Stumbling around the back streets of Santa Caterina in foul weather, we came across Patxoca: a small, glowing, corner bistro. Its blackboards, bravely withstanding the howling wind, promised homely, warming (and organic) comfort food. I remembered that my fellows in the local Slow Food coven knew the owners, and described them as ‘buena gente’. Rather than any port in a storm, it seemed like we’d found a real safe haven.
My feeling of finding like-minded souls was reinforced when I noticed the bread they served (and charged for, do note) was from Barcelona’s only organic bakery, Barcelona Reykjavik. It came with an organic olive oil from the highly regarded Baena DO, which I also saw being used for cooking in the open kitchen. Good to know they’re not cutting costs and corners behind the scenes.
Though the long menu, which is partly changed daily, offers a good range of salads, these were not salad days. We wanted batter, booze-reinforced meaty stocks and gelatinous stews. We started with a ración of deep fried courgette flowers. Six flowers arrived with baby courgettes attached. The batter was perfectly crisp and the veg had a fresh-from-the-ground crunch and tender insides. I also ordered musclos a la romana, wondering how battered mussels would turn out. It turns out they weren’t battered at all. Either someone hadn’t changed the menu or hadn’t told the kitchen, but I was more than happy with my large orange mussels cooked in a cumin-perfumed leek and wine sauce.
More assumptions were destroyed with the chestnut soup, which I’d thought would be thick and creamy, and possibly too rich. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by a fragrant broth containing clouds of chicken flesh and chunks of nutty chestnut with a satisfying bite. The Patxoca chefs seem to be soup stars: our favourite dish was their onion soup, which was a golden concoction of silky strands of onion bound with strings of melting gruyere in a warming, brandy-enriched stock.
Patxoca’s cap i pota might be a good introduction to this dish for offal novices. It had a light carroty sauce and plenty of plump white mongeta beans, plus the cuts of head and foot meat showed a good balance between pearlescent glutinous fat and lean purple flesh. But I thought it lacked ‘oomph’ and would have been transformed by a few grinds of black pepper or a splash of balsamic vinegar.
A casserole of lamb with quince had more than enough ‘oomph’ to go around. It contained various cuts of meat—some of which were better suited to the long slow cooking process than others. A couple of rib chops had been sapped of flavour; pieces of neck and shoulder still had moist and tender flesh. But the quince was soft and sublimely sweet and the gravy was rich with cosseting autumnal spices.
Chocolate coulant is an overused and often underwhelming dessert in fashionable restaurants. It was invented by top chef Michel Bras to warm up his family after a cold day’s skiing, so we decided to risk Patxoca’s version. A long wait and a perfect result seemed to suggest that the coulant was prepared following Bras’s own recipe, rather than the many simplified versions that are churned out by less finicky restaurants. The warm oozing chocolate sauce had the deep sheen of a properly made ganache rather than just undercooked cake mix.
Although Patxoca isn’t always perfect—some dishes are outshone by others and service can be haphazard—it’s never painful. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, the dedication to serving good food palpable. You can tell thought and time have been invested in producing their most successful dishes. Prices are reasonable for a place with few covers and a commitment to organic produce. So next time you have the sort of winter blues that only a succulent bread-dipping gravy will cure, you know where to go.
Patxoca, Mercaders 28, 93 319 2029. Kitchen open all day Mon-Sat, tapas and vermut on Sundays. Price for three courses and half a bottle of wine, around €30-40.