The paucity of quality curry restaurants in Barcelona has been a gripe of mine for as long as I have lived here. Many years ago the situation was understandable but I have watched the city’s SE Asian immigrant population expand enormously, and I have licked my lips in anticipation of a wave of aromatic culinary magic that simply never materialised. I’ve heard various theories put forward as to why this has been the case but they’ve all been speculation. Best cooks go to the UK? First-generation immigrant food rarely anything special? Catering to the local palate with bland and insipidly-spiced dishes? Hard-to-find ingredients? I don’t know. Feel free to comment below if you’re better informed.
Slowly (very slowly) this sad situation is starting to be addressed. As well as the numerous purveyors of dreadful and unidentifiable meat in soupy sauces there are a few not-terrible restaurants that can provide a pleasant if unsophisticated spicy accompaniment to unpleasant and unsophisticated jarras of Estrella Damn lager. For anything approaching authenticity, the best I’d encountered until recently was Bembi (Consell de Cent 277) but it still didn’t hit the spot. It seemed to me to be too cautious, playing to what someone thought Catalan diners might like as opposed to boldly serving them the real thing. While perfectly nice, it left me unmoved and unmotivated to return.
Clearly I am in the minority, as Bembi has done well enough for its owners to launch a sister restaurant, Rangoli (Passeig Joan de Borbo 78, Tel. +34 93 221 19 81). They’ve certainly secured an attractive location, right across from the beach at Barceloneta and the tables outside will be in demand on sunny days.
The view from inside is of the blue sky and palm trees; never a bad thing.
While there are hints of the old-fashioned, this is a modern restaurant with no cringeworthy or clichéd interior design. The electronic menu outside is a nice touch, too.
As this was to be a light lunch, my wife and I decided to split a first course between us. We chose the house ‘Souvenirs’, a selection of their starters.
There was nothing here to frighten the locals but a selection of sauces was served on the side to spice up the life of anyone craving something hot. Avant-garde this selection was not, but all of the classics here were well enough executed.
As my dining companion was Catalan, and hence congenitally averse to anything hot and spicy, she chose lamb Korma, as she always does.
Far from the usual semi-sweet gloop, this was actually layered and delicious, with saffron notes instead of the typical tartrazine torture. Korma will never be my favourite dish but this was pretty good. Not perfect, though: a little higher meat to sauce ratio would reduce the soupiness a bit, even if it meant reducing the serving size, and the lamb could have been more slowly cooked as it retained slightly too much chewiness.
I chose the Kadhai Gosht, a lamb dish, and we both had plain nans.
This was extremely good. Zingy, with a tangible enough chilli kick to satisfy, it combined richness with a percussive battery of fresh spices that worked perfectly. Again though, not perfect. Some fresh coriander leaf would have cut through the richness somewhat, although I accept that is subjective; what is not is the fact that, like in my wife’s korma, the lamb was slightly tough. Small details and not enough to spoil the meal but something that could certainly be improved.
What couldn’t be improved was our side dish. The Maah Ki Dal, described somewhat spartanly as ‘slow-cooked black lentils’ was advertised as a house special, and with good reason.
Quite possibly the best lentils I’ve ever had, and my wife felt the same. It didn’t look like much but there were deep, deep layers of flavour that revealed more of themselves the longer you ate it. Some garnish or coriander leaf would perhaps improve the visual appeal but I hope they never mess with the recipe. This was first class. The biryani steamed rice dishes that the family on the table next to us were unwrapping looked and smelled sensational, too; I’ll definitely be trying them next time I visit.
The bill for two, including one Coke, two Cobra beers and an espresso coffee was a shade under €70. While that’s not devastatingly expensive it’s still quite pricy for what we had and I can’t honestly say that Rangoli (or Bembi when I went, for that matter) offers great value for money. It is, however, probably the best curry restaurant in town right now. There is clearly some talent at work in the kitchen here but, like at Bembi, I’d like to see them be a little more confident. Get away from just English-style curry dishes and offer some challenging but more interesting and authentic food. Rangoli’s the best that Barcelona has to offer but until it loses its conservative shackles it will fall short of the contemporary standards being set in London and most large British cities.