Under the media radar and off the beaten track, this elegant and accomplished Sarrià restaurant is well worth seeking out.
Review: Tram-Tram restaurant, Barcelona
It’s fair to say that Tram-Tram does not rely on passing trade. Located on a narrow street high in the uptown Barcelona neighbourhood of Sarrià, near the end of an old tram line – hence the name – it requires a purposeful stroll from the nearest station of modern public transport. Make the effort, however, and you’ll find a restaurant that’s thrived for over 20 years despite its location far from the madding crowds of tourists.
The interior is a tasteful conversion of a sprawling townhouse, with a labyrinth of rooms and a beautiful terrace. Smart artwork hangs on the walls and there is a general atmosphere of understated elegance. That is also as good a way as any to describe the cooking of Tram-Tram’s chef Isidre Soler who runs the restaurant with Reyes, his wife and maitre d’. An alumnus of elBulli, from the days before it became a world-famous “technoemotional” laboratory, Soler cooks classic, ingredient-led French-Catalan cuisine of a very high standard, and he’s trained some of Barcelona’s most celebrated chefs here, including Sergi Torres of Dos Cielos.
I last visited a couple of years ago and gladly returned in October to see how things had changed. Fortunately, the answer was “not much”. Tram-Tram sits in that often-overlooked category of restaurants that are forever in the Michelin guide but aren’t deemed cool enough to be considered for a star. Forget the red book and listen to me instead: Tram-Tram is a treat.
There’s a lunch menu for €30, which is an accessible route to try the restaurant out. Stretch to €39 and you get the tasting menu; to €70 and you’ll enjoy the “festival” menu, where Isidre cooks up a storm of whatever’s best that day. À la carte, main courses are around €23 but 3/4-sized portions are also available. Wine by the glass is €3-€6. It’s not an inexpensive restaurant but this is the kind of cooking that puts your money where your mouth is, with premium ingredients at the centre of its dishes.
Isidre had remembered my tastes from my previous visit so he created a menu of robust dishes that reflected the early autumn season. As Sinatra crooned on the stereo we dived into a smooth, fresh cream of tomato with parmesan foam.
A thick, savoury soup of ous de reig (Caesar’s mushroom), with islands of dense meatballs: rich, deep and very autumnal.
Cod cheeks and tripe al pil-pil, that slipped down effortlessly. Garlicky, creamy and studded with wild mushrooms for textural contrast, it’s a dish that’s hard to sell to many foreign diners but locals and other bold souls are rewarded with pure sensual pleasure.
Wild turbot with mussels in a light curry sauce, courgettes, olives and tomatoes.
Then a wonderful roasted partridge, with spinach a la catalana and an apple and ginger compote. I know not everyone’s a fan of fruit with savoury dishes but I don’t mind and the ginger was enough to bridge any possible divide. The partridge was cooked, as game in Catalonia and Spain tends to be, a fraction more than I’d prefer but was in no way overdone. Just-pink and juicy, it sat in a deep, sticky reduction and was washed down by the beautiful 2010 Chivite Colección 125 Reserva tempranillo I was drinking.
Dessert was marinated figs and some toe-curlingly good cheese ice cream.
Tram-Tram is an old-school – but not old-fashioned – delight. Its stylish and unshowy elegance combined with solid service make it ideal for a romantic meal or a quiet business meeting in a private room. We sat indoors this time but the tranquil, plant-lined terrace is a gorgeous shady spot to enjoy sunny days. Isidre has adapted his cooking over the last two decades to take into account the changing tastes and budgets of his customers. What hasn’t altered is his commitment to excellence. Don’t go looking for high-concept cuisine that draws influences from all over the world; go instead in the knowledge that you will enjoy classic Catalan fine dining done as well as anywhere in Barcelona. It’s a bit of an effort to get there, but Tram-Tram is worth the trip.