Photo by Patricia Esteve
Routa means something like tundra in Finnish. I say something like because it isn’t quite the same. Tundra is the vast Arctic, permanently frozen plains of places like Greenland, while routa, as far as I understand, is more about temporarily frozen subsoil. Regardless, one thing that both tundra and routa seem capable of is endowing all that survives in or on or around them, with the most amazing flavours. Therein being the essence of New Nordic cuisine, a culinary manifesto launched across Scandinavia in 2005
Four years later and Barcelona has, if not a ‘Little Scandinavia’, then at least an emerging scene inspired by the cold North, and it was surely only a matter of time before food became a part of that. Enter Matti Romppanen and Tero Siltanen of Routa, two enthusiastic and talented young chefs from Finland. I hope, with both hands on my heart, there are enough of us out here to sustain them, because what Barcelona really needs in order to gain the repute of gastronomic hotspots like London and New York is variety. New bistros, Catalan molecular gastronomy, even a spot of sushi, it’s all 10-a-penny these days, but something really new and exciting, now that’s a rarity.
Friday night, mid-April and we’re alone in a stark, white dining room, but the maitre’d is delightful and brings us a glass of cava over cloudberry syrup. Lovely. It is accompanied by a trio of taste teasers including a sweet, hot, shot of roast onion consommé with a flicker of caraway providing Scandinavian warmth; scrambled eggs topped with a dill cracker and a spoonful of lumpfish roe (lumpfish is a hideous Arctic creature with tasty, mild, pale peach-coloured eggs); and a vegetable croquette that would have been fairly pedestrian were it not for the bright caper purée that it came with.
A glazed veal sweetbread with beetroot risotto, a drizzle of liquorice sauce, a side of beetroot mousse and a beetroot fruit pastille was fantastic. As my friend observed, we felt like our taste buds were being woken up after a long sleep.
And then bread, because bread is important in Scandinavia where bakeries routinely offer 20 or 30 different types ranging from dense rye loaves to perky carrot buns. At Routa tonight the choice is sesame, onion or rosemary rolls, alongside an undulating dish of unsalted Normandy butter, Spanish butter with chervil and black pepper, and a gelatin sphere of arbequina olive oil in which a pansy leaf is suspended: the first proper nod to the molecular revolution.
We opt for two fish courses. First a plate of rich, dark, wild salmon cooked and shredded around a ravioli of radishes, smoked and lightly seared in tiny blocks. Spotted around are dots of vanilla mayonnaise, grapefruit purée and tiny potato pancakes with a saucer of refreshing apple and cucumber gazpacho. It’s pretty as a picture, light, bright and palette pleasing. The second dish is a little more hefty, but still big on freshness: poached cod on artichoke tortellini under a cloud of brandade foam, scattered with garden fresh vegetables in miniature form including pin-head sized broccoli florets.
A Finnish cheese platter includes a blue, and two semi-cured cheeses, all of it cow’s milk, all impossible foran English tongue to pronounce, all of it delicious and well-matched with an apricot-and-grape compote, and a glass of vintage 1995 Niepoort Port.
We could barely manage the dessert course, but it meant business. First, on a slate, a forest of Nordic berries—some of them freeze-dried —with white chocolate mousse, yogurt panna cotta, and pistachio cream with Sauternes. The second, a glass of something from Jumilla that tasted like blackberry jam against a chocolate feast: as mousse, in swirls and slabs, and decadent fondant creams; the third was 12 darling petit fours with a shot of black coffee. But we were beaten.
Any chance we could pop this lot in a bag, we asked sheepishly, as we lurched out of there.
Enric Granados 10, Tel. 93 451 1997, www.restaurant-routa.com. Open Tue-Sat 7.30-11pm. Three tasting menus: 5 courses €42; 6 courses €54; Desgustación €65. Each comes with its own wine pairing menu starting at €18.