a chef's dream-home
a chef's dream-home
Fonda Gaig offers comfort in both food and surroundings, although you can expect to pay for the pleasure.
Do you see the pattern here? High-end chef with expensive, possibly Michelin-starred restaurant is bored. He wants to return to the kind of cooking that his mother did, while offering his adoring dining public a more affordable night out. A designer jazzes up the joint, and lo, a ‘new bistro’ is born.
Unfortunately, Barcelona’s top chefs have still to catch up to the idea that we’re in a recession—restaurants in both New York and London are now doing ‘eat for free’ nights to keep their customers faithful—and that means way more than just eating on the cheap. It means being flexible and making us feel special, because the crashing economy means that our rare nights out need to be exactly that.
As such I wasn’t expecting Fonda Gaig to be particularly cheap, which is just as well because it wasn’t, but I was expecting that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with being in the bubble of a great restaurant. After all, in chef terms, Carles Gaig is a force to be reckoned with. And that I got in spades, from the deep, red leather armchairs good enough to sleep in, to the gentlemanly patriarch and his handsome family who bade me ‘good day’ as they left, leaving behind the warm glow and empty glasses of a celebration.
The Fonda, you see, is as much a lunch spot as a dinner place, and it’s packed whenever you go, thanks to clever lighting that leaves you feeling bathed in buttermilk by day, intimate by night. Either way you never want to leave. The menu: hard-core Catalan from the trenches of culinary history. Daily specials include buñuelos de sesos y setas de burdeos—fried brain fritters with wild mushrooms (€10), and the much-esteemed if rarely seen Catalan becada, woodcock (€27.50).
We begin with ensalada fresca de la huerta (€8.70). I’d hoped it would include a fist of a tomato, rugby-ball sized wedges of lettuce, spears of sweet onion. It was fine—escarola and lollo rosso, a peeled tomato, a sliver of sweet onion and a handful of top-notch arbequina olives—just not terribly thrilling in the way mother-earth salads can be.
The canelones de l’Avia Maria (€12.75), though, live up to their name. We share one order (half portions are available for everything) and get two fat fingers each, oozing tender braised beef, slathered in creamy bechamel. Just the kind of glammed up comfort food to put you at peace with the world even when the world is not at peace with you.
Next, vieiras a la plancha con salteado de alcachofas (€19.40). The sautéed scallops are fantastically fresh, plump, sweet and juicy against the earthiness of fresh artichokes. A faultless dish that I’d be happy to return for, and, actually, this little lot would have done the two of us just fine, but becada was a-calling…
Becada comes with half its head on (all the better for scooping out the brains), along with its mighty long beak, a quail-sized leg, the breast and half a liver. On the side is a mash of innards on toast. Not a dish to order if you’re remotely squeamish, but quite wonderful if you enjoy the flavour of rampantly ripe game. The strong, livery taste is one of the hallmarks of good woodcock, tempered by a reduced stock of the creature’s carcass and a good slug of booze, and if this is your thing, you’re unlikely to find a better example of it anywhere in Barcelona.
We finish with cheesecake with forest fruits, which is good, and a disappointing surtido de quesos, consisting of a few slabs of Manchego and a hard goat’s cheese thrown onto a plate. There’s not much ‘surtido’ going on, or presentation for that matter.
Still, on balance, there’s a lot to recommend Fonda Gaig. It serves great food in a convivial atmosphere that makes you want to be there—we arrived at 2pm, left at 5pm—and has hospitable staff who are genuinely happy to have you.
****Fonda Gaig, Corsega 200; Tel. 93 453 2020; www.fondagaig.com. Three courses, plus wine, €50-€60. Open Tue-Sat 1.30pm-3.30pm, 9pm-11.30pm; Sun 1.30-3.30pm
Our restaurants are rated by the reviewer:
***** excellent choice
**** definitely worth it
** below par
* go elsewhere