Sometimes all this fine dining and foodie community stuff can make you a bit crazy. You lose perspective and start to think that everyone is like you; that they’ll travel miles then tolerate appalling service or horrendous decor or cripplingly uncomfortable chairs, just for the sake of a sensational mouthful that makes you go ‘Mmmmmm.’
The truth is that most sensible people — the balanced, non-foodie-freak majority — have different priorities. Everyone likes good food but they don’t need to be astonished or transported to a state of gastronomic bliss. They just want a reliable restaurant with competent staff, serving something they recognize, cooked to a high standard. They want a sensibly priced venue with a pleasant atmosphere in which to enjoy a date, meet friends or conduct a business meeting.
One such place is Pepito (Passatje Domingo 3 bis, 08007, +34 932 506 725), not to be confused with La Pepita on C/ Còrsega, about which more another day. The restaurant is tucked away on a très chic alley running parallel between Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya and, as befits its location, it is a handsome place — all cast iron, faux-aged mirrors, low chairs (maybe a little too low for some) and careful lighting. It’s understated and classy and the black-clad, leather apron-wearing staff exude a welcome air of professionalism. Even the cutlery looks smart; the Amos Nuñez knives and forks here are reassuringly hefty.
Pepito’s been open since September 2013 and has clearly ironed out any new-restaurant wrinkles. The international, post-work crowd of office colleagues and business dinner guests looked relaxed and comfortable as they sipped their wine (example price: €5 per glass or €24 per bottle for a very pleasant Portal de Montsant “Brunus”).
Instead of offering a vast array of terrifying delicacies that could frighten foreign palates, the restaurant sensibly offers upmarket tapas (bravas, bombas, tortilla, canelones etc.) as starters then follows up with no-nonsense, char-grilled meat, burgers and fish. For the calorie-phobic, I saw some attractive salads being served too.
The focus is on big, bold flavours and one of my own personal favourites for that sort of thing is trinxat. The Catalan cabbage-and-mash here was attractive and didn’t disappoint in terms of taste. The vegetable patty was studded with pork belly, giving it a delicious, meaty oomph which rendered the prawn and bacon garnishes irrelevant. At €10.50 it wasn’t a bargain but it was extremely good.
As Pepito prides itself on its meat dishes, I decided to sample their filet mignon with foie. It looked great and I was impressed with the vegetable side dishes. The waxy, baby potatoes had a welcome whiff of woodsmoke about them and the artichoke hearts were excellent. The salsa was sharp and fresh but lacked bite (some chilli would not go amiss here) but it offered a good hit of fresh ginger and onion.
And the steak itself? It was up there with the best I’ve had in Barcelona. Good meat, perfectly cooked… highly recommended. There was a generous amount of the (optional) foie and while it was delicious it wasn’t necessary; the steak was rich enough by itself.
For dessert I thoroughly enjoyed the attractively presented crema catalana. Instead of a caramel crust it came with a sugar nest to complement the eggy goodness beneath.
Adding an emphatic full stop to the categorization of Pepito as a top choice for a business dinner or pre-club option, the Negroni cocktail I ordered to finish my meal was spot-on.
I liked the fact that none of the dishes attempted to reinvent the wheel. Whoever is running the kitchen knows his or her audience and is keeping the creativity dialled down and the quality dialled up.
Mid-priced restaurants like this aren’t really my thing. I tend towards the rustic or the ridiculous, either choosing peasant-fare classics or creative cuina d’autor. That said, I’d come back to Pepito, especially if I had non-foodie guests in town. The meal I ate (full disclosure: I did not pay for it) was very hard to fault. This is an elegant, unpretentious restaurant which scores highly in its class for food, service and atmosphere.