Agreste de Fabio & Roser is in the hills of Barcelona. In El Coll, the hills are so steep that some of the streets come with an escalator to move the aged population up and down. Hills with stairs bifurcating roads and orange apartment blocks encroaching from the side. Add some tiles and a zippy yellow tram and we might be in Lisbon.
There is more visual distinction to come. Agreste is in a former bus terminal that dates to 1925. Above the blue awning is the faded signage from 100 years ago. The original incarnation of the space frees the restaurant from the typical long and dark format. This is a bright space, wrapping around the kitchen in the middle. So that if you are seated in the second dining room you pass the kitchen.
Previously Mala Hierba, the name changed to Agreste de Fabio & Roser due to copyright. Agreste is the chef, from Milan. Roser is Catalan and runs the dining room with charm and elegance. The pair met on the Camino de Santiago. At the time he was the chef at Trussardi and she was a natural therapist. That both kitchen and front of the house is in the restaurant name is telling. Harmony between both leads to a better experience.
The food at Agreste looks Catalan but has many uncommon elements in it. For example, the brandada de bacalao comes in a pool of cauliflower sauce with a robust wilted kale on the side. The low cooked egg has two Padron peppers on top, familiar. But beneath it and above the egg is a tangle of bright vinegared vegetables. The canelones, two generous cylinders, come with crisscrossing lines of sauces. More Pollock then canelones. No doubt the residual flair of working in a Michelin starred restaurant. The dishes we are trying are part of the Menu del Dia (15€). Three courses, a choice between two for each course. As we are two, we try the whole thing. Along with their brava (2€) and their arm length pan con tomate (5.60€).
Next to us, two Catalan ladies are exclaiming over their dish of roast Ceps. Served in a smouldering piece of wood. The smell wafting over to us equal parts crisp winter and mouth-watering meaty mushrooms.
Agreste is full. Reasoning that the out of the way location would guarantee us a seat. Wrong. Roser graciously gives us a table for 1 hour 45 minutes. Most of the customers are Catalan. But across from us are a table of older Americans, New York type.
Dessert is a choice between kataifi with cream and persimmon and poached pear in chocolate sauce and crumble. Again we order both. The pear has been poached in red wine and pepper making it spicy and complex.
Agreste with it’s out of the way location, its magical story of conception – well it’s quite a find. The menu del dia is extraordinary value. I think this restaurant is of the special occasion category. The one where the afternoon stretches on, a good bottle is enjoyed and lunch is either preceded or followed by a romp in the hills behind.
Agreste de Fabio & Roser
Calle Funoses Llussà 2
08023 El Coll