One good thing about the recession is the emergence of more down-to-earth eateries where the focus is on providing good food at reasonable prices. Fine dining meanwhile seems to be very much on its way out as people tire of fussy dishes and mad prices. Hot on the heels of the closure of El Bulli, several other high-end places have shut their doors in order to open more humble establishments, among them Drolma—one of Barcelona’s most emblematic posh places—which closed its doors permanently towards the end of 2011.
So when you come across little places like Lo de Flor, which is so very homely and warm, and serves a fine supper and glass of wine to boot, you have to question the wisdom of spending upwards of €70 when you could have something just as tasty and satisfying for under €30.
Argentine Flor has been in the restaurant business in Barcelona for a while, first as the host of the highly regarded Au Port de la Lune behind the Boqueria and then at Picnic in the Born. This is her going it alone, opening at the worst time imaginable on the fairly obscure Carrer Carrettes in the Raval. But in fact she’s struck a chord with local residents by creating a hangout that is understatedly hip and irresistibly welcoming. The first time I went there I just stopped in for a drink at the bar, and ended up staying a couple of hours, chatting with Flor and the waitress and sipping a rather good Rueda as if I’d been going there for years. In fact, she’d only been open three weeks.
Done up with a lick of white paint, timber tables and some natty decorative features like the weathered pieces of wood that adorn the walls and table lamps inset just below the beams, the place is split across two levels: a long bar and high tables at the front, and a slightly quieter dining room downstairs. Music is jazz and soul at a level that gives it a bit of buzz but doesn’t destroy the conversation. Indeed, by the time she’s been open a month, it’s crackling with atmosphere and the place is full.
I go with a couple of friends and Flor flits from table to table talking through the daily specials and laughing and joking with regulars. A couple at the bar feed tapas to their toddler. We ponder a short, but nicely executed menu of French classics and a handful of crowd-pleasers from the Mediterranean rim. Unfortunately the oysters won’t arrive until Thursday, she tells us, but the burratta is magnificent as is today’s fish special: sepia (cuttlefish) lovingly stewed with white wine, garlic and parsley.
After years of living here I still struggle to get excited about sepia unless it’s in the form of an albondiga (meatball), which we all agree is pretty magnificent stuff, so we opt instead to share rillettes (shredded pork seasoned with spices and fat), duck pâté and a dish of sun-dried tomatoes. It’s so thoroughly French that for a moment there I think I may have crossed the border: the rillettes lush, meaty and unapologetically laden with fatty goodness topped off with a handful of crunchy cornichons; the pâté darkly livery and rich as you like; the tomatoes plump and sweet as the long hot summer they came from.
All but one of us had the beef Milanesa, best described as a meat-based pizza with a topping of wildly tomatoey tomato sauce, melted mozzarella and fragrant oregano. Our friend opted for deeply savoury meatballs, while Flor bustled around bringing out various sides for sharing—they’re not on the menu, they just come, and on this night comprised grilled mixed wild mushrooms, a simple green salad and fennel slaw with a mustard dressing and mashed potato. “Just like at home,” she smiled, like a benevolent friend who’s casually thrown together something marvellous for dinner.
There simply wasn’t room for pudding, but we were happy with what we had had along with a couple of bottles of red garnacha from the Terra Alta (a great match with the food, and keenly priced at €14), and a thimbleful of grappa served in flea-market-find glasses to cap it all off. When the bill came, it just tipped €100 for four. As it was the same day on which the headlines screamed of Europe being in “deep depression”—‘recession’ evidently no longer covers the mess we’re in—such a price was very welcome indeed.
Lo de Flor—Carrettes 18 (Raval), Tel. 93 443 3853. Approx €30 per head for three courses including wine.