Photo by Patricia Esteve
Big Fish home
There are certain spaces in Barcelona that are cursed. Nobody knows why or how, it’s just the way it is, and heaven help the young entrepreneur who finds himself stuck within the stranglehold of one of them, desperately gasping for air. Such an address was Carrer Comercial 9—its last incarnation was as an upmarket tapas bar that, for no good reason I could see, lasted all of three months—but finally its luck seems to be changing.
Stroll past Big Fish on any lunchtime or night of the week these days and you’ll find it stuffed to the gills—literally. If nothing else they’ve certainly got the look right, and I think that might be partly where it went wrong in the past. These minimalist bars and restaurants are all well and good on the pages of Wallpaper, but let’s face it, nobody wants to sit in them. And the casual, grunge-chic for which Barcelona is so famous is just a little too downbeat for the neighbourhood.
So this fifth-generation fisherman’s family has done something remarkable. Either they have an in-built instinct for interior design that fits a community, or they’ve done some research because the tables have turned. Big Fish has to be one of the sexiest looking places in the city and, for that, people will clamour to get in.
It has an eclectic mix of oversized chandeliers and lampshades reflected in the mirrored ceilings, and the tables are mixed—some round, some square, some bordered by leather Chesterfields and some far too close together, but the buzz makes it reassuringly comfortable. Big Fish also claims to serve only wild fish, but I can’t help feeling it might be nice if it made more of a deal about it being sustainable. Perhaps that’s to come?
Meanwhile, a generous plate of cigalas (langoustines) from Roses are done to extraordinary perfection. They have just the right amount of sear (mainly on the shells) and are split in two, revealing a long, taut column of sweet buttery flesh that lifts easily away. Some still have their pink and black roes on them, which explode in thin rivulets of oil—a nod I guess to the current vogue for cooking caviar. Unfortunately, they are out of monkfish tail in pistachio crust and grilled calamari with mango chutney, so we have a mixed platter of sushi and sashimi, which is good, just ubiquitous.
I also give two thumbs up to the lubina (sea bream), which has a delectably crispy skin enveloping lovely opaque just-cooked flesh, and the sweetness of the tomatoes concasse works a treat. One thumb down for a sinewy trunk of tuna that is seared on the outside, rare in the middle, but creepily cold. We both leave half of it. To be fair, as much as anything, this was a mistake on ordering. My feeling—if you must eat tuna and as we all know we probably shouldn’t—is that unless it’s sushi grade it often falls short of expectations, and you’d be better off with a can of Ortiz. That, or go for medium, which allows the sinew enough heat to render a little bit.
I have no idea what the desserts were, having been completely seduced by the promise of properly ripe French cheese served with pots of honey and red currant jam. Unfortunately, by now service standards were slipping. With half the tables already paid and gone home, the wait staff seemed to have lost interest—we sent a cold coffee back three times, until eventually they agreed to take it off the bill rather than remake it—and the music was doing its midnight segue into techno. I’ve never liked that in a restaurant.
But, on balance, the good still far outweighed the bad, and for my money, I’d say Big Fish is a keeper.
Big Fish, Comercial 9. Tel. 93 268 1728. Open Tue-Sat 1.30pm-4pm, 8.30pm-midnight. Approximately €40 for three courses plus wine. Lunch menú, €13.