Photo by Richard Owens
It was nearly 20 degrees and as bright and sunshiny a day as you could hope for. The sort of day that makes you feel you haven’t a care in the world, summer’s on its way and it’s time to get outdoors. Earlier that week, a reader wrote to me asking if I could recommend some terrace restaurants for a birthday celebration, and after coming up with a few suggestions, I realised I’d not revised this particular genre of eating out for sometime. Considering Barcelona is a Mediterranean city, it’s surprisingly limited when it comes to special places for dining al fresco.
I explained this dilemma to a friend who came up with a suggestion: the Cafè 1907 near Tibidabo. Now, Tibidabo is not an area of town I venture to very often. I’ve never had cause to visit the British Council office up there and I rarely go to the funfair at the top of the mountain. But the website of Cafè 1907 painted a bonny picture of a restrained Modernista dining room with panelled French doors that opened onto an intimate terrace shaded by bougainvillea and vines, and a menu that showed it cared. Black-footed chickens were sourced from the Penedès, organic beef had been aged for seven days, and vegetables were plucked from the restaurant’s own garden in Sant Cugat. Naturally, I was raring to go.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Cafè 1907 is indeed a vision of loveliness, made more so by its gracious owner-chef Xavier Sala who came beaming out of his kitchen to greet us. We ordered a bright and perky bottle of Chasselas blanc from Switzerland, since they had it; the small wine menu offers a handful of interesting Swiss bottles, a nod to Sala’s parents’ love of the mountains. We ordered four things to share from a menu that reads marvellously well, providing you pay some attention to the prices. I wasn’t, and believe me, the cost of eating here can escalate wildly if you don’t watch it, with starters from €14 and a whole roast chicken, wonderful as the concept is, priced at a whopping €65.
Our homemade burratta with fresh garden herbs wasn’t quite as gooey as I like it, but had a good, tender texture and hints of pasture that tell you the milk came from a real cow. A rocket and herb salad, all freshly picked from the garden, was fresh and peppery as can be and topped with a zingy tomato confit and shavings of salty Casamateu sheep’s cheese. In both cases, I felt too much had been made of the dreaded reduced balsamic zigzagging, but perhaps that’s just me. Seriously, though, why do people still do that? It overpowers everything.
We shared an excellent monkfish and seafood canelone, topped with a cream sauce infused with prawn coral and finished off with a crunchy, pork-infused quaver, which was inspired, if rich. I’d recommend sharing it, as we did, rather than making it your main course. And then we had the steak ‘al estilo de’ Café Paris, which here is prepared in a copper pan at the table. The performance is quite exciting as eating in Barcelona goes, though the sauce wasn’t quite what I was expecting. My understanding of Steak Café Paris is two-fold. There’s the rich, creamy sauce on a foundation of chicken livers, and the densely herby butter that’s put on top of the steak when it comes off the grill. But it seems I’ve been missing the third, and most likely the original, way, which uses a whole ton of herbs and spices, and was invented in Geneva by one Freddy Dumont in 1941.
Certainly it seems to be the recipe that Sala uses as his inspiration, making liberal use of untold numbers of spice and herb ingredients. I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what’s in the version of Cafè 1907, but if you imagine a cream-based sauce redolent of Madras curry spices you’ll get some inkling of the beast. Combined with a steak as tender as butter and a side of crunchy fries, it’s no wonder the dish is Sala’s signature. We saved just enough space to share an individual tarte tatin, which has been described by other Barcelona critics as one of the best in the world. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I’ll join in by saying it’s probably the best in Barcelona.
All in all then, rich food and rich prices, but something to consider for special occasions.
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Cafè 1907, Cister 25 (Tibidabo). Tel. 93 418 4998. www.cafe1907.com. Open: Tue-Sat 1pm-3.30pm, 9pm-10.30pm; Sun & Mon by reservation only. Three courses plus wine €60+. Tara’s rating: ✪✪✪