[Pigging by Wilfrid: December 29, 2017]
It's been Isidre's place for some 47 years. And Isidre has been in the business for 60. And he just won a big Catalunyan gastronomy prize (which is how I have those facts to hand). Isidre Gironès: Empresario of classic Catalunyan cuisine.
It's hard to imagine what a dark back-street in the Raval must have been like 47 years ago. When I started visiting Barcelona, in the 1980s, the neighborhood was worse than sketchy. The Carrer de les Flors is still dim and unprepossessing, but the Raval has gentrified. Cocktail bars, swish restaurants, street life all night.
Ca l'Isidre hides behind a narrow shopfront. There's no ostentation outside: Inside, the room is long, sleek; a flower display greets you. (And umbrellas: It was a rainy night.) Service is formal; stand-offish at first, until I ask for a Spanish menu (no, not Catalan, sadly), and start ordering in Spanish. Then it warms up.
The reputation of this restaurant (which commends it to diplomats and other well-informed visitors, as well as local dignitaries) revolves around its market-driven cuisine, since the days before that was a publicist's catch-phrase. Gironès (these days, one hopes, with assistance) scours the great Barcelona markets for prime, local, seasonal produce, and composes a sensible, restrained, classical menu on that basis. No fancy plating here; no strewing of fake soil. It's the kind of menu which will make a fuss about green peas, and they'll be excellent green peas.
After a crisp slice of pa amb tomaquet, I ate the rossinyols -- chanterlles with cured ham, an egg waiting to broken over them. Them tempted by the brains in black butter, not to menion the "succulent" tripe, I asked for the young kid with tiny onions from Figueres. It came bathed in a rich, rosemary-scented reduction. Served alongside, fries cut with geometrical precision, and with the overwhelming flavor of...potato. I'd forgotten what potato tastes like. Cheese is the only way to conclude a meal along these lines. And an old Armagnac.