My dining companion cocked his head and looked at me quizzically: “so, what exactly is Catalan food?” Erm…
Having only been to Spain a couple of times, the cuisine in general is hardly my speciality, but over the past few years I’ve learned quite a bit through my own research, kitchen experimentation and the famous London chain, Brindisa. I love all three restaurants and their ham school rocked. Faced with that question about Catalan food though, I had no idea where to start with trying to define it.
My good friend Chris, who has spent a large amount of time in the area, informs me that some of the regional dishes on the menu really stretch the boundaries in terms of what can be considered Catalan. I don’t have the knowledge to argue either way and so set off with an open mind.
Our first lesson came in the form of ‘charcuterie cured in the special microclimate of vic’. We did ask our waitress what this meant but after too many crossed wires gave in and settled on her seemingly bottom-line response which was that it is ‘a region’. As we dutifully nibbled in the order instructed my heart began to sink; only the third, peppered variety stood out as anything beyond the usual musty chew. Who would win in a fight between this charcuterie and my usual plate of ibérico? I don’t think we need to answer that.
Country toast with allioli was perfect as always – a small deviation from the Catalan menu. I’ve rarely tasted a better yellow goo; silky smooth and perfectly garlicked – we only resisted ordering another pot for fear of being reacquainted with the meat.
Anchoves de l’Escala (below) were buttery soft and saline, scattered with smashed olives and muted, crisp onions. A base of charred, tomato topped ‘country bread’ completed the dish of the evening.
I’ll spare your eyes from the effort of straining at the dark blob that was Catalan spinach. I believe the combination of green leaves wilted with nuts and dried fruits is a traditional one and the pine nuts here were particularly good quality. The dish made a decent enough accompaniment to the grilled rabbit with oven potatoes anyway; a succulent, wine infused leg perching on mandoline-thin potato slivers, baked until gummy-in-a-good-way and hiding cheeky strips of caramelised onion.
If you’re not a fan of goat product then the selection of Catalan cheeses is not for you. The most interesting of the three were the ‘Tupi’ – a ‘cream’ made with a blend of goat’s and sheep’s cheese, olive oil and sweet wine and the unpasteurised ‘Carrat’. The former a blob of whipped white fluff, still predominantly Billy, kind of like a Dairylea for adults. The latter played a pleasing farmyard punch, at times skating just on the right side of ‘burny’. Both the unwhipped cheeses were rather sweaty, but washed down easily enough with a glass of Mistela negra Grandesa (Garnacha negra) Terra Alta (phew!) which had much of the raisin about it both in colour and flavour.
The Catalan menu runs until Wednesday 14th April and I’m happy to recommend some of the options. Underwhelming charcuterie and stingy, sweaty cheese portions aside, the idea of regional menus is a brilliant one and I’m interested to see the next focus, as they will be featuring a new area every few months. I might be less than qualified to identify the accuracy of regional definitions, but I do know what I like and I’m still thinking about elements of those dishes a day later. It’s tapas but it means business. Inspirational stuff.
46 Broadwick Street
London W1F 7AF
Tel: 020 7534 1690
I tried the Catalan menu as a guest of Brindisa.
The menu is served at all three restaurants, see website for details of location