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Photo by Sam Zucker.
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Photo by Sam Zucker.
Just steps away from the bustle of Plaça de Santa Maria and the Santa Maria del Mar Basilica, a pleasant calm prevails at El Casal. Thankfully, I’ve just missed the lunch rush, and chef-owner Simon Soimier and his brother Julien are working at a relaxed pace to the sound of French radio and the quiet murmur of a handful of diners enjoying their menú del día. Simon and Julian hail from Normandy, France, and in 2011, they took over a pre-existing restaurant here (also called El Casal, or ‘the house’). They put in a five-day working week serving breakfast and lunch from their petite, open kitchen, in a locale tucked away in the virtually unknown Plaça de Victor Balaguer, at the heart of the Born.
Simon studied culinary arts in Normandy before travelling around Brazil and through much of Latin America. He arrived in Barcelona 10 years ago and gained more cooking experience here, including a stint with a Thai chef who clearly influenced his cooking style (try Simon’s grilled sea bass with coconut milk and broccoli for a tasty example). The cuisine at El Casal isn’t technically ‘fusion’, but the menu reflects Simon’s eclectic style and spontaneity; he cooks what he feels like cooking and what he senses the regulars will enjoy, be it an exotic Vietnamese larb salad of minced chicken, a warming cauliflower soup with sobrasada and goats’ cheese, braised pork shank with apple cider sauce and brussels sprouts (a homage to Northern France), or a Spanish classic like stewed pork with chickpeas and potatoes. For €10.90, you get three courses, plus drinks, and the menu changes daily (El Casal’s Facebook page is diligently updated each morning). Their terrace consists of a few aluminum tables that are put out all year round, though the outdoor space reaches its height of popularity in November on the day of the Beaujolais Nouveau festival, a lush French tradition that both brothers celebrate robustly by opening their doors at night to the merry crowd (a very rare occasion).
El Casal offers simple breakfast fare (coffee, croissant, pastry, and the like). The cooking ramps up for lunch with a fixed-price menu as well as a variety of tapas and sandwiches. The full menu provides generous proportions and typically includes dishes that coincide with the seasons. Delectable homemade desserts range from coconut vanilla panna cotta with blackberry jam to yuzu cheesecake, or you can just go for a coffee instead.
The decor of El Casal is charming, with little touches of Simon and Julian’s native land throughout that give an authentic vintage French feel. Very much a neighbourhood haunt, El Casal is perfect for a delicious midday rendezvous.
El Casal. Plaça Victor Balaguer 5.