Barcelona Part 2 - the stodgy middle bit


My tastes and the organisation of my visits to Barcelona became more complex until 4 years ago I scheduled 3 tasting menus on consequent nights; the deeply delicious and generously flavoured ABAC (it was in the Barri Gotic, now its got another star, moved and become a hotel with gardens), the aforementioned whimsical, brilliant and piscine orientated virtually daily changing menu Santa Maria and culminating in the artistic and sensational tour de force that was Comerc 24. Halfway through Act 3 lovely wife found that she just couldn't manage another bizarrely flavoured egg yolk in a martini glass and graciously bailed out leaving me with 2 portions of each of the following;
iridescent sous-vide white squid on imperial black rice sauced with liquorice squid ink reduction.
middle eastern sweet and sour mini lamb shish kebabs with a pea puree and mint oil.
assorted pre-desserts, desserts and chocolate.
With a superhuman effort I ate it all and felt like a human turducken.

As 'luck would have it', on the way home, lovely wifes bag (with passport, purse and camera) was snatched as she was singing and swinging it and stumbling a little. I belched ”stop thief” and set off at a waddle with any number of flavours and morsels threatening to return from within. Thankfully an athletic american tackled the thief heroically, a spanish chap jumped in and by the time I finally arrived there was a ball of action with one arm sticking out and a handbag on the end of it. I daintily liberated the bag with a “yoinks” just as lovely wife rounded the corner and declared in affected movie starlet twang “My Hero”.

I returned 2 years later and had great pintxos at the Basque cultural Centre (apparently there is a restaurant at the back but i didnt get past the bar) near the Picasso museum but  found the food at Comerc 24 far too theatrical; my favourite aroma of the tasting menu was the staff pasta ragu bubbling away for next days lunch. Thus ended my foam and emulsion phase and desire to visit EL Bulli. I had some years before birthday lunched at the Fat Duck and it was a great experience (although I could have flown to Thailand for the £550 I spent) despite my schoolboy error; during one of the early amuse bouche; 2 perfect carpetshell clams arrived on a plate of crystal whimsy, I dived in with gusto and gobbled up an enormous spoon of frozen coarse sea salt. My sense of taste thankfully returned in time for the cubes of salmon suspended in a liquorice aspic.

And that brings us up to the present and this years trip which is another story all by itself; Barcelona 2012. For this years Barcelona pilgrimage I was going back to basics and despite my better instincts I decided to skip Santa Maria (idiot) and go to Can Valles (how does this guy take such good photos? must be teetotal) where I had wanted to dine for 6 years. In retrospect no restaurant could live up to the mythical food Olympus I had constructed in my mind.



On the way I passed a little hole in the wall called Riserva Iberico I think, to me its now and forever named "what Jamonissimo should have been". 2 years ago I walked for 90 minutes in spanky shoes across Barcelona, a pilgrimage to the temple of Jamon that is supposed to be Jamonissimo. And what did I find ? 2 OK hams (Mrs Owner wouldnt cut into 1 of them) and 1 dry and rancid leg end that she tried to fob me off with. Probably Heston Blumentahl and Ferran Adria get better treatment. Pop went another fantasy food bubble.

Upon arrival at Can Valles the signs were good; small compact local restaurant, no music, hand written menu of specials, full of natives and the bar man squashing tomatoes for pan amb tomaquet. This is one of the worlds great breakfasts when topped with Jamon Iberico and also enjoyed in this case at the table opposite topped with anchovies.
What is it about the Spanish and anchovies ? I love anchovies with lamb, in tapenade, stuffed into olives, as a base for anything fishy and occasionally on their own but I don't revere them as a Spaniard does. I once shared a can of anchovies in hushed reverance as my dining companion whispered magically of the size of the fillet, the total lack of bones and deep, never-ending flavour. I'd had half a fillet earlier in the day, meticulously prepared by a chef and\or anchovy beautician with knife, scissors and tweezers and the taste had lingered for moments like a deep savoury gobstopper (I was a little flavour fatigued by the end)

So skip the Anchoas pan amb tomaquet, choose a funky local red from Priorat named 2-Pi-R and dig into the olives (garlic spiked, orange scented cracked stone-in Manzanillas) whilst studying the menu and realising its all in Catalan and I'm quite stumped. They have 1 english menu so crisis averted we quickly order and receive;



delicious smoked deer carpaccio but where was my deep fried orange?

fresh pasta with duck jamon, porcini and parmesan cream aka €15 plate of sick soup. That's a bit mean and it serves me right for ordering an italian dish in a catalan restaurant as it was quite nice and very rich but I immediately realised that a) pasta is something to be eaten in italy b) porcini aren't in season so they chucked in truffle oil/paste c) jamon should always be pork d) parmesan, again its the Italian thing.

So plates cleared and immediately and without a breather main courses arrive;
confit iberico suckling pig with a salad. OK, its tender and melts in the mouth but no fireworks and not much taste.
milk fed lamb cutlets (a la milanese OOPS I check the menu, it's my fault again for going Italian) with fried artichokes and crisps. again just about OK. both so average that i forgot to take a photo.
no dessert as i had been eating all day (thats another story)
as i sipped my camomile tea I started wondering what it is about Spain and and eating young animals? Yes the meat is tender. and....there is little or no flavour (e.g. spring lamb vs mutton, suckling pig vs massive boar, veal vs 30 month) and I've got teeth and i know how the chew so serve me something tasty. And finally if you cook for long enough everything becomes tender.
I concluded that this line of unreasoning was a smokescreen for my bad ordering.