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All photos by Sam Zucker
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With the esteemed Barcelona chef Carles Abellán (of now-defunct, Michelin-starred restaurant Comerç 24) at the helm, Suculent—a narrow alley of a restaurant with an ample terrace at the foot of the Rambla del Raval—has attracted much attention since opening in 2012. Suculent itself is a play on words, melding images of rich, luscious cuisine with the Catalan term sucar lent—to dip slowly. Everything cooked up in the kitchens here is meant to be savoured until the last drop, and bread is provided for eager diners to sop up every iota of sauce, leaving nothing but clean plates and full bellies.
The restaurant’s fame stems mostly from indulgent, rib-padding, stand-out dishes such as oxtails, bone marrow, meatballs, pork belly, and foie gras. A tinge of sentimentality runs through the entire menu, conjuring the retro cuisine of past generations with dishes like rooster’s crest canapés and traditional monkfish stew. In addition to these classics, you’ll find that the menu has been spruced up to 21st-century standards with plates like Thai pork ribs with young coconut and red prawn ceviche.
The service at Suculent is friendly, with helpful staff poised to offer suggestions and guide first-timers through the maze of lesser-known morsels from both land and sea. Our meal began with a scattering of small starters from the para picar (to snack) section of the menu, including an ultra-classic dish: caballa en escabeche. Consisting of three hunks of supple mackerel marinated in an escabeche of vinegar, olive oil, onions, peppers, and perhaps a bit of carrot, the preparation and technique were obviously of a high calibre but my expectation of rich mackerel balanced with the vinegar marinade’s bright acidity were not quite met. The fish fell somewhat flat, and I think that what the caballa could have really used was a touch of salt, a twist of pepper, and a fresh shot of vinegar to liven things up on the plate.
Along with the marinated mackerel, our other starters included the ssäm of beef tongue, and a small bowl of lobster roe with Thai chicken broth. Ssäm is a Korean dish literally translating to ‘wrapped’, and is traditionally a little bite of tender pork or other meat (in this case, beef tongue) presented on top of some lettuce leaves that serve as a wrapper. I love Korean food and I love beef tongue, and though this version was ably cooked and nicely presented with fine slivers of pickled onion, it was again missing the punch of flavour I associate with this popular dish; the mouth-watering Korean character I was yearning for was nowhere to be found.
On the contrary, the lobster roe (also known as coral) was my favourite aspect of the entire lunch experience. Served in a small, heavy, porcelain bowl, the delicate roe was bathed tableside by a stream of hot, lemongrass-infused Thai chicken broth poured by the barman from a petite pitcher. Though the flavour of lobster roe is quite subtle, it shone through the aromatic broth marvellously.
For the main course, two dishes on the menu emerged as appealing, not-too-heavy options for a midweek lunch—the grilled squid with foie gras, and the braised squab with beetroot and salsify. My thought process was simple: grilled squid is great and so is foie gras, this dish should be an ace in the hole. Though the technical cooking skill was again spot on, the lack of flavour complexity was still blaringly obvious. I would go as far as to call it bland. Maybe it’s our fault for ordering dishes that reside outside of Suculent’s pantheon of all-time classics, but I was beginning to feel a little disappointed. However, the squab was tender, flavoursome, and well-seasoned, though the real star of the dish was the purée of sautéed squab liver that was hidden inside of the several, paper-thin slices of roasted beetroot that garnished the plate.
Having now eaten at both Suculent and La Taverna del Suculent (their tapas bar two doors down), for the price and the variety of food offered, I prefer the latter. Regardless, I still feel that both are well worth a visit. When eating at either place, ask for recommendations from the waiter or bartender and go with the expectation of eating simple yet decadent food in a comfortably casual environment. I would still return to Suculent, but I caution that their good reputation may have caused them to slide a bit into the comfort zone. Perhaps with a little extra attention to detail, this restaurant could be back on top of my list of places for entertaining visitors, or just a solid choice for the occasional, leisurely lunch with friends.