You could say La Estrella is the Ford Motor Company of Barcelona restaurants: a trusted name that’s been around for decades, has moved with the times and has the Fordian mantra of “You can have any flavour as long as it’s cod.”
La Estrella was founded in 1924 by the current owner Jordi’s grandfather. It served the hungry travellers pouring into town from the neighbouring Estació de França. This family business has gone through many faces: it was once a bakery churning out 400 loaves in a morning, then it became an inn. But when Jordi and his wife Pepi took over they turned it into a restaurant that delicately balances the demands of both traditional and modern tastes.
For instance, our starter of prawn salad may not sound particularly traditionally Catalan—and it wasn’t. It had a good mix of leaves, from radicchio to rocket via lollos and lamb’s lettuce. There wasn’t a shredded carrot or hard-boiled egg in sight. Still, the concept is traditional as a standard modern bistro staple.
But Pepi, who’s in charge of the cooking, seems to be a woman who likes to do things differently. In this case, ‘differently’ means the addition of tendrils of deep-fried ‘sea spaghetti’. This added a welcome dash of salty savouriness, but the seaweed’s glutinous qualities meant their initial crisp crunch gave way to a tooth-clogging chewiness. Those with dentures may be advised to stick to the plump and tender prawns.
The salad had been one of the ‘specials’ that Jordi ‘sings’ (as they say in Spanish) to the customers at the table. His explanations are so intricate and appetite-whetting they leave diners drooling but dithering over what to order. The extra dishes add needed variety to the regular menu, which is heavy on the bacalao. There’s cod with honey, samfaina, mushrooms… you name it. If you’re a cod-lover, La Estrella’s reputation makes ordering it here a safe bet.
But I wanted to try another of their classics: cigrons amb salsa de gambes i daurats amb muselina d’alls. The chickpeas, from Leon, were small, meaty and had a good bite. I would have preferred the succulent oily sauce to have had a more intense prawn flavour, to compete with the punchy garlic mousseline. But it was perfect comfort food, the sort of thing you crave when suffering in the murky depths of a head cold.
Llenguado amb cava i caviar was comfort food on a more elegant level. It is a typical La Estrella dish: a simple combination of refined ingredients, prepared expertly. It felt indulgent but not showy. The sole flaked to perfection and the creamy sauce was cut well with the acid from the cava and the salty bite of the caviar.
You need to watch out when dining at La Estrella: their dishes do lean towards the rich and filling, and you really want to leave room for pudding. If you’re at all of a limited appetite it might be best to stick to salad so you can manage their tiramisu or their ‘six textures of chocolate’, both of which are infamous among Barcelona’s dessert aficionados. The chocolate coulant and tarte tatin also have their fans. But what has really got the gourmets talking is Pepi’s range of homemade ice creams and sorbets, with radical flavours such as wasabi, goat’s cheese, violets or cactus.
La Estrella’s position, tucked away behind Passeig de Colom, has the air of a well-kept secret. And the secret of its success is respect: Jordi is attentive and respectful to all and exudes a passion for his job that’s infectious. Pepi shows great respect for her ingredients, and the prices are respectful of the customer’s pocket.
La Estrella, Carrer d’Ocata 6, Tel 93 310 2768.
Price from around €35 per person for three courses.
Open Tues-Sat 1.30pm-4pm, 8.30pm-11pm.