It is a testament to Barcelona’s contemporary culinary clout that it now hosts the biennial Alimentaria, a vast trade show that covers 25 acres, attracts 150,000 visitors and features produce from 70 countries. As a theme park for the professionally greedy, it could hardly be bettered.
Amid the throng, several esteemed local chefs showed off their prowess at cooking demonstrations, among them Paco Pérez and Nandu Jubany, two multi‑Michelin-starred titans of Catalan cuisine. I treated their classes as auditions for The Gannet’s next lunch and dinner: both chefs, I am happy to report, passed with flying colours.
The two-starred Enoteca Paco Pérez sits in a modern, light-filled space in the Hotel Arts Barcelona, overlooking the marina. As its name suggests, there is a distinctly vinous motif, with prestigious (but empty) bottles lining the shelves, bunches-of-grapes lamps suspended from the ceiling, and an encyclopedic wine list.
My lunch was a joy: a razor clam, blissfully ungritty, sharpened with a lemony foam – I could have eaten a dozen; and espardenyes (sea cucumbers): once ignored, now exalted in Catalan gastronomy, paired by Pérez with sticky beef tendons, lending a Chinese-like unctuousness to an extraordinary dish.
Then acquerello rice cooked in a chicken, sea urchin and black-truffle broth: more risotto than paella, intensely ozone-rich – and perfectly embodying the Catalan concept of mar i muntanya (sea and mountain). Rare, well-rested squab followed, with a small raviolo made from the leg meat, spherified “dumplings” made from corn, Mexican mole sauce and a black slick of huitlacoche, the truffle-like fungus. Finally, a truffled Brie sandwich with candyfloss: there is wit and playfulness in the Enoteca kitchen, as well as superb technique.
And so to dinner at Petit Comitè, Jubany’s terrific city centre restaurant with a lively, relaxed atmosphere – a kind of Catalan bistro-de-luxe. I started with a Gilda (a Basque pintxo named after Rita Hayworth’s femme fatale in the 1946 film who was, apparently, similarly salty and spicy): salt cod, gherkin, olive, anchovy and guindilla chilli threaded onto a cocktail stick – a bracingly savoury starter.
The kitchen has an enviable empathy with ingredients. Sweet, tender peas co-star with squidgy morcilla (black pudding) and crisp-skinned pork belly, while cannelloni are stuffed with chicken, bathed in béchamel sauce and trickled with rich, piquant chicken jus; fresh morels add their gently scented flavour.
And espardenyes are on the menu here too: Jubany pairs them with a salty slab of excellent fatty bacon (the kind you might find on a Yorkshireman’s breakfast plate), bittersweet charred artichokes, and an intense cauliflower purée.
Petit Comitè was packed that night with diners enjoying the fruits of Barcelona’s dizzying gastronomic ascent. I suspect the poor old sea cucumber, proclaimed a delicacy after centuries of muddy anonymity, is somewhat less delighted.