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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Silvestre (Barcelona)

The day: 2nd July, Dinner.
The place: Santalo’ 101, Barcelona

The venue: Silvestre Restaurant

Closest airports:
Barcelona (BA),
Girona (Ryanair)
The food: Spanish

The drinks: Short list, mainly Spanish, quite ‘friendly’.

As happens relatively often, we are in Barcelona…you must have seen zillions of photos and critiques of El Bulli or the other celebrity restaurants, so we are going to show you something else - and we didn’t go to El Bulli anyway :-(.

What’s restaurant life in this great city just below the firmament, say at the 2-3 Michelin fork level? Come with us and see.

We begin this week with a neighbourhood restaurant (OK, a rather wealthy neighbourhood) near the Muntaner metro station, near the Eixample and Gracia, and especially near what must be the most expensive market in Barcelona, Mercat Galvany: we hope Silvestre Restaurant sources from there as the stuff is really sublime (more on this story in a few days…).

The interior is bright, soberly elegant (waiters in formal attire), with well-spaced tables and a calm atmosphere (sorry, no photo). Several mostly senior and obviously not too poor customers, all local, sit around us. We are always curious to see how the locals eat, so it looks like we are in the right place.

The menu looks, to be frank, a bit tatty, contrasting with the rest of the decore, and an aloof waitress serves us random bread from a tray.

Anonymous, but definitely on this side of acceptable.

The menu offers a few 'ensaladas' for about €12 (e.g. Tomato with tuna 'ventresca' and onion, or Spinach salad with small sardines, quail eggs and grilled tomatoes), first courses in the €11-14 range (e.g. Creamy 'risotto' of small vegetables and mushrooms), and several mains of fish and meat not far either side of €20 (Cod with chickpeas and pork feet form the fish list, and Boned shoulder of pork with rosemary and lemon gives a flavour of the cuisine style.).

Some complimentary croquettes arrive:

Unmemorable, one-dimensional. Mmh, not a sprinting start.

Our choice of first courses is:

- Bacalao ahumado (smoked cod) with avocado, green onion and tomato €12.50

- Arroz caliente (Warm rice) with squid, langostinos (squat lobster) and clams

The cod dish is nice looking but on the palate it feels a bit messy and amorphous, with the actual cod in reduced quantity. Nevertheless, it is tasty, with a gentle smoked flavour. The fats (oil, avocado) are slightly excessive and not too pleasing to our palate, but are well integrated with the acidic and the pungent onion and lemon. A smuttering of sesame is a good addition. Overall, no memorable flavour, but no unpleasant flavour either.

The rice (way overcooked for us Italians) is a strong dish, 'grandma style' with a very rich and reduced sauce and bold flavours coming from sea and land: alas, the langostinos and especially the clams probably do not come from Mercat Galvany, as they are not top notch and come across as a little subdued and exhausted. The pork is dominant. A rustically pleasant ensemble, to enjoy without thinking too much.

At breakneck service speed (do they want us out of here? Yet there’s plenty of space…), our mains are next:

- Monkfish fillet with tomato puree' and aubergines 'chips' €20.50

- Boned rabbit with langostinos €€17.50

The worst thing in the monkfish is the soggy aubergine, still dripping frying oil. Better to move on. The fish however this time is quite good, and also skilfully cooked, accompanied by an excellent tomato based sauce (probably with some sweet spice in it – reminiscent of romesco). Once again, this is robust cuisine of the traditional type, and within these confines, apart from the awful aubergine, it is definitely satisfying.

The rabbit, like the fish, is cooked very well indeed, with plenty of moisture. The sauce is too salty, too liquid, and the puree verges on the disaster. The langostinos with the rabbit are for us an interesting and unusual combination that works very well, with the langostinos themselves of reasonable quality. A mixed dish, which once again will reward focussing on the main ingredients without too much thought.

For desserts (all at €6) we are going to have

- Millefeuille of strawberries with crema pasticciera.

- Fillo pastry with cramelised pear and light cream

The millefeuille has a robust consistency. The raspberries are pleasant, with their sauce also quite intense, though it has a vaguely unnatural taste. The ‘pasticciera’ sauce is nice if a little bland, lacking punch, colour and density.

The fillo pastry is supremely light, as is the rest of the dish, but not at all insipid: most pleasant, in fact. The pears are cooked perfectly, just exactly sweet. A delicate offering which is most welcome after this type of dinner.

With a bottle of fresh and pleasant Cristiari Costers del Segre 2007 at €13.25, bread and cover charge at €3.80, 1 litre water at €3,10, and VAT at 7% (beware), we end up with a very reasonable bill of €93,48.

As we said, the service was too fast, and the waitress was not particularly lovable. What looked like the room manager/sommelier, however, was most helpful and kind. This is quite attractive as a neighbourhood restaurant, for the locals or for tourists like us staying nearby. It offers quite homely and tasty cooking, complete of homely mistakes and screw ups, using good even if not top materials, at prices that are very decent by central Barcelona standards. It does not deserve venturing far away from your location, however: so although we by no means regret the experience, we do not think we shall return except for convenience. But there is a place in Barcelona where we shall return...and you'll see it soon!


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