Barcelona’s best bistro? Certainly a strong contender. Rustic dishes, refined, in the Raval.
Review: Suculent, Rambla de Raval, Barcelona
People who know me were always telling me to go to Suculent. “You’ll love it,” they said. “Just your sort of thing.” Fellow gastronauts with similar tastes have spoken in hushed, awed tones of The Steak Tartar, with audible capital letters.
So I went. And they were right.
Suculent, which describes itself as a “house of home-cooked meals” is a split-level bistro on the renovated Rambla de Raval. As well as the obvious meaning of its name (‘succulent’) it’s a play on words: sucar lent means ‘to dip slowly’, implying a slow-food savouring of the meal, mopping up the sauses with bread as you go. It’s a few doors away from La Taverna del Suculent, which focuses more on tapas and small helpings of other bar-friendly finger food.
Like Bravo 24, Tapas 24 and Comerç 24, It’s another outpost in the empire of executive chef Carles Abellan (who dropped in the day I was there) but the head chef is 27-year-old Antonio Romero. Having done stages in many top restaurants, including El Bulli and Arzak, Romero now has a place to showcase his skills.
The English translation of the menu is not the best, but you’ll understand the gist of it. It’s split into categories like starters, ‘from the sea’, ‘from the mountain’, and so forth. Starters range from €5-€14 and mains from €16-€22. There are also three “casseroles” (little, medium and big) that are not, in fact, casseroles but €50, €60 and €70 tasting menus. I was dining in company, so my notes are less than comprehensive, but here’s a sketch of what to expect:
Mackerel escabeche. Not too sharp; great balance of acid, savoury, and sweetness from the carrot.
Marinated fresh anchovy. Olive and lime combination was unusual at first but really grew on me.
Croquette of oxtail of aged beef and horn-of-plenty mushrooms. I thought that the roast chicken croquette in Bravo 24 was the best I’d ever tasted. It probably still is, but this runs it very, very close. Wonderful.
Prawn ceviche with avocado, sweetcorn and coriander (cilantro) flowers. Again, not an overly acidic ceviche but a very balanced one, and, as you can see, very pretty one. The prawns are eminently suckable.
Lobster tartare, eaten on squares of crispy chicken skin. Absolutely wonderful.
The slightly spicy lobster coral with Thai chicken sauce was also a knockout, so much so that I forgot to take a photo. It was followed by smoked sardines and trout roe in ajoblanco (an Andalucian cold soup of bread, almonds and garlic). Smoked clupeids always give me happy flashbacks to eating kippers (smoked herrings) in my native Northumberland (the ones from Craster are the best in the world), so I was already onside to enjoy this dish. The roe burts in the mouth to combine with the excellent ajoblanco.
There was then a diversion from the usual menu to try a chicken’s comb. I’m a nose-to-tail kind of eater but this was the first time I’d eaten this particular part of a pollastre. It was very gelatinous and not chewy at all, but what flavour it had came more from the dressing and the crunchy chicken skin it was served on. I’d definitely have it again.
It was followed by a beef tongue bössam. Very savoury, very rich, very good. The leaf is used to wrap the meat and vegetables before you eat it whole.
Then the dish I’d been told so much about: steak tartare over a grilled marrowbone.
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. There’s too much going on to compare it with a real steak tartare, but as a dish in its own right it is a triumph. The beef marrow melts into the steak, the flying fish roe (tobiko) adds texture and saltiness and the potato pillows provide crunch and contrast. I could have stayed in Suculent eating plates of this all day but there was more to come.
Tuna belly and cherry tomatoes. The pine nut sauce steals the show. It’s so good that I was compelled to reach for some more warm, fresh bread (from Forn Sant Josep), even though I was rapidly approaching a state of total fullness, to mop it up. Sucar lent, indeed.
Roast partridge in jus with beetroot. Outstanding.
A quick dish of large and small strawberries with orchid and rose-petal jelly (no photo), then brie cheesecake with Tahiti vanilla, a cinnamon biscuit base and moscatel jelly. It’s good enough to make you weep. I had beeen needlessly concerned that the brie would overpower. It doesn’t. It’s perfect.
Suculent lives up to the hype. Toni Romero and Carles Abellan have created something very special here. This is high-quality cooking in humble surroundings; it’s bistro, but better; traditional tastes taken two steps further. Talent and the results of a top-quality apprenticeship are evident, but that’s not all. Toni clearly enjoys his work, and it shows. These dishes are fun. They’re never frivolous, or inventive just for the sake of showing off, but they all offer surprises that make you smile. There aren’t many chefs who can cook like this at just 27 years old, but youthful enthusiasm, skilled execution, and experienced guidance from Carles, is a winning combination.
Suculent: Rambla del Raval 43, 08001, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 443 65 79; Metro Liceu; Open Wed.-Sun. 1pm-4pm and 8.30pm-11.30pm