Photo by Tara Stevens
Cochinillo - Porta Gaig
Airports are not generally the first places you think of for dinner. Then again, since many of us spend a considerable chunk of our time at them, perhaps they should be.
The decision to bring one of the city’s most celebrated chefs—Carles Gaig —into Barcelona’s newish Terminal 1 was not only welcomed, it was inspired; reminding us in these days of budget travel, where every last shred of comfort is stripped away, that we are human beings and civilised to boot.
My latest flight was conveniently timed for 17.40 so I got there early and went in for lunch. In fact lunch is all there is—Porta Gaig’s opening hours are limited to weekdays only and the atmosphere is business-like, rather than warm and fuzzy. Yet the cream on white design keeps it fresh and appealing, and great walls of glass let in lashings of glittering sunlight and the occasional glimpse of aircraft pootling into their bays. For my part, I felt just a tiny bit sad that it wasn’t busier, because, hand on heart, it is a rather jolly way to start a trip even if you are alone, as I was.
So there I was at the faux granite bar where there’s a convenient ‘quick’ menu for anyone in a rush, and plenty of opportunity to ogle your fellow patrons: I can report mainly men in suits. Service is brisk, but considerably friendlier than most of the other places on offer—ARS, Pans & Company, Burger King—or indeed many places in the centre of Barcelona, and I felt very comfortable sitting there on my own with a nice big glass of Rueda, the paper and a hearty, meaty, Catalan menu to contemplate: eggs from Calaf poached and served over potatoes and grilled foie, roast duck with pears, slow-braised beef cheeks with porcini, and Gaig’s legendary canelons. Many of them were dishes I’d had before at Fonda Gaig and if half as good as the originals would make a fine lunch, except I’m en route to Mallorca where I’m expected for dinner, so with some regret I keep it light. At least I try.
I order anchovies on pa amb tomàquet and a large garden salad, knowing that if Gaig is true to his principles the reward will be in the details. It may not sound like anything to knock your socks off, but these anchovies were the pinkest, plumpest Cantabrian specimens ever, oozing just the right amount of fishy saltiness to make the bread rubbed with tomato sing. The endive in the salad crunches juicily on the tongue, while frilly lollo rosso and escarole give a pleasing bitterness, sweet new onions a pungent punch, and tomatoes a sweet softness. The dressing is scant, but just enough to tie it all together. Truly, a good salad shouldn’t require much effort, but they are surprisingly rare in this part of the world and Gaig’s does have a certain je ne sais quoi.
I bask in the afterglow for a couple of minutes feeling rather proud of my thin-person’s lunch, and then, with still half an hour to kill, think “to hell with it”, and order one of Spain’s greatest dishes: cochinillo (pictured above). It arrives, a neat square chunk of slowly-roasted piglet on a smear of intensely flavoured gravy, with potato wedges and a spoonful of confit apples on the side. The flesh isn’t quite as gooey as I’d have hoped for, but it’s good and meaty, a slightly older beast than its milkier brethren, big on flavour with a satisfying, caramelised crackling. All in all, it’s a very nicely put together dish and the portion is just big enough for a one-course lunch.
I didn’t have time—or room—for dessert, more’s the pity, but I’m willing to bet it was better than whatever they serve at ARS.
PORTA GAIG—Barcelona Airport Terminal 1; tel. 93 259 6210
Open: Mon to Fri, noon-5pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
Main courses: €10.70-€24.50