Right in the shadow of the Palau de la Música, this dark, tiny, slightly shambolic Italian restaurant is a world away from all the plasticky pizza and pasta chains on nearby Via Laietana. La Cucine Mandarosso is run by unbelievably sweet and friendly young Neapolitans and has only got about 10 tables—several of which are reliably filled with Italians, which is always a good sign. Apart from the natural stone walls, the decor is almost all food related with shelf upon shelf of wines, sweets and imported Italian products (all for sale) including high quality olive oil, coffee, pasta, tomatoes and anything else that makes you long to visit Naples.
The menú del día is always good here although the variety and presentation of dishes can sometimes be a little erratic: once a salad turned out to be two fist-sized balls of mozzarella di bufala and a tiny sprinkling of rocket leaves, which was more cheese than I’d normally eat in a week, let alone a single sitting; another time the only variation of pasta sauces was tomato and aubergine or tomato and aubergine and anchovy. However, plenty of other times they get it right, and you’ll be treated to Neapolitan classics such as fabulous bresaola, parmigiana di melanzane (aubergine pie with tomato sauce and fiordilatte), spaghetti alle vongole (with clams), peperoni ripieni (whole stuffed peppers) or scagliozzi (fried slices of polenta) along with a superlative range of homemade desserts—one of the house specialities is pastiera napoletana (a short crust pastry pie filled with ricotta di pecora and cooked wheat grains).
Aside from the meals, there are various small events (check the website for details) with evening DJ sets and live music. The latest innovation is that they now produce Italian pastry and cakes to take away: choose from cannoli siciliani, pasticiotto, panna nonno crescenzo, deliziosa (hazelnut biscuits with pear and pannacotta) and after around 6pm, they have hot sfogliatelle (shell-shaped filled pastries).
Le Cucine Mandarosso, C/ Verdaguer i Callis 4 (Sant Pere), Barcelona, tel. 93 269 0780 www.lecucinemandarosso.com
Lunch menú €10, à la carte €18-25.
Open: Tues-Fri, 9am-midnight; Saturday 10am-midnight; Sun 7.30pm-midnight.