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Photo by Richard Owens
El Boo restaurant
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Photo by Richard Owens
Tucked away near the Fòrum-end of Barcelona’s seafront, El Boo’s location can feel like a bit of a no-man’s-land. The cab dropped us at such a desolate stretch of road I was convinced we’d been taken for a ride. But no, pick your way across the dusty parking lot and over a concrete walkway, and there it is, looking much like a beached version of Radio Caroline—the rogue offshore radio station set up on an old Danish ferry boat that shot to fame in the Sixties.
Despite appearances, Boo is very much of bricks and mortar and occupies the site that was previously La Oca Mar (another fish and rice joint) on a concrete pier out at Platja Nova Mar Bella. Surrounded by sea with sandy beach on either side and the curiously pleasing urban backdrop of the Fòrum buildings, the skyscrapers of Diagonal Mar and the distant chimneys of Badalona, it is arguably one of the best located beach restaurants in town, yet so far it is better known as a nightclub than a restaurant.
True, their weekend parties draw a crowd and it is dominated by a vast function room that serves as both gala dining venue and dance floor. But you can escape this: either to an intimate dining room with fabulous views on the top deck (a great place to watch a storm, I mused), or to a spacious terrace jutting into the sea where a mix of foreigners and Spaniards loll about on sunbeds (€20 for the day) sponsored by Veuve Clicquot and indulge in long, lazy, cava-soaked lunches. On the day of my visit, there was a lunch party in full swing in the function room, and a largely Catalan food contingent ordering multiple courses, drinking good wine and puffing on Cubans on the terrace. When the food started to emerge, I began to understand what was luring them.
Rafa Solé is a damn good chef, skilled at mixing simple pleasures like steamed mussels and clams with more avant-garde creations, and he deserves to be getting more attention than he currently is. Turns out he’s from a restaurant family and has been cooking since he was a young boy. “I like using very good products without too much messing around. It’s good to have fun on the plate, but not go overboard,” he told me when I cornered him for a chat going past the kitchen. His more innovative dishes are a nod to a career that has taken him from Michelin-starred establishments such as AbAC and Moo before landing at Boo. In the name of research, I suppose I should have had the warm octopus salad with pistachios and sweet and sour vinaigrette, or Solé’s special: blue fin tuna (boo hiss) with shitake mushroom confit. But given that blue fin is very much off the menu for me these days, it was his more traditional dishes that held strongest appeal.
Thus my friend and I opted for Martini Blanco with ice and lemon accompanied by a small jar of green olives stuffed with l’Escala anchovies—can I just say what a perfect, fuss-free aperitif that is—before sitting down to a feast that began with three amuse-bouches courtesy of the house: creamy salt cod brandade in a squid ink ‘ice cream cone’, dainty little sandwiches of micuit de foie gras and tempura prawns on a soupy romesco sauce, all hinting at Solé’s capabilities.
They were good, but the real joy, as suspected all along, was in finding a place to enjoy very simply steamed and grilled local seafood, so fresh that wafts of brine float up to hit your nose while the sea splashes up against the rocks that support the pier. So we gorged on a huge bowl of steamed Sant Carles de Ràpita mussels and escopinyes Gallegues (Galician clams) bathed in wine, followed by perfect fideus rossejat (which refers to the process of toasting the noodle first to give it that glorious golden-pink colour), all empinado (perky and standing to attention the way they are supposed to), tossed through with cuttlefish and served with a mellow confit of garlic allioli. Washed down with a bottle of Abadal Picapoll from the Pla de Bages, it was one of the best seaside lunches I’d had in a while.
Service is extremely sweet and friendly if a little slow and chaotic—go when you have an afternoon to kill and time is of no consequence—and I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of the silly ‘VIP’ nonsense that these places engender, but I will say this: keep it simple and El Boo excels.
Seafood, fideus and wine for two, €100. Weekday lunch menus from €15.50.