Increasingly, if you want to go the independent route with food, you are probably looking at the Sants neighbourhood. The reason? Cost.
The restaurant business is ruthless. With 12% margins the best-case scenario. High start-up costs, people heavy and high perishables. Even non-math people will see that it doesn’t add up.
Barcelona is a particularly brutal market. High competition. With one seating for dinner to rake in the cash. People here eat late and take their time doing it. Lunch is menu del dia territory. Don’t have a menu del dia? Your restaurant will most likely stay empty.
But people still open restaurants. Lucky for us that passion transcends logic. Olivos Comida y Vinos is definitely a passion project. Small, on a quiet street that you aren’t likely to stumble across. Chef/owner Ezequiel Devoto works out of a tiny open kitchen with a sous chef. Born in Buenos Aires to an Italian family, Ezequiel has worked all over Europe and his peripatetic life is apparent in his dishes. There is an enthusiastic waitress, who effusively runs through each item on the menu with so much gusto that our table is left wanting everything.
We end up with a table heavy on the vegetable dishes. The dishes are gorgeous. Literally, the food is served on the prettiest plates. From flowery examples from El Corte Ingles to elegant ones with a band of gold painted on the lip. There is poached fennel with a crumb gratin on top (10.50€). A stracciatella cheese paired with a sweet potato puree (18€) – the marriage of which is not entirely harmonious. Deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta in a light tempura-like coating (20€ for 4).
It’s dishes like the autumnal blend of mushrooms that make us all sit up straighter (24€). Meaty ceps are paired with rich botifarra sausage, the whole thing drizzled with egg yolk.
Mar y montana, that most Catalan of dishes makes an appearance (15€). Marrying seafood, in this case barely cooked shrimp with salty shreds of pork. The chickpeas are large and tender. The basil leaves on top are superfluous. I declare once more that you probably have to be Catalan to love this dish. The combination of boiled pulses, fishy notes and heady meat results in a unique you-need-to-know-it-to-love-it-aroma.
The waitress is particularly enthusiastic about the pluma de cerdo iberico (26€) which is “so tender”, she says, it only needs to be “nudged with a fork and it will collapse”. It looks pink on the inside but Ezequiel explains that is because it has been rested properly. It comes with a Joel Robuchon type potato mash, one that probably uses an equal ratio of potato to butter. On the side of that, a wild card charred lemon that is ignored since it has no place in this perfect marriage of meat and potatoes. It is heavenly.
It’s this off-menu dish that is the reason you should make the trek up to Olivos Comida y Vinos. Closely followed by the mushroom dish. (Although it should be noted that the off-menu dishes tend to be considerably more expensive than the listed dishes.) And the enthusiasm and passion of the small team that is giving it all they’ve got.