With all the goings-on in the Born to restore and reopen the local market, it’s no surprise that the new Mercat Princesa has quietly entered the community of this gastronomic barri with nary a ripple. Hidden down a narrow street between Passeig del Born and Carrer de la Princesa, this bazaar of well-thought-out food, both local and international, opened in May to positive yet subdued acclaim.
Though the variety of food offerings at Mercat Princesa (which, for lack of a better description, is a gourmet food-court the likes of which are rarely seen) is impressive, what first grabs the diner’s attention is the Gothic building in which it is housed. Indeed, the owners had to fight the council for the necessary permits to renovate what is a site of historic value. Built in the remnants of a surprisingly well-maintained palace from the 14th century, upon entering one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the medieval, interior walls of well-worn stone, bottom-lit by subtle sconces and bridged by several low-slung archways.
Customers can enjoy food (and drinks) from across Spain, Italy, Japan, China and Thailand, prepared on the spot at one of the 16 different stalls that flank the airy central atrium. This is a naturally-lit space with vaulted ceilings, indoor greenery and a cluster of low, communal tables of unfinished wood and iron.
One may choose to order from the all-egg bar, where free-range eggs from ‘happy hens’ are made into tortillas, scrambled eggs and a handful of variations on the classic bar indulgence of huevos rotos. Or, if a mix of classic and new-age Catalan cuisine suits your fancy, try the plump ‘gin tonic’ botifarra flavoured with gin and lime (or any of the other nine house-made varieties, including ‘mojito’) and cooked to order at La Planxa grill.
Still not inspired? Dim sum, pintxos, paella, ceviche, pasta, croquetas, pizza, oysters and a variety of line-caught, flash-fried seafood are all available, with international beer, a user-friendly range of wines, and dozens of cocktail options to wash it all down.
The Japanese station is one of the smallest, but between slicing vibrant strips of delectably-marbled tuna sashimi, the Spanish sushi sensei executed a tempura-fried langostine and crunchy yamagobo (pickled burdock root) maki, topped with slowly-rendered duck breast and bruléed onion confit with ease, deftly wielding his knife and blowtorch while never breaking playful conversation. At €15 it seemed a bit pricey, but I was far from disappointed.
Mercat Princesa has yet to reach its full potential, and with somewhat overwhelming options, I surely need to return for a second round.
Mercat Princesa, Flassaders 21. www.mercatprincesa.com.