Maria and I are having lunch at Berbena, at her suggestion, on rare blustery day more London than Barcelona. With ceiling high glass enveloping half the restaurant, the light twists and turns from clear blue-white to yellow and grainy. I face the open kitchen which gives on to a marble bar that serves simultaneously as a pass, cake, and cheese display, dessert station and bar seating. A brave or reckless combination? I can’t decide.
The menu is 16.50€ for a main, 2 sides, bread, water, dessert, and a filter coffee. At the top of the menu is the date because every day is different. There is a 1.20€ surcharge for the Capon and a 0.60€ for the hake which Maria orders. I have to try the Trofie pasta with guanciale and bottarga because it sounds like an umami fest.
First Carles Pérez de Rozas Canut (a good name that), the young chef/owner, brings us over some bread to start. There are two types in the basket: an aerated sourdough and a dense and nutty rye bread. He explains the format. We can each order two sides and one main.
“Each?” I underline. “We don’t have two pick the same sides?” It seems a lot of extra trouble for the kitchen to go to but yes, we can order 4 in total.
What a feast! They turn out to be the smallest of sides, just enough to whet the appetite for the main attraction. And of course, there is the bread, that I waste no time in tearing up and dragging through the small plates to sop up juices and sauces.
My gamble on ordering the pasta as a main pays off. This is no hastily thrown together carb but a well-considered delight. The Trofie have an incredible bounce. I look up and tell Maria: “Eating this pasta is like having my teeth jump up and down on a springy mattress!” But there is more than the texture – the combination of guanciale, bottarga and not mentioned on the menu but here punctuating the dish with devilishly salty moments: capers.
The 23 seats of the restaurant have all been taken now and the kitchen is humming. There is less eye contact between staff and customers giving me the sensation that they are feeling a little squeezed. It’s no wonder. The offer of 4 dishes + homemade bread is a generous one and the economies of this city means they have to push themselves mightily to get all that out.
Someone asks me about Berbena later. “Why wouldn’t I just go up to La Pubilla for a similarly priced menu.” My answer is because Berbena is speaking a different language. It makes me think of a new French Bistro that I might find in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. Or some gastro garden center restaurant like Petersham Nurseries in Richmond. But priced at about a third of what the equivalents I am thinking about would charge.
It’s ambitious and still learning (even learning to cut themselves some slack) but I appreciate what they are bringing to the table.