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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Windsor (Barcelona)

The day: 4th July 2008, Dinner.
The place: Corsega 286, 08008 Barcelona, Spain (tel: 93 2377588)
The venue: Windsor
The food: Modern Catalan Cuisine
The drinks: Good list, very strong on Spanish.

As you may know, Windsor is in Spain. It sits in the middle of Barcelona’s elegant Eixample area. It advertises ‘cuina catalana’, and it is our second and completely casual choice for tonight, as on a friend’s strong recommendation (hello M) we wanted to try ‘Alkimia’, but it was booked up: next time…

We are lucky and with no booking we get in. The interior is striking: after crossing a vast lobby, you enter even more vast spaces, organised in several rooms and environments. There is high bourgeois elegance, with large mirrors, light colours, a veranda. Numerous sharply dressed room staff move around. The tables are comfortable and extremely well spaced (unfortunately not enough to prevent the booming voices of an American couple making us privy to their private lives).

The menu offers interesting proposals, such as Tataki of tuna with mango, fennel, broccoli puree and herb oil (€19) among the starters, the risotto of langostinos and artichokes (€20.50) in the rice section, and, among the meats/beef, attention is attracted by the Wagyu beef cutlet, served with ‘a little salt and nothing else’, at € 48. There are also two set menus, a ‘light menu’ at €55 and a tasting menu at €60.

The bread arrives: once in the while they allow us to choose from the tray (see our last experiences here and here).

As you know, it takes a lot to impress us with bread, so let’s say: OK (at €4 apiece, as we discover later, it’d better be at least OK!).

But here arrives an amuse-bouche:

It’s a vichyssoise with gambas (prawns) and onions. Extremely fresh and pleasant overall, the prawn lends a delicious sweet flavour, well accompanied by the equally concentrated flavour of the dehydrated onions. There is a fat texture which is exactly enough to add body without becoming unpleasant. If our theory that you can predict the entire chef performance from the amuse-bouche is correct, we are in for a great evening…

Our choice of starters is liquid:

- Cold soup of Montserrat tomatos (€17 NOTE: ALL PRICES DO NOT INCLUDE VAT)

- Special of the day soup (ajoblanco) (€17.50)

The tomato soup enthuses with three consistencies (ice, ice-cream, and liquid). The iced part is the watermelon, very sweet, combining harmoniously with the delicious basil flavoured ice-cream. This dish is quite something. Look at it: there are just three main ingredients (tomato, basil, watermelon), all of them humble: a perfect demonstration of how extreme goodness can emerge from extreme simplicity.

The special soup is an almond soup. It is as visually impressive as the previous one (the red you see here is watermelon), and it is sublime. The soup itself is light and thin, with a nice consistency provided by shards of grape flesh on the bottom; the ensemble is balanced, ravishingly cool, with absolutely top material (the crab is fantastic).

We come to the mains:

- Special of the day tuna (€26.50)

- Souquet de rape a la nostra manera (Monkfish ‘our style’) (€26)

Many gastronauts get impatient with seared tuna, they have had too much of it, everybody makes it, and they find it banal. Not us. When tuna is so, so good, and cooked so precisely, the fish lover can only be awed. Really one would not ask for anything more in the dish (and the portion looks generous indeed). But there is more! The combination with the cherry chutney works impressively, and the ‘ravioli’ filled with finely diced veggies (we note courgettes, tomato, aubergine) are tasty and sweet and wonderful (when we came back the following night –aehm- we tried the tuna tataki and we were equally ravished by the material and the preparation).

The monkfish is another large portion, and –more crucially- the quality of the material is immense, too. What fish, what cooking, what seafood (there are also clams and prawns). The intense reduction (saffron?) almost risks shading the fish. This dish is sheer bliss, and there is also the playful reinterpretation of 'souquet' (traditional Catalan seafood stew or soup).

And finally our desserts:

- Crema catalana ‘our style’ (€8)

- Biscocho music (€9)

The crema catalana: to our taste this is not a very balanced dessert (the cinnamom is too dominant), but the iceacream is good, and the main part of the dish is a quite airy interpretation of the catalan classic, very smooth, luscious, which still retains its ‘gluttony’ appeal.

The ‘biscuit’ is soft and pleasant, with dried fruit, the honey ‘tiles’ are good and so are the accompanying pistachios, but the ice cream, not well made, with ice crystals, is a real spoiler in this dish. Overall, these desserts, while still good, do not fly quite at the same stratospheric level of the rest of the dinner.

Well, finally finally, there are the excellent petit fours (orange peel, amaretto, and chocolate):

Including a litre of water (two half bottles) at a silly €8, bread at a silly €8, an excellent Albarino Terras Gauda Rias baixas 2007 (€23) suggested by the excellent sommelier, and VAT at 7%, the total comes to €153,01, near our £100 mark. These prices are reasonable for central Barcelona for a fish dinner with these portions and cuisine, only we are slightly irritated by the water and bread at unadvertisedly excessive prices: it would be far nicer to the customer to just hike the dish prices a bit.

The service at Windsor is really good. The sharp, smooth room manager is young and leads efficiently a mostly young and obviously well trained team. The sommelier is what you look for in a sommelier: pleasant, with a long, data filled, story to tell you on any wine you enquire about, and psychologically apt. The cuisine, as you might have guessed, is impressive. The foundation are raw materials of absolute excellence – with fish and seafood like that, it would take some effort to spoil a dish! But you have seen how even starting from humble ingredients great dishes were made. We liked the sharpness and freshness of flavours, the cooking precision, the balance between traditional/catalan and modern/international ideas (the following night we had a fantastic turbot and orange risotto), a certain restrained exuberance. Only the patisserie department was just good instead of stunning (on our return visit they were better, though). In the city of Adria’, where inane imitators probably abound, chefs like this who use modern techniques and concepts for a purpose, and not for their sake, are to be admired (mercifully we did not see a foam or a spherification in the whole dinner). There is an abyss between Windsor and our previous experience at Silvestre, yet according to Michelin only a fork separates them (Windsor has three), a situation that surely cannot persist: go to Windsor while it is still so affordable!


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