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The Pantry

Hotel Arts Barcelona, Carrer de la Marina, 08005 Barcelona

When one does a lot of restaurant reviews, disappointment is, sometimes, unavoidable. Other times, one is surprised and finds the most magical places, food and people where least expected. This is the case of The Pantry, the newest restaurant in the Hotel Arts Barcelona.

What looks like the back door of a delicatessen selling a variety of delicious regional fresh produce, preserves and wines is actually the entrance to a restaurant reminiscent of a speakeasy during the Prohibition years in the US (1920-1933). The term derives from patrons having to whisper (or, speak “easy”) when attempting to enter these hidden bars.

With sustainability and locality at the forefront of its ethos, the recently opened restaurant serves a menu that celebrates the richness of the region, from both its interior and its coast. Chef Aurora Despradel sources only the best ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. There is no artifice or deconstruction, no three-line description of what has been done to the poor vegetables/meat/fish with techniques more suited to laboratory than a kitchen. Aurora keeps things simple, with the confidence in her own ability shining through everything.

The Pantry is inspired by the Speakeasy concept from the Prohibition era in the U.S. during the 1920s and 1930s.

To be honest, I was sold the moment I was welcomed inside by manager Eduardo de Guirior (Edu) – the personification of charm, visibly passionate about this new eatery, and unfazed by the fact that the two-Michelin-star restaurant Enoteca Paco Pérez is just down the street. The way he received us, one would say we had been friends for decades. Once at the table, our waiter, the delightful Ekaterina Grygorieva (Kate), guided us through the menu, giving us recommendations based on the preferences we shared with her and describing with pride the origin of all the ingredients – and how they’d been looked after before getting to our plates.

First came a tomato and Mató salad. The tomatoes are handpicked and from a local farm, as it is the Mató cheese – a fresh variety from the region, made with goat’s or sheep’s milk, with no added salt. The seasoning comes from Cantabrian anchovies, which are considered the best in the world. A delicate basil oil brought all the flavours together.

Tomato and Mató salad (left) and Confit of White Asparagus from Navarra (right), both prepared with fresh regional ingredients from independent suppliers.

Next came a total revelation: confit of white asparagus from Navarra, thicker than my thumb, with langoustines and fresh peas, all coated on the most delicious chicken jus. The combination of flavours and textures is something I had never tried before – maybe because it comes straight from Despradel’s imagination.

Kate insisted we try the risotto with oyster mushrooms and truffle. I wasn’t too excited about it because, let’s be honest, how special can risotto be? Well, this one most certainly was: creamy and full of layers of flavour from the cava Gramona used in the stock, the Manchego cheese and, of course, the black truffle.

The melt-in-the-mouth steak picks slightly charred tones from the grilled figs, whose sweetness blends with that of the shallots and dauphinoises.

As a main, we shared a 300g mature ribeye steak with figs grilled over hot coals, dauphinoise potatoes, confit shallots and truffle sauce. I like my meat cooked just enough so it doesn’t jump off the plate; this presents the chef with the challenge of how to render the wider streak of fat that goes across this cut of meat in just the time it takes to sear the outside. At The Pantry, they manage this without any problem. The truffle sauce, rather than dominate, elevates the dish. If it were not for a health issue, I could eat this every day.

My faith in Kate was such that I agreed to have the poached pear from Lleida (the province next door) for dessert – despite the fact that I don’t like poached fruit, or pears, in any way, shape or form. Once again, I stand corrected. I couldn’t imagine that basically a boiled piece of fruit could taste so good. The spoon went through the flesh of the pear as if it were butter, and the balance of sweet, spice and fruity flavours made my taste buds dance. Combined with the vanilla ice cream and the hot chocolate sauce, it was pure indulgence.

The poached pear from Lleida masterfully balances sweet, spice and fruity flavours, leaving your palate tingling with pleasure.

Kate paired every dish she brought us with different Catalonian wines, so we could experience the variety and quality of the regional wineries. We had whites from Conca de Barberà – an area that has been making wine since Roman times – and magnificent reds from the Priorat, a region where the soil has special volcanic properties that lend a distinctive flavour to its wines.

It is clear to me that anytime I am in Barcelona, I’ll eat here at least once. Congratulations to all the team. This place is simply fabulous.

Tel: +34 934-838090


Words: Julia Pasarón

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