One of my favourite restaurants in London is Barrafina – the original one on Frith street, where you can only sit at the bar. It’s owned by the Hart brothers who lifted the whole concept from Cal Pep in Barcelona – which I also love, but I love Barrafina more.
How does that work? How are a couple of British siblings doing it better than Cal Pep, for whom it is second nature? I think it’s because one has to study what someone else takes for granted. Make conscious choices where someone else would do it automatically – like breathing.
Same story with Brindisa – while I was living in London, I probably ate more tapas than I do now. The menu at Brindisa London was curated like an art show. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Monika Linton (the co-founder of Brindisa London and author of The True Food of Spain) had opened a Brindisa in Barcelona. I had walked by it on occasion without pause believing it to be some gilded chicanery meant to entice tourists into eating Russian salad scooped out of large industrial sized plastic buckets. (I’ve seen those buckets at Comerco. I’ve seen many trolleys stacked up with them. Way too many.)
Wrong. The menu emphasizes provenance of special ingredients: Riera Ordeix Salchichón de Vic (€6.5) – D.O.P. air-dried sausage, Gordal olives larger than a quails egg and stuffed with orange, Navarrico artichoke hearts (€5), octopus from Galicia (€13), pork shoulder from Senorio (€11.75). You get the picture.
From my research, I think the menu at Bellvitja was initially envisioned to be more complex and faithfully Catalan. Linton said about a dish consisting of chicken liver, gizzards and feet: “The fun of doing this is that we don’t have to scrutinise everything for the British. We can be completely true to Catalonian food.” I don’t see much evidence of this kind of cooking when I eat there or on the menu – so perhaps it was not so popular among a clientage that seem to be mostly foreign.
The other similarity between Brindisa in London and the one in Barcelona are the prices. The bravas in London are £4.5 while those in Barcelona are €4.75. Some dishes, like the Galician octopus are even more in Barcelona: £9.75 in London and €13 in Barcelona. I imagine there are several reasons for this. Brindisa uses superior products, they probably train and employ staff differently leading to different costs and they calculate better margins for themselves (London is a ruthless place for any business but particularly a food business).
Brindisa Spain is serving what most Catalan restaurants in the capital are but they differentiate themselves by using the best products, working with artisans and yes their prices are somewhat higher than their neighbors. I think the way to get around that is to go with a number of friends and order a dish each to share.