Gothic Quarter bistro in 5-star Hotel Mercer offers upmarket tapas with deft, creative touches.
Review: Le Bouchon, Hotel Mercer
The chefs at the Hotel Mercer have big boots to fill. Both the hotel’s main restaurant (review coming soon) and Le Bouchon, its more informal bistro, were conceptualized and then overseen by the great Catalan chef Jean Luc Figueras until his passing in 2014. Now, with no famous name to lure in clients, the restaurants must redefine their identities and re-earn their reputations.
The hotel has promoted chef Xavier Lahuerta, who worked with Figueras, to a more senior role in charge of both culinary teams. He has brought in young Italian chef Nicola Drago to run Le Bouchon, and the result is a reworked menu with a different personality.
What hasn’t changed much is the space: a high-ceilinged, wood-beamed, classically barri gòtic space that’s attractively decorated in a working-hard-to-look-casual way. A mix of old chairs and tables, not all of them particularly comfortable, fill a small room that’s framed by vast, impressive doors.
Prices aren’t completely insane but nor are they especially low, as you would expect given the five-star surroundings. Sandwiches range from €8.50 to €14; tapas begin at €4 for a single oyster and reach €15.50 for two snack-sized servings of steak tartar. Best value is to be found in the set menus: €22 gets you the ‘petit bouchon’ of typical vermut snacks (Russian salad, crisps, anchovies, olives, etc.), three tapas and a dessert, with a €10 supplement for a dish of rice with prawns. The €35 ‘gran bouchon’ (also with an optional €10 rice & prawns supplement) includes vermut, six tapas and a dessert. Most wines are €3-€5 per glass.
After speaking with Nicola, we tried a selection of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. Pressed apple marinated in mojito was a refreshing and attractive start on a warm evening.
White asparagus with truffle mayo and parmesan was next. Very nicely done, but I’m not a big white asparagus fan and even truffle can’t change that.
The ‘traditional’ octopus in different textures offered a nicely spicy paprika hit, sea-scented bubbles and a lemon foam in addition to the expected cubed potatoes and tender octopus. There was a lot of technique on show, but the tweezer-tweaked presentation added to rather than distracted from a very pleasant dish.
Steak tartar passed my taste test with flying colours: the seasoning, temperature and caper kick were all perfectly judged.
Flakes of cold Mi-Cuit Landes foie were given texture with crunchy maize and Maldon. It was too much of a good thing for me but my wife loved it. It was certainly a generous serving.
Salmon was served alongside its dehydrated skin, which had been fried to create fishy crisps, and dashi mayo with a dash of seaweed. The salmon, marinated in lemon and vodka, was fantastic, absolutely first-rate, but the slightly chewy skin didn’t crackle or add anything other than novelty value.
The desserts (with tops literally ironed on at the bar to give them a shop-bought look) are all childhood favourites for grown-up gluttons (like me). Passionfruit crema catalana with crunchy coffee crumbs was delicious, but the passionfruit perhaps a little over-amorous. The natural yoghurt with fresh and dehydrated red fruit was simple but excellent.
Vanilla and banana ice-creams arrived in a dramatic cloud of dry ice. The theatrics were upstaged by the flavour, however; this was seriously good ice cream, especially the vanilla.
Le Bouchon doesn’t need to look back over its shoulder; it can face the future with confidence. There is still a bit of an over-international identity crisis in terms of menu choices but that’s a common enough complaint of mine even in established restaurants. The price point allows for first-class ingredients and the technical ability of chef Nicola adds interesting elements in terms of both flavour and presentation. The atmosphere is unstuffy, the space is gorgeous (if a little uncomfortable, depending on your luck in the chair lottery) and Le Bouchon is a very pleasant place to enjoy a relaxed meal. If you want a smart-casual spot to enjoy upmarket tapas in the Gothic Quarter, give it a try.
Le Bouchon: Hotel Mercer, C/ dels Lledó 7, 08002 (Barri Gòtic), Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 310 74 80, Ext. 707; Metro Jaume I or Liceu
Find Le Bouchon on the Barcelona Food Map