Many moons ago my favourite place to eat in Barcelona was Saüc, when it was tucked away on a little passageway uptown and it felt buzzy and secret and special. A few years ago it gave all that up to move to the first floor of the Ohla Hotel, which is understandable given the challenges of owning restaurants these days, but suddenly it felt a lot more corporate. The lively atmosphere was replaced by the more sedate hush of a boutique hotel restaurant, though this one is sunshiney and light, with gaily painted works of art brightening the charcoal greys, glass and wood. It’s also somewhere I like to go alone, or just as two, and bag a spot at the bar table, which makes the perfect perch for watching the team at work in the kitchen.
Thankfully some things never change, like Anna Doñate’s simply beautiful style of service, and chef Xavier Franco’s understated, yet brilliantly sexy, sophisticated and seriously accomplished cooking. He got his first Michelin star a few years ago and he could have gone wild with the whole fine dining thing, but instead, he’s keeping it real, at lunchtime at least, with a great value set-menu that also happens to be one of the prettiest in town.
Franco’s is the kind of innovatively satisfying food that makes you feel happy to be alive: smug even, if you happen to write about food for a living. For truly, who wouldn’t open themselves up to being seduced by dishes liked creamy espardenyes (sea cucumber) rice with saffron and marrow, duck cannellones with foie emulsion, pear and pinenuts, or confit of suckling pig with potatoes and shallots, rounded out with a hot cherry soufflé and homemade vanilla ice-cream. It would take a right old scrooge not to find their heart melted and stomach sated by at least one visit here before the end of the year. Merry Christmas, one and all.
Via Laietana 49, Barri Gotic. Tel. 93 341 5050. Open daily 1.30pm-3.30pm, 8.30pm-11pm. Three course lunch menu, not including wine €37; Tasting Menu €82; Saüc Tasting Menu €112.