Remember I last wrote about Osmosis? Next time you’re in Barcelona, do yourself a favour and walk 100 meters around the corner (literally!) to Gresca. A whole different category altogether!
A pioneer of the bistronomics genre (modern, bistroesque food at affordable prices), chef Raphael Peña opened Gresca in 2006 after learning the tools of the trade all over Europe (including with Ferran Adrià back in ’99). Simple and sober, 24 seats, a tiny kitchen and an efficient brigade. Although Raphael might be the most Scandinavian-looking local, no doubt he knows where he is from and especially where he is going. His food – a modern take of catalan flavours – is honest, elegant, and seriously good without bordering on the “fusion & fireworks” zone. A true tour de force!
The show started with simple parmesan crisps sprinkled with Pimenton, crunchy and melty. A great start!
Right after we got a lovely bit of cod with yogurt and shaved almonds, torched on top and a very smooth & almost raw texture inside. A fresh start bite with subtle flavours and a strong personality enhanced by acidity from the yogurt. The yogurt simply contained pepper, lemon, and garlic oil. Nice!
Next, a sardine with spiced butter appeared, with a lovely & delicate cream on top. Quite sweet and smooth, the cream contrasted very well in texture and added nicely the discreet salty taste smooth texture to each bite.
Foie gras en escabeche followed suit, and at first sight it was gorgeous! At first bite too! The beautifully lobe segment was sitting atop two perfectly cooked slices of leeks relaxing in an acidic bath. The juicy imbibed leeks added extra punch to the foie gras and worked really well as they had an intense flavour.
Then an alien looking ball of something undefined appeared. It was in fact a fluffy egg whites ball hiding a runny yolk. Not quite sure how that was made (the secret if you’re *that* curious), which had an interesting texture, but nothing else particular. It was sitting on top of some veggies in a cream sauce and had some funny looking wide pasta, which in fact were potato peels. Sauce was super tasty, simply with chives. The whole combinations worked well.
Chef showing me a super awesome Japanese device used mainly by sushi chefs to rapidly generate super long peels of any “peelable” veg (daikon for sushi).
The came one of my favourite dishes, a tiny omlet with tarragon, wrapped in a thin slice of jamón, and some chorizo oil, and a nice roasted tomato slice. Extraordinary thing. Although tiny, the inside was still perfectly moist and runny eggs (the opposite of the dry overcooked thing served in all-you-can-eat diners), I have no clue how he managed to get the exterior well done but not the inside, considering the size of the piece. The flavour was insane, subtle & modern, perfect equilibrium between flavour, salt and umami, yet sooo “spanish” at heart. In my opinion, this dish highlighted the genius of Rafael who can build something out of this world without requiring kitchen gimmicks, chemicals, or exotic ingredients. The tomato slice looked like a roasted pepper, but its sweetness and texture gave it away. It was clearly an exceptional tomato!! I do have a fascination (ok, fetish maybe) for simple tomatoes… I hope this is how the future of Spanish cooking will be like: brutally honest and strong, without any complexes, seriously good, strikingly creative, and unarguably local.
Cod with rice & peas sauce, dried & crushed capers powder on top. Even though the dish was good and technique was superb, the dish itself wasn’t memorable. A combo of cod in an emulsified cream sauce, with crunchy rice and peas worked well together. The cod was exceptional, really fresh, and perfectly cooked. The dish was great, but I felt something was missing in the flavour palette to make this dish really pop.
Araña with onions in vinegar & cinnamon, peanut butter sauce. An elegant dish arrived: two bits of onion on top marinated in vinegar an cinnamon – what an exciting combination. The fish was good, the sauce could have been a bit more peanuty, and the marinated onions brilliant. The plating was superb!
Shortly after, another marvel arrived: sweetbreads! With a lovely, sirupy meat stock reduction cut with butter and lemon, they had a fantastic taste and incredible texture. How could anyone not like such a silky funny piece of meat? The sweet sauce worked wonders, and dripping atop a pile of simple purée made with moutarde de grains, excellent and simple. Exceptional dish and definitely one of my favs!
Finally, arrived the renowned “pigeon with ginger sauce”. The meat was exceptional, tender, juicy, pink. Just like it should be! The sauce was very nice, and the ginger discreet, but present! What I’ll remember is how the vegetables were not there just for visual appeal – the played a crucial role in the dish. The carrot was the best carrot I’ve ever had, an incredible, strong, sweet and real flavour of carrot! The earthy flavour of the roots worked perfectly with the dark & red pigeon and his juices (and the fantastic Toro in our glasses). Not my favourite dish, but one of the most stunning example of the maturity and talent at Gresca. When did we stop eating veggies like these? Of course kids nowadays don’t like the tasteless, boring, styrofoam-based toys (“carrots”) they’re being force-fed.
Then we shifted gears to deserts, with a visually stunning coconut ice cream in the pole position. It really looked like a baby coconut, but was in fact a light and refreshing ball of frozen egg whites with shaved coconut and cocoa power on the outside. Also, I would like to give this dish the global award for the most un-photographable dish ever, quite a performance!
The second desert was an exceptional mousse with spicy chocolate. So good, yet so tiny… If I remember carefully, a secret ingredient gave this dish a whole different dimension (and I’m pretty sure it was basil, but nobody confirmed that). The plating was gorgeous, and the cream was covered with home-made dried bits of orange and lemon skin, and other UCEs (unidentified crunchy elements). Such a pleasant and surprising combination of chocolate, citrus fruits, textures, within a beautiful dish. A beautiful finale for a heavenly meal!
The cherry on top (as it was my dad’s birthday) a surprise birthday cake appeared from the kitchen and served to us as an extra goodie (as if more was needed to be happy). How thoughtful! A very nice chocolate and cream cake, very fluffy, and surprisingly not sweet at all. The cake was paired with an incredible vanilla ice cream, which worked really well.
All in all, an unforgettable experience. Every little detail was perfect, clever, and the whole team were super nice, friendly, and talented. Chef Peña knows his stuff big time! The whole meal was million years ahead of osmosis in terms of quality and technique (and to be honest above most high-end restaurants I’ve been to – including 3* Michelin)! The overall rhythm and succession of dishes was carefully planned and displayed a rare level of culinary maturity, and the menu was the result of an artist – a real food crafter! Even when exotic spices or ingredients have been used (rarely), never it was done with gratuitous vulgarity, and the combination of flavours in each dish was always elegant and equilibrated. I’m recommending you try Gresca without absolutely any hesitation, a true gem in the city!
Gresca, Calle Provença, 230 08036 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 934 51 61 93