If you fancy some cut-price posh for lunch, the best place I can recommend right now is Libentia. It is one of the new breed of so-called ‘bistronomics’—quality restaurants luring the punters with an affordable lunch menu—and offers that rare combination of excellent food, solicitous service and value for money. For €18 you can sample a high-voltage menú del día with a spread of dishes that you would pay at least €50 a head for à la carte. Their fair pricing even extends to the wine list: all wines are available at the same price as you would find in a bodega and they simply add a corkage fee of €3.90.
Libentia’s three young chefs, Jaime Tejedor, Dídac Moltó and Sergi Ferrer have racked up previous experience everywhere from El Bulli to Saüc, and it shows. Since they scooped the Gran Premio Cocinero Revelación at January’s Madrid Fusión food congress, it’s been essential to book well in advance, especially for lunch.
The amuse bouche was a slice of warm tocino (cured meat) with apple sauce followed by some unbelievably good warm olive-oil focaccia (from Forn Trinitat). Starters were a superb ajoblanco poured over a little cake of shredded cod topped with yellow plum ice-cream and a huge platter of veal carpaccio with pine nuts, rucula and (rather thick and chewy) parmesan. The main courses were a perfectly roasted lamb palpis with cous cous and aubergine and a lovely rich honeyed sauce along with an enormous wedge of rare bonito in a dashi broth with courgette. For dessert, I had two little pats of rich truffled chocolate on a pecan nut sable stabbed through with a shard of caramel and adorned with toffee ice cream while my companion had an excellent banana tatin with yogurt ice cream.
My only niggle is the aggressively boring decor—if you call a restaurant Pleasure (Libentia’s translation from Latin), you conjure up images of the Roman Empire with orgies of feasting and grapes overflowing from golden platters. Not a narrow grey corridor bunker enlivened by one wall-sized photo of a dead dandelion head. That aside, this place is perfect.
Libentia: C/Còrsega 537 (Sagrada Família), tel. 93 435 8048. Open: Tues-Sat 1.30-3.30pm, 8.30-10.30pm. Lunch menú: €18 (includes water but not wine), taster menú €39, à la carte around €45 for three courses without drinks.