose the stir-fried beef with chips which proved to be a bit of a let-down. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was very ordinary. Sitting alongside chunks of onion and peppers in a pool of soy sauce it seemed more fitting for a typical European-style Chinese restaurant than for a restaurant seeking to offer creative twists on traditional Peruvian cuisine.
Carolina informed us that this was a very popular dish and I believe her. It was enjoyable, but for me it wasn’t at the same standard as the rest of the meal.
Despite this minor misstep, the kitchen team managed to nail the landing with two excellent desserts. One (or possibly more, the handwriting on my notes is appalling…) of the restaurant team attended Espai Sucre, the wonderful dessert-school-cum-restaurant in Barcelona’s Born district. And it shows.
We had a Peruvian-style turrón (nougat), which is almost cake-like, much softer and crumblier than the Spanish variety. It was stylishly presented and delicious…
…but not as good as the next one, which combined chocolate, orange, crumbled biscuit and ice cream to terrific effect. Unfortunately I enjoyed it too much and forgot to note the name or full details of the dish but it was an excellent end to a very good meal.
I can’t compare Tradición Moderna’s Peruvian roots to other Peruvian restaurants as I simply don’t have enough experience with them. What I can say, with some conviction, is that this is one of the most interesting ethnic restaurants I’ve been to in Barcelona. It offers some wonderful dishes at sensible prices; the total bill for 2 people, including 3 glasses of wine and a coffee, came to €87.50 and we left absolutely stuffed. The lunchtime menú del día represents great value at around €14 or €15. If you’re in the area, either to tour the renovated modernista Hospital de Sant Pau, or visit its functioning modern namesake, Tradición Moderna is a very good local option.