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Rarely has there been a subject more likely to get the goat of food and wine folk—I can’t bring myself to use the hideous term ‘foodie’ any longer—than that of natural wine. Known as the ‘hipster wine’, with its associated beards and earnestness, the vitriol has gotten so powerful of late that there’s even been talk of rebranding it as ‘craft wine’ in the hope that the masses will better understand it. “Wine scrumpy with rats would work,” raged one particularly ardent natural wine hater on Twitter.
Personally though, I’ve found that, like all wines, it has its good and its bad producers, and it has grown on me over the last couple of years to the point that I’m teetering on the edge of favouring it over almost anything else. It’s more challenging to drink for sure, a bit like lambic beer, but there are certain bottles now that I actively seek out, like the eminently quaffable S02—a crisp, citrusy white from Lleida—and the lack of chemicals pays back a thousand-fold the next morning. I also like the element of surprise that natural wine brings to the table and for that I go to Can Cisa Bar Brutal, where a couple of hours at the bar trying different bottles by the glass with one of their knowledgeable sommeliers will help you sort the wood from the chaff.
Usually this is something I do alone to spare my pals my geekiness, and above all to try to educate myself on the matter, but I’d never eaten there until one particular evening when a couple of friends happened to have invited me for dinner and a catch-up. Honestly, I’d forgotten that there was a whole food element to Can Cisa despite the fact it’s always rammed and cracking with the kind of bonhomie that reminds you why it is you like eating out in the first place. Refreshingly lacking in po-faced lectures on the wine, it’s the kind of place that genuinely seems to want you to have a good time. And we do. The food is great—not in an artsy, techy kind of a way, but in its sheer celebration of the simple and tasty—modern, sensible food, artfully balanced between plants (verde), fish (azul) and meat (rojo) that make you want to try everything. New chef Kaya Jacobs (previously at Tickets and 41º), who took over the reins in March, assured me when I passed by a few nights ago that any changes he makes will be in the same direction. Three cheers for that I say, because I kid you not, the slab of roast pumpkin (currently off-menu, not being the season and all) adorned with nothing more than quantities of garlic butter that are probably illegal in some places, has the satisfaction factor of a t-bone: pure, monstrous joy my friends.
It’s rare to find somewhere that caters quite so considerately for their vegetarian patrons, and I could happily have tucked into duck egg with Maresme peas, El Prat flowering artichokes with herb mayonnaise, or bitter radicchio with Parmesan, pears and pinenuts, but there were so many other tantalising dishes on offer. First up, butter tender strips of mojama (air-cured red tuna) dabbed with ajo-blanco puree and almonds went beautifully with the Dominio Conti Frizzante, an Italian natural fizz that’s as cloudy as pure apple juice and as lively as a crisp, sunshiney autumn day. We followed that with some pinky-nail sized zamburiñas (like tiny scallops) with tarragon, the silkiest smoked swordfish with grapefruit, sweetly aromatic pink peppercorns and vermouth, and ceviche ‘brutal’ made with white fish so fresh it snapped, then melted beneath the soothing, gentle heat of aji amarillo.
We couldn’t resist the pale voluptuous creaminess of fresh burrata, in this case shaved with black truffles, but they’ll be long gone by the time you read this, so I’d suggest trying it with marinated beets, watercress and hazelnuts. Or the ox tartar with Can Cisa’s secret ‘Cipriani’ sauce, which we had with grilled baby gem hearts with crunchy garlic and the brightest sherry vinaigrette, all accompanied by an excellent natural red from Navarra.
By the time we’d finished, friends of friends had gathered at the table to share a glass and plan the next meal and get together. And once again I found myself thinking: yes, this is what eating out is all about.