Fondo do Mar
Fondo do Mar
Fondo do Mar is unexpected. My companion and I went in search of it one fiercely humid evening in August, humping along Carrer Provença and over Diagonal until finally, sweating and thirsty, we found it tucked away on a long forgotten corner of the Eixample Dreta. Everyone always says it’s the cooler half of the Eixample, but to me the Dreta is a veritable no-man’s-land and so it was interesting, in an X-Files kind of a way, to be out there.
The term ‘Fondo’ in restaurant-speak generally makes me think of a tavernesque place with lots of wood and a bar buckling under the weight of tapas. This place had the sex appeal of a hospital, too white and bright by far, but the smells of fish stock and saffron on entering were mightily encouraging. We sat down, further buoyed by the discovery that of the two waiters who attended us, one was a dead-ringer for John Cleese, the other for Lou Reed. You could argue that they are as much a reason to come as any.
Fondo do Mar gets plenty of hits on websites like salir.com and a fair amount of gushing praise, yet a furtive survey of other diners told me nearly all were of Asian extraction, Korean and Chinese, perhaps on work jollies. Who else is working in August after all? It was a bit like not being in Barcelona at all.
Still, we ordered from a menu that offered stacks and stacks of seafood: the usual offerings of crab and lobster, langoustines and prawns, mussels and cockles and clams and navajas, chipirones and rabas (squid rings), baked fish and suquets and somewhere at the back a token meat menu of goat kid shoulder and steak in various guises. Clearly, Fondo del Mar’s direction is with creatures of the deep, and from what we could see around us it all looked rather promising. Even the prices were fair—€28 for a mariscada de la casa (the raw stuff on ice) and €33 for a parrillada (grilled).
It was a shame then that possibly the biggest rip-off on the menu, and the most poorly executed, was a single scallop for €7.50. My best guess is it was an attempt at a deconstructed marmitako (a Basque stew of peppers, pimentón, onions and garlic to which tuna is added); whatever it was it has no business being anywhere near a scallop, although in this case I fear there was no saving them.
Scallops should be fork-tender with the texture of butter. These were woolly and tough. The sauce was inedible: a thick, gloop of old onions and stale paprika studded with chewy bacon bits that had been slathered with gay abandon over the bivalve, destroying any hope of a taste of the delicately sweet and saline juices that it is so justly famous for. You would have to be insane to do that to a fresh scallop, and so, we could only conclude that ours were not.
Indeed, to my palate, it seemed like it’d been hooked from the freezer, cooked once, left to sit around a bit, and then given a second blast in a microwave just to make sure it was dead. My hopes dissolved like sherbet on the tongue as we sipped a somewhat musky house albariño in nervous anticipation of the parrillada that was to come.
Well, you know what? It arrived, a moon-sized stainless steel platter piled high with the posh end of seafood—a whole lobster and a dozen or so different kinds of prawns, sweet and tender clams, palatable navajas, plump mussels and langoustines—and if it wasn’t perfect (everything could have done with about a minute or two less on the grill) it wasn’t half bad.
Suffice it to say we shucked, sucked, generally picked over the debris and didn’t bother with dessert. Would I go again? Perhaps, if I was forced to live the rest of my days in the outer reaches of the Dreta and never come south of the Diagonal again, I might, just might, return.