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Photos by Sam Zucker
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On a narrow street connecting the sleepy Carrer del Comerç and the charmingly-picturesque Plaça de Sant Agustí Vell, you’ll come upon the welcoming glow of Meneghina. Fitting snuggly into the category of truly hospitable establishments, the style of food is Italian—with a bit of Catalunya folded gently in—not unlike the owner Arianna Grau, herself half Italian, half Catalan. Grau, in partnership with Italian chef Assumpta Tarreé, has managed to settle into a tasty niche in the neighbourhood of El Born that had been sadly absent—modern Italian fare that’s a step or two above the rest (and without a pizza or piadina in sight). Nothing I tasted at Meneghina felt heavy-handed, and though their menú del día offers a respectable variety of plates to the lunch crowd for around €14 (first, second, dessert, bread, drink), many of the truly enticing offerings are found only on their á la carte menu, at steeper prices.
Of the dishes presented on the fixed price menu (which are all exclusive to the lunchtime menu), the marinated mackerel with tomato salad was an instant favourite. Long strips of fresh, meaty mackerel had been marinated in olive oil and vinegar until slightly pickled, then laid gently across an assortment of red and yellow tomatoes, perfectly ripe and delicately peeled before serving—a little touch of culinary class that did not go unnoticed. Petite fronds of dill, paper-thin ribbons of marinated red onion and tender leaves of lamb’s lettuce added a subtle earthiness to the dish, rounding out the tangy first impression into a well-balanced salad. Among the á-la-carte-only dishes, the sea urchin pappardelle and the red prawn crudo with tomatoes, capers and aperol foam are at the top of my must-try list for next time.
Another standout on the menú del día, and an ode to the ultimate simplicity for which much Italian cuisine is renowned, was the classic pasta dish of cacio e pepe. Eaten most commonly throughout the city of Rome and translating literally to ‘cheese and black pepper’, Meneghina’s version is mezzi rigatoni tossed in a profusion of cracked black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Deceivingly plain, this delectable preparation is brought to its rightful glory by chefs who understand the true meaning of al dente.
The house wine wasn’t anything special—an anonymous, though very drinkable, local table wine. A bit like the á la carte menu vs the fixed price menu, the real wine gems at Meneghina are only available by the bottle. I was excited to see a bold, spicy Nero d’Avola on their list; a favourite of mine that is bursting with the earthy aromas of southern, Sicilian soil. Lamentably, splitting a 750ml of potent Italian red at lunch on a Wednesday didn’t seem wise, and at €25 it isn’t the cheapest label in the cellar. Nonetheless, this wine will surely delight my Priorat-accustomed palate with some refreshingly new flavour profiles upon my next visit.
I really enjoyed people-watching from our table on the little terrace as neighbours and tourists wandered by, and overall, our lunch was a thoroughly delicious affair. However, I now perceive Meneghina as a better spot for an evening meal where a bit more indulgence is allowed. Consider it a great, intimate hideout for a romantic meal or dinner among flavour-seeking, wine-loving friends with a little cash to spare.
The charming dining room holds only about twenty people, with three compact, tile-topped tables outside on the street, hugging the ancient stone walls and offering six additional seats that are always in high demand. Though this petite restaurant has mostly flown under the radar, calling ahead to reserve a spot at both lunch and dinner times is still essential. It is easy while eating at Meneghina to feel as if you are an honoured guest in an Italian home, with the kind of inviting, well-worn atmosphere that draws you in and holds you close with a big smile and a truffle-scented embrace. With a menu that changes every season, the kitchen has the power to keep a local audience captivated, continuously offering a winning blend of classic Italian flavours, modern culinary techniques and prime Catalan ingredients sourced from the surrounding coast and countryside.