I’ve got a list of places to try that keeps getting longer despite efforts to eat my way through it. It feels counterintuitive because it turns out that we haven’t slain Covid with two jabs. That ultimate sigh of relief isn’t even on the horizon. And yet, that is not standing between Barcelona and new restaurant openings.
Like Besta. A seafood gastro restaurant in Eixample. This is Barcelona – isn’t seafood ubiquitous? Well, yes, sure, it is in the amber nubbly paellas or the deep-fried calamari. Besta is another beast, though. (Ha!) The menu changes weekly. Commandeered from a kitchen behind thick green velvet curtains so that I can still hear muffled kitchen clangs and hisses.
The day I visit, I try a Gilda. A Gilda is as perfect as a pintxo can get. Named after Rita Hayworth’s character in the film Gilda who was spicy and salty. At its simplest, it is a toothpick threaded with anchovies, spicy guindilla peppers and green olives. I love it. It’s as good out of the deli counter at the supermarket as from a vermouth bar. Besta makes its own version, substituting oily mackerel for the anchovy and some slow-roasted tomatoes to add an atypical sweetness. It sits in a pool of green that is acid and salty and leads to much tilting of the impossibly flat plate to create a slurpable puddle.
There are scallops from Galicia, missing the distinctive orange roe that is typical with imported Scottish scallops. Another dish of two fat spears of white asparagus looks like they have pulled up a green blanket of sauce right up to their chin. A tortilla with deveined, just cooked shrimp sitting prettily on top begins to ooze just as it should when cut into. The unctuous tortilla is topped with more asparagus, but this time the wild kind, thin in the body with a bulbous tight head that looks like a young miniature pine cone. Summer Spanish truffle, something I tried recently at Fonda Pepa, is heaped atop a fish cooked in a thick tarp-like seaweed.
The dishes are original without being frivolous or silly. Like the chef knows when he has made the last brushstroke. Chefs, it turns out. Chef one, Carles Ramón, sports a small mohawk when I peek into the kitchen. He worked for the Brindisa group. Chef two, Manuel Núñez from Ciudad Condal and coproprietor at Arume.
The food I have at Besta goes deeper than what I would expect or assume. With lots of emphasis placed on well-sourced, lesser-known seafood, particularly from Galicia. The signature mini gin and tonic feature an oyster gin, as in gin with oysters in it, named Ginebra from the small distillery La Destilateca. So another one for your list with a mini oyster G&T a must.