Update September 2017 – Alan Stewart is no longer the head chef here.
La Esquina. Let’s start with what it’s next to: Starbucks. Standing in the street, breathing in the acrid fumes of the stalled traffic of Placa Catalunya, I think, “Nothing good can share a wall with Starbucks”. But I’ve got 3 stitches in the sole of my foot as a place holder for a mole my dermatologist insisted I have removed, so walking is not on my agenda today.
In I go. There is a blue La Marzocco FB80 inside a large room. I wonder who is paying for all this? I wonder if once they’ve paid the trespasso for this prime piece of real estate and then reached further into their pockets to pay the interior designers and still found the sackful of change it costs to buy the La Marzocco (in blue) – they will still have anything left over for the food or whether I am about to have a repeat of my experience at El Nacional.
It’s 12pm, lunch is at 13. The foot and I are not going anywhere, not even the Urban Outfitters Black Friday sale round the corner. I order a Flat White and wait and watch. There are a gaggle of people fussing over the place. 3 men and a woman. She has on large glasses which I suspect are an accessory, not a handicap and a thick plaid skirt that makes her hippy. She is either the architect or somehow related to the ownership but she seems in charge. They change lightbulbs, pivot menus and fluff the plants.
My coffee downed, I shuffle over to the Marzocco to find out the provenance of the beans. Who will it be? Right Side or Nomad?
“Right Side”. Louis tells me. “But we have some Nomad coming in next week. And going forward, I want to get in European brands: Square Mile, Five Elephant, and do you know The Barn in Berlin?” (Do I ever.) Louis’ is a former Londoner, his last major job was being one of the two guys with a machine making coffee outside King’s Cross station. “The two of us made 250-300 coffees a day plus special events – you know Google, Nike.” (Ah London). “Ha – well you are in Barcelona now, everything is way slower. Horizontal when you compare it to London. How did they get you here then?” And then a coffee order comes in.
It’s lunch time anyway. I can choose 3 things; one from the salad and vegetable menu, one from the meat and fish and one from the pasta and grain. A drink and coffee or dessert is included for €15. I have a salad of grapes and blue cheese with ruffles of escarole. A bowl of tender squid, crispy morcilla and sweet cubes of cooked apple. And white beans, flecked through with parsley and lemon zest with bright pieces of broccoli.
The food. I feel like I am eating in London but the dishes are made up of Spanish ingredients. Things are simple but their parings amplify one another. The soft sweet apple is exactly what the earthy blood sausage needs and the squid is like a kid that holds onto his mother and father’s hands. The grapes have been deseeded which – they leave fish bones in fillets here and just kind of shrug their shoulders at you – so grape seeds, well whatever. But no! Grape seeds are bitter, they ruin it, if you can’t be bothered to take out the seeds then don’t bother with the grapes, I say.
I go up to chef Alan Stewart, who is finishing the plated food on a low table just outside the kitchen pass. “You can tell it’s an English guy in the kitchen.” I smile at him. “Where did you work before you came here?”
“A few places, Launceston Place, Chez Bruce and I did some pop ups.”
“I know Chez Bruce.” I reply. “I did work experience there many years ago. I think all they let me do was grate parmesan.”
Previously La Esquina was the breakfast room of Hotel Regina and then apparently some inspired person from the group (which also has the adjacent Hotel Pulitzer) came up with this and adopted a “money no object just get the best” approach. Which isn’t as crazy as it seems if there is no trespasso to deal with.
Will they get something like this here? Well, social media is already swooning and its prime location means the customers are already well versed in “not Catalan.” If anything, I think the hardest part to believe is that you can get something this good, for this value when they share a wall with Starbucks.
See this and more addresses on my Foodie in Barcelona Map
C/ Bergara, 2
(En la esquina de Bergara / Balmes)