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Here’s a little secret for you. Tasting menus that don’t leave me feeling just a tiny bit overwhelmed by the end are few and far between, so it was a real pleasure to revisit Oriol Ivern-Bondia’s Hisop recently, which I’d last written about when it first opened over 10 years ago. “Oh God, how was it?” he asked me when I told him this. I scrambled about in the darkest recesses of my mind, but honestly I couldn’t recall much. “I bet it was a disaster,” he said with uncharacteristic chefy modesty. Well no, not really. I remembered it being like no other food I’d ever had at the time, great fun, but kind of busy with so many tastes and textures clamouring for attention. Fast forward a decade or so and Bondia is at the top of his game. He’s added a non-advertised lunchtime menu of three courses that changes every three weeks and is based around whatever star ingredients he finds in the market, while his tasting menu dishes have become harmonious creations that are cleverly balanced and light.
As is typical of the tasting menu format, compared to the more gutsy ambience of the modern bistro say, here it’s all about the food. No distractions. The dining room is stark, softened simply by panels of honey-coloured wood and round tables draped in white linens as luscious as cream. Service is all black-uniformed sleekness, like graceful panthers laying artfully presented plates of food in the pooling light. Compared to the more casual approach being taken to fine dining these days it feels just a tiny bit formal, but not uncomfortably so, and when the food starts coming it is all the better for being properly savoured.
Two local oils, one liquid gold, the other limpid green, come with crisply savoury Armenian flatbreads baked in-house. An amuse bouche of tender octopus smoked over lime leaves on a puddle of what can only be described as essence of sea is followed by sensational, creamily tender ribbons of cuttlefish on a subtle, roasted garlic aioli with a streak of parsley puree. Rare mackerel on confit tomatoes with basil cream comes wrapped up like a posh pig-in-a-blanket in silky jamón fat; white asparagus spears rise majestically from fluffy little clouds of Jabugo ham-infused mayonnaise and are topped with neat little slices of tuna belly sprinkled with faintly bitter green tea dust. It is silky and crunchy, mellow and acid, fresh and lively—a proper spring dish that you’d happily eat in main course-sized portions. The seared sea bass by contrast, this time paired with wild asparagus, new season morels and a spike of heat from Peruvian pepper and a drizzle of soothing cream, is fair weather comfort food. A chunk of cochinillo (suckling pig) treats diners to more morels (the season for them is cruelly short-lived, so I welcome two dishes of them on the trot) scattered with shavings of fresh hazelnuts lending a final, earthy kicker to the briny sea flavours that have gone before and the whole is sealed with a loving ‘kiss’ in the form of a dish of savoury lavender ice-cream to bridge the gap before dessert.
Strawberries escabeche (pickled), topped with cold shards of strawberry granita infused with black pepper and mint, dance around the taste buds in joyful mouthfuls, and a blood orange sorbet provides that final soupçon of pleasure before coffee and clever petit fours of candied vegetables. I fairly skip out of the place for this is pretty, pretty food that doesn’t weigh you down, and is brimming with the delicate flavours of spring. By the time you read this of course, the menu will be full of the plumpness of summer, but the vibrant, happy food that defines Bondia’s cooking, I have no doubt, will shine on through.
Passatge Marimon 9 (Sant Gervasi)
Tel. 93 241 3233
Open Mon-Fri 1.30pm-3.30pm, Mon-Sat 8.30pm-11pm, closed Sat lunch, Sunday and holidays.
Tasting menu €57 (€90 incl. wine pairing); three-course market lunch €28 (weekdays only).