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When you’ve been away for a couple of months it’s always heartening to get back into the swing of things on a high. And this was surely vertiginous, for Igueldo already looks like a contender for “best of 2014” and we’re only in March. This comes as less of a surprise when you consider the provenance of Gonzalo Galbete (chef) and Ana López de la Madrid (maitre’d) who hail from a star studded stable of restaurants, among them the three-starred Arzak in San Sebastian. What does surprise, if not shame-face and dumbfound, is that they’ve been open since 2007. 2007! I must have been living under a rock.
Having emerged I’m happy to share with you one natty little Eixample restaurant. Slightly set back from the street to create a small, recessed terrace occupied by a large, communal dining table, this leads into a welcoming dining room built on a palette of soft whites and snowy table linens by designer Iván Pomés. It’s stark, but not icily so, and the gentle bustle and chatter of fellow diners creates an atmosphere that makes you want to go back before you’ve even begun. Guarantees it in fact, once you try the food, which here I suppose would be categorised as of the Nueva Cocina Vasca ilk, except it’s far less fussy than molecular and much more exciting than a plate of viscous cod cheeks.
Let’s just call it what it is. Excellent cooking based on prime Northern Spanish ingredients such as dry aged Basque beef and deeply flavourful Navarra vegetables, and for some reason, the odd nibble from Germany, prepared with love, imagination and flare. Gonzalo’s flavour combinations and textures are inspired, intended to shake your taste buds from their jaded slumber.
We begin with a crunchy “sausage roll’ of chistorra on a neat little slick of sweet mostarda with a bottle of Edra white that made a comfortable partner to a meal that turned out to be dazzling. Aged beef tartar with beer-infused yogurt provides a slightly bitter foil against the sweetness of the tartar and the soft, yielding textures of the beef. I was about to declare it dish of the year, until I had the hot, velvety, smoky eel topped with a light covering of Idiazabal cheese and grilled to gooey crispness alongside a well-chosen caper or two, some zippy tomatoes and a spot of beer jelly. If ever there was a posh cheese on toast this must surely be it, but it was the balance of flavours and the construction of dishes that really won me over. Dazzlingly clever stuff.
And so to Navarra artichokes grilled a la brasa and then tossed together with slivers of salty-sweet jamón and lozenges of creamy, soft, grilled foie that you tend not to see until they pop and melt in your mouth. A deeply savoury onion reduction at the bottom of the bowl brought it all together in voluptuous mouthfuls that frankly, were really rather sexy. This would be a great date place, I mused, where they do the seducing for you with each and every forkful.
I found the jamón ravioli a little obvious and a tiny bit claggy, though my companions waxed lyrical about it. For me it was comfort food Basque-style; foie and ham (and I’m sure a mushroom or two) layered between tender sheets of pasta cloaked in an expertly made cheese béchamel. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be more than happy to eat this under normal circumstances, but after the “wow” factor of the first few courses it left me a tiny bit underwhelmed. Back to form however, with an oblong plate of delightfully chewy, richly flavourful, roast rice with crayfish—heads served on the side for those like me who like to suck on them and pick out their brains. And with the meltingly tender ox tail on sweet potato mash flecked with the savoury freshness of parsley.
I even loved dessert, which I don’t usually. Ribbons of apples steeped in calvados with a cheese ice-cream was like autumn on a plate, raspberry soufflé was piping hot, light as air and intensely fruity, and the slice of chocolate cake on orange sauce like a fresh, slightly bitter, chocolate caviar strewn Terry’s Chocolate Orange (if you have never had one of these, rush to the UK and get one immediately, it’s a national treasure). That a good 75 percent of their dishes come in half portions and the various menus (including for groups) are fairly priced, means I hope to be dating Igueldo for some time to come.
Carrer Rosselló 186, Eixample.
Tel. 93 452 2555
Open Tue-Sat 1pm-3.30pm, 8.30pm-11.30pm.
Lunch menu €25.85 for two courses plus a glass of wine, dinner menu €38.50 for four courses, not incl. wine.
✪ NOT WORTH THE TRIP
✪✪ COULD IMPROVE
✪✪✪✪ VERY GOOD
✪✪✪✪✪ NOT TO BE MISSED