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Xavier Pellicer, the iconic former chef of Michelin-starred Can Fabes and ABaC, and the man behind the popular, paella-centric Barraca restaurant in the Barceloneta, has recently ventured into the realm of ‘healthy cooking’. His newest restaurant, Céleri, is tucked away in the basement of the Woki Organic Market along the quiet Passatge Marimón, just above Diagonal. Those familiar with the Woki Market concept know that it is part gourmet shop, part casual eatery, with a wide array of foods available, from sandwiches and soups to Asian stir-frys. Upon entering the Passatge Marimón location, head downstairs to the more upscale Céleri, with its minimalist tables, dramatic lighting, glossy black accents, open kitchen and textured walls of exposed brick.
Chef Pellicer himself greeted us at the host’s stand just moments after we arrived, an auspicious sign that this isn’t just another popular restaurant with an absentee celebrity chef at its helm. We were seated quickly, and though the service was efficient and the server knowledgeable, the entire evening felt a bit rushed. Everything from the explanation of the specials to the presentation of the subsequent procession of vegetable-centric dishes was done in an almost breathless fashion. Our waiter, back waiters, cooks and Chef Pellicer all took turns delivering food to our table, quickly announcing the dish before hurrying back to the kitchen.
The wine list at Céleri has a decent variety of mostly organic wines, with bottles starting at €16. Our waiter wisely recommended the Blanc de Costador 2014 from Tarragona, an unusual blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache blanc grapes that was pleasantly surprising. Slightly creamy and not overly acidic, this medium-bodied Catalan white paired excellently with the variety of our dishes and cost around €24.
The structure of the menu at Céleri is what initially piqued my interest in what I might have otherwise considered to be just another trendy restaurant. Atypical of most menus, the star of nearly every plate here is not the protein, but one of the many seasonal vegetables found in the markets of Barcelona. Each vegetable is lovingly prepared in three distinct ways—one vegan, one vegetarian (usually alongside eggs or dairy) and one with either meat or fish. While in many cases the three varieties were quite similar with just some minor additions, I admire the dedication to pleasing the palate of a non-meat eater.
The meal began with a small plate of light, crispy Indian poppadoms, followed by a couple of artfully plated starters. The hummus at Céleri is made with lentils, garnished with sesame seeds and pomegranate, and served with tasty Sardinian flat bread. Though the texture and presentation of the hummus were both excellent, the expected tahini flavour wasn’t really present. Maybe that was a conscious choice, but I was left feeling that the hummus could have used another dimension, or maybe just a little more richness from a good glug of olive oil. The other starter we ordered turned out to be one of my favourite dishes of the evening—a fascinating plate of roasted cabbage wedges served cold with pickled radishes, tender onions, edible flowers, green onion oil, mustard oil, and a sprinkling of dust made by pulverising the crispy outer leaves of the cabbage. I enjoyed this dish not only for the solid technique on display, but also for the honest preservation of the flavour and texture of the cabbage itself. The pickles added a pleasant acidity and sweetness and the few drops of mustard oil were reminiscent of a subtle wasabi. Eaten in one bite, this was the most delightful mouthful of the night.
After the starters, several main dishes arrived in a random order, including vibrant roasted pumpkin with spicy wild arugula, couscous with tiny bits of cauliflower, pickled onions and delicious sugared pine nuts, creamy potato ‘macaria’ with green beans, chanterelle mushrooms and meatballs, and sweet potato gnocchi with a table-side pour of pork jus, a dusting of crispy, minced pig’s feet, and a parmesan tuille. Of all the mains, the patatas macaria con judias tiernas, setas y albondiguillas was my favourite (though I think that the meatballs were the least interesting part of the dish and would have happily foregone them). The couscous was a light, refreshing dish with great seasoning that did appear to fall into the ‘healthy’ category, though such designations were starting to seem more like buzzwords than true descriptors as we moved through the meal. There were a few meat-centric dishes that I would be excited to try on a subsequent visit (namely the tandoor-spiced pork ribs with quince and confit shallots, and the confit organic chicken thigh with ganxet beans, cod tripe, wild spinach and mushrooms).
As is common when dining out on the upper end of the casual spectrum, the food often risks being underwhelming or over-hyped, and I’d say that, for the most part, Céleri avoided these pitfalls. One recommendation I would offer however, would be to price all the dishes the same (the vegan and vegetarian dishes cost less and are for the most part quite simple) and add extra elements to the vegetable-only plates, making them truly special. I often find that at this price range it’s easy to be disappointed, so be aware that this isn’t a restaurant where you go to dine on a budget. The plates are small and there are many to choose from, so I would recommend shelling out a little extra money, ordering a few extra dishes, and leaving with a full belly and a full understanding of this Catalan fine-dining veteran’s latest vision.