Amaica Casa de Menjars
In every city I have lived, I’ve noticed that there is an area that the local rich prefer. The sixteenth arrondissement in Paris, Sloane square in London, Kolonaki in Athens. Areas that to me feel constrictive, like trousers, sinched up tight so that you have to stand straight and take shallow breaths. They don’t usually have the best restaurants, sticking to the traditional. Which is why I am surprised to find Amaica Casa de Menjars here.
I am here on the 24th of December. A last desperate attempt to fill my 2020 dancing card with memorable experiences. I drive around in circles trying to find a spot for my Smart while shiny 4 x 4’s double-park with their hazard lights on. Coifed ladies walk briskly into shops to pick up packets of canelones and Jamon. Wafts of cologne and perfume tangle as their humans sweep down the street resolutely.
Away from the bustle sits Amaica. On a residential side street in a depressed patio at the bottom of a block of flats. It seems incongruous with most Barcelona restaurants, looking more like something I would find in a well-heeled Roman suburb. Or maybe it’s the vanilla cream facade or vaguely Italian sounding name.
Amaica is not Italian though, it comes from Euskara a language spoken in the Basque area. (H)amaika means 11 in Basque
Amaica is not Italian though, it comes from Euskara a language spoken in the Basque area. (H)amaika means 11 in Basque, and the building is number 11. The Basque is because that is where Carlos Salvador, the young chef /owner who named it comes from. He didn’t come directly though. First, he stopped via the kitchens of Mugaritz, Alkimia and Gresca.
The kitchen is the first thing you see, and tucked into that space is a dinky table for two. A chefs table of sorts. There are French doors that open to the wrap-around terrace where more tables sit. With pretty metal chairs, the sort you might find on a narrow Parisian balcony.
I puzzle a little thinking this is the sum of their seating before the server takes me around the corner and shows me the dining room. Again with French doors thrown open.
The bold geometric tiles link the dining room and kitchen together. Each table gets a bottle of house filtered water that immediately start to sweat at the change in temperature. There is a choice of a menu del dia (12.2€) or 1/2 menu (9€). I get a slab of potato milhojas drizzled with a light curry sauce with bright turmeric. My main is a fillet of salmon that feels nordic in its pairings of dill and leek. I am advised on the chocolate mousse. It turns out to be a revelation. Salvador has cooked it briefly in a water bath so it has started to set and get a distinct texture round the edges while remaining ephemerally light on the whole. It’s a dessert that settles in the mind instead of the stomach. Like the echo of a dream that you had that splices through your day intermittently.
It’s a dessert that settles in the mind instead of the stomach. Like the echo of a dream that you had that splices through your day intermittently.
I don’t think they’ve been opened more than a year but already I can tell they have forged a relationship with the locals. A white floppy dog bounds mop like down the stairs, betraying his familiarity with Amaica. Followed by a human who comes to collect her Christmas Caldo, sloshing around in Tupperware she promises she will return. A younger couple shouts greetings down to the kitchen. It’s only one oclock but already the other main has sold out.
Both the chef and the waiter glance at me from time to time to gage how I am enjoying my meal. Casa de Menjars refers to a home cooking style of place. And though I didn’t grow up eating these flavours I can appreciate the quality of the food and the lightness of the hand that has prepared it.
I admire that chef Carlos Salvador doesn’t feel compelled to spill out his roster of skills on the plate. Instead it’s restrained, it’s comfortable, it’s good.
Amaica Casa de Menjars
Bertrand i Serra, 11