Back in 2006, when La Taverna del Clínic debuted, it was a taverna in the true sense of the word—a small space with a narrow bar where diners enjoyed excellent tapas and dishes between turns at the video gambling machine tucked into the corner. Since the beginning, the brothers and founders of La Taverna del Clínic—maître d’ and sommelier Manuel ‘Manu’ Simôes and chef Toni Simôes—have made pristine ingredients their top priority, above even cost. Sourcing the absolute best seafood, meat and produce is what first gained them fame and allowed them, in 2014, to expand La Taverna from 95 square metres to 220 square metres and build out a gorgeous professional kitchen worthy of Toni’s extensive experience and classical French leanings.
When entering the new dining room one passes an impressive, floor-to-ceiling wine refrigerator, a testament to Manu’s passion. The spot won ‘Best Wine List in Barcelona’ in 2015 from the Cartaví awards, and boasts more than 600 bottles (and 80 different champagnes, for which Manu is apparently a fanatic).
The open kitchen here is a sight to behold, with a young team of chefs working with intense focus, all the while seeming to truly enjoy their demanding jobs. The centrepiece of this polished steel workspace is a Charvet, ‘French piano-style’ cooking suite that must have cost a fortune. The chefs moved gracefully around this hub of ovens, flat tops, and burners, plating one dish after the next in our memorable 10-course extended tasting menu.
The first plate to arrive was a trio of small bites: a wobbly, briny sphere of Gordal olive oil, a single navaja (razor clam) steamed and chopped, served in the shell with a light ponzu dressing and picual olive oil ‘caviar’, and a wispy cracker of wild rice, plankton and seaweed, topped with mild strips of smoked eel.
Next came a light and tart gazpacho of cherries with bronte pistachio pesto, red prawns, green apple brunoise and a kick of garlic. Each spoonful was refreshing yet subtle. The garlic was quite strong but worked in harmony with the pesto and fruit. Again, a display of restraint and technique, which paid off in yielding a memorable and faultless dish.
The third course ended up being my favourite of the evening. A small plate of raw, just above-room temperature fatty tuna belly (known as ventresca in Spain and otoro in Japan) fished in nearby Tarragona, garnished with raw sea urchin roe, tomato concasse, sturgeon caviar from Russia, dots of an earthy black garlic sauce and herbaceous celery ice cream. The combination of flavours here was explosive, and the tuna, while unctuous and rich, still had texture and a bit of chew, which I actually enjoyed. I could taste all the components of this dish distinctly and also loved the combination of the almost-warm tuna with the chilled ice cream.
The dishes paraded onward, with foie gras micuit in truffle gelée, baby spring peas with cod tripe, sea cucumber and fried rooster’s comb, and seared scallops with rabbit and crustacean-stuffed rigatoni, each making a fabulous arrival to our table. One of the most standout dishes of the evening, beside the tuna, was the tataki of 60-day, dry-aged Rubia Gallega beef, marinated in fugu (Japanese pufferfish) broth, topped with garlic chips, baby mushrooms and mustard sauce. This meat was so intensely flavoured and tender that I actually preferred it without the spicy mustard, so I could really taste this exquisite product. Paired with the IMÔ 2005 Priorat red, made by Manu himself (also an enologist), I was nearing euphoria.
My other favourite was the suckling lamb roulade that was sous vide, lightly smoked, then stuffed with lamb sweetbreads, and bathed in a delicate and deeply-aromatic sauce of lamb jus and cardamon. Piled in a tiny heap beside the lamb were an assortment of baby vegetables and morel mushrooms, cooked in the classic French style of brief blanching and mounting with butter. This may have been the first time in my life I have actually tasted the flavour of morels completely unadulterated, and it was an indelible experience.
After a light palate cleanse of vegetable and citrus sorbet, and a decadent final dessert of butter-bathed torrija de brioche, we were offered glasses of Taittinger champagne, one of Manu’s personal favourites. Remarkably, La Taverna del Clínic, while a famous name in Barcelona for more than a decade, far surpassed my expectations. The passion and quality of the work here is beyond compare, and I would recommend this dining experience to anyone looking for a taste of something truly special. You eat here as if you’re in the owners’ homes, and I would have stayed the night if they would have let me.