A traditional seafood restaurant trawls deeper creative waters for a borderless bounty of contemporary – and mainly uncooked – dishes.
I’ve long known about Rías de Galicia, probably Barcelona’s premier money-no-object marisquería. It’s the sort of place where bodyguards lurk outside with fingers pressed to their earpieces and chauffers sit parked nearby in large German cars waiting for their VIP employers to stop scoffing Cantabrian lobsters. It’s elegant, expensive and deeply traditional, and although the decor has been updated, the Galician cuisine on offer would be instantly familiar to the great-grandparents of the three Iglesias brothers who own and run it.
Go past the lobster tank and up the stairs, however, and it’s a whole different world. espai Kru has more in common with Tokyo or New York than with fishing villages in northwestern Spain. A jazzy cocktail bar and an ice-packed oyster bar sit in a smart, contemporary space built from faded wood and shades of grey. There are some baffling touches – large Land Rover adverts as the result of a sponsorship collaboration, and music choices that veer from Tina Turner to the Austin Powers theme – but it’s a undeniably cool and cosmopolitan place to have lunch.
If you can get in, that is. The restaurant was empty when I arrived but soon every table was packed with local business types and entrepreneurial-looking characters a decade or three younger than some of the more distinguished guests downstairs. The move toward modernity here is no coincidence: as well as having their own restaurants, the Iglesias clan are also partners with Ferran and Albert Adrià in the BCN 5.0 project, now rebranded elBarri (after elBulli, geddit?). ‘The neighbourhood’ incorporates a growing group of restaurants in Poble Sec, including Tickets. Creativity is a given.
I normally eat alone when I’m reviewing but on this occasion I had the delightful company of Susan from my blog’s near-namesake foodieinbarcelona.com. She’s much better informed than me when it comes to international dishes, so I suggest you check out her take on the meal that followed or her original review of the restaurant. Unfortunately, she had to leave partway through the lunch to pick up her kids and missed the desserts. I should mention at this point that we had been invited to lunch and ate what we were presented with, hence the belly-bursting amount of dishes that followed. For a more moderate meal, expect to pay around €50-€60 per person including wine.
The menu of espai Kru goes divides dishes into raw (hence the name – ‘cru’ means raw in Catalan) and cooked, and goes on about the prehistoric invention of fire, but convoluted concepts generally leave me cold. Fortunately the food was really good, which is all that matters. We drank a 2014 Mar de Frades Albariño.
A smoked anchovy with cheese, then oysters that I devoured but forgot to photograph.
Fat Carril clams with a lime and celery sorbet.
The raw and nearly-raw fish here is, as you might expect, outstanding. Cuttlefish, sea bass, wonderful wild Alaskan salmon, various cuts of prime tuna – including otoro – and a whole lot more, all served with fresh wasabi.
A Palamos prawn in Mexican aguachile (a kind of ceviche) was disappointing. There was no faulting the quality but the excellent prawn wasn’t improved by the under-salted, under-spiced accompaniment.
Fragrant and lightly spiced ‘Thai’ soup with king crab, mango and little citric starburts of Australian finger lime, served in a coconut shell.
Lobster mollete – a light, mini-sandwich – came beautifully presented in shells.
There was then a little game played with Galician steak and tomato tartares, where we were asked to guess which was which. It only took a sniff but the illusion and the presentation was fun.
Empanadilla parcels of cochinita pibil, a Mexican suckling pig dish, were so good I forgot to photograph them. Parpatana (a fatty cut of tuna) came cooked with a rich reduction, apple and roasted red peppers. Tastes like a stew but is cooked pink. Not my favourite dish of the day – a little too stringy – but I understand it has its fans.
Much better was the barely-griddled wagyu beef, served on a caveman-friendly bone with chili flakes and mustard. I was painfully full by this stage but still thoroughly enjoyed it.
The mojito-infused pineapple that followed was perfect; a welcome light touch.
Then the ‘real’ dessert: torrija (french toast) with nougat ice cream. Sumptuously good. I was beyond full but had to finish it: a bitter sugar crisp on top of smooth and rich textures – first-class comfort food.
A passionfruit drink and coffee-cream petit four rounded things off nicely.
A tidal wave of pan-continental, Asia-influenced restaurants has washed over Barcelona in recent years. I’m more at home with traditional Catalan-Spanish-Mediterranean seafood cooking but it’s nice to go into uncharted waters from time to time, especially when it’s done as well as this. What’s not to like? Well, it isn’t the cheapest place in town but that’s to be expected with high-quality seafood. It is a lot more affordable than most traditional marisquerías, and there are half portions of most dishes available so you can put together a meal that doesn’t melt your wallet. It’s fun, and uses first-rate ingredients to great effect. Service is sharp, the atmosphere is lively and the food’s great. espai Kru is a welcome addition to the Barcelona seafood scene.
espai Kru: Carrer Lleida 7, 08004, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 424 81 52 / 93 423 45 70; Metro Espanyol; Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.