I’m charging around town one crazy humid Monday, desperately trying to shoehorn five hotel visits for an article and packing for a three-week trip into my day, when suddenly I find myself on Via Laietana outside the Ohla Hotel, starving and ready to kill the next passerby. It was an epiphany. Take yourself out to lunch fool, my brain cried, on your own, go on, go! So I skipped through the lobby feeling just a tiny bit Holly Golightly—after all I rarely eat in fancy hotels alone—and officially began a new Monday lunchtime ritual that I hope to indulge forevermore.
I last ate at the Ohla Gastro Bar with an American food writer who sniffed at all the wines, and I believe I wrote about it in these very pages. Having enjoyed the food rather more than she did I figured why not check it out again, and my dears, lunch was so good, and so keenly priced, that frankly it deserves a second billing. Clearly I was not alone in this train of thought as I ran into a friend doing exactly the same thing as me on the way out. “I love it because nobody I know comes here and it’s the only place to eat on Mondays” he glowered by way of greeting, muttering ‘don’t write about it,” behind me as I swept out the door. So here am I, about to reveal to Barcelona’s dining public, the source of a very good thing indeed. Sorry, mate!
I’m always very keen on a place that serves several different wines by the glass, especially when they know enough to guide you through them. I’m swept up in the description of the Jaumandreu from the Pla de Bages, which, despite being a bit of a mouthful, echoes its namesake in big, juicy, faintly peppery fruit and the smoky round lushness of good Chardonnay. I don’t know why we’re so snooty about this grape, because it can really fill a glass in ways other whites don’t quite reach, and combined with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc and a drizzle of Picapoll as it is in this bottle, it’s a lively little number that is well worth seeking out this summer.
Once ensconced with a full glass on a long, charcoal banquette wedged up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the triangular shaped room I realised, this place is hot. Lots of men in suits conducting business over lunch, couples on holiday cooing at each other, or not, and lone diners like myself marvelling at the agile ballet of a cool, calm, collected kitchen behind a long, dark bar topped with triffid-like flower arrangements.
I skip the gastro-tapas to order simply from the menú del día: a salad of multiple heirloom tomatoes anointed with the most tomatoey vinaigrette that make them explosive little red, orange and yellow grenades of grassy sweetness when you bite into them, offset by the silky chunks of lightly seared fresh mackerel. I mop up the juices with hot, crusty bread rolls and move onto a generous serving of Catalan chicken that is tender and succulent, bathed in a robust, roughly chopped picada sauce of hazelnuts and almonds sweetened with the gooiest onions and apricots. I confess I didn’t really know what vacherin was—I imagined it was a stinky French cheese running about on its own in the kitchen—and was slightly disappointed to discover that it is actually a meringue ice-cream. That is until it arrived at table as a blackberry sorbet bursting with fruit that’s been slathered in crème Chantilly, frozen and then nestled into a meringue nest and scattered with tiny chocolate croutons that makes a fresh, yet luxuriant bomb of a dessert.
The whole experience turned the 60-something French chap next to me into the happiest man in the world, he sat there in his candy-striped shirt twirling his moustache and giggling happily for his entire lunch. And that, my friends, is hard evidence of a place that is getting it very right. By 2.30pm every table was taken, which says a lot about how to make a menú del día work. Give people solid, unpretentious cooking that goes the extra mile in terms of creativity and execution, throw in a glass of wine, water and coffee, and charge less than €20 for three courses. Then just try keeping us away.
Via Laietana 49. Barri Gòtic. Tel. 93 341 5050. www.ohlahotel.com
Open daily 7am-4pm, 7.30pm-midnight. Live jazz and soul Sundays from 9.15pm-11pm. Lunch menu €16.