There are 10 bar seats at Hermos Peix (Seafood Gracia). Tall wooden stools with hard-plaited seats are pulled up under a shallow lip of a bar. The front feet of the stools balance on a covered gutter of brackish sludge. The murky water drains from the melting ice display of the adjacent fishmonger. You see Hermos Peix is in the Llibertat Market in Gràcia.
It doesn’t matter if you come early or late in the service, you will find a thin huddle of people shuffling from one foot to the other, waiting to have a turn at the bar.
The first time I go there is one chef at the hot station and one at the cold—a cherubic server with a curly bob and flushed cheeks. The Italian customers next to me ask her if she is Italian. “No, that’s Sara, she’s on holiday. I am a Pubillana. Ah, and that is the special sauce that makes this place unique. Hermos Peix is the third venture of Alexis Peñalver. The first two are the famous La Pubilla, followed by Extra Bar.
Even without that insight, it’s apparent that Hermos is great. From the AllCaps menu on the aluminium-clad column on the left. To the tight choreography with which the chefs move in the galley kitchen. Carlos, the one on hot, has a cool strut, and a baseball cap worn backwards so a tuft of hair pokes out cartoon-like. He has 3 piercings in each earlobe, all hoops except for a dangling turquoise number that swings pendulum-like every time he dips down into the fridge.
Lately, I have been to a series of new restaurants that have delivered on interior and service but left me wanting more from the dishes. Particularly at the new higher prices points that seem to be becoming the norm. The ajo blanco (13€) at Hermos Peix is an immediate balm to my sustained irritation. The cold almond soup is garnished with micro leaves, green swirls of herb oil, and rectangles of smoked eel and lumpfish caviar. Hidden beneath are biscuit-brown toasted breadcrumbs and a mound of sweet fruit. I am in awe of dishes like this when all the elements selected play off each other so well. Dish two is a trio of scallops with sauteed asparagus and shitake mushrooms.
The second time I go the cold starter chef has disappeared. When I enquire I am met with a grimace so I don’t insist. Sara is back from holiday and alternately flexing her sommelier’s muscle and then her server muscle. “She’s incredible” the Catalan diner next to me volunteers “She always delights me with her choices.” I nod and sheepishly sip my Mahon.
Despite being the only man standing, Carlos is managing. He is moving faster than on the first visit but the kitchen is still firmly in control. At one point he grabs the phone and rattles off opening hours while reaching for the kitchen tongs and using the dripping water on them to splash a few drops on the razor clams sizzling on the hottop to coax them open. They oblige immediately. The long mollusc’s translucent flesh firms up and goes opaque.
On this visit, I have a plate of ceviche that looks like edible confetti with tiny cubes of red and green pepper. And the trio of sardines butterflied open and served on a bed of breadcrumbs and nuts.
Even before wrapping up, I know there will be a third visit. This is even though I leave with an imprint of the bar stools, weave on the back of my thighs. Because I will always trade comfort for food.
Hermós Peix (Seafood Gracia)
Mercat de la Llibertat
Plaça de la Llibertat, Gràcia
We enjoyed this article by Paula Mourenza on Culinary Backstreets, she always knows the backstory of local restaurants.