I read an article in the Guardian by Nigella Lawson in which she lamented the unpopularity of brown hued food in a time where ordering food is done with its Instagramability in mind. We are starting to order food to please others and gain their admiration, rather than to please ourselves.
It’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t so. And yet – I may have found a worm hole that leads to that time in the barrio of Sans, an area blissfully bereft of tourists.
When I call to make a reservation for 5 at Petit Pau Sants, I am told that as a small restaurant the most they can seat in one group is 4. There is no negotiating, they are polite but firm. “I like the sound of the place.” Quips Sarah “reminds me of Tapioles, my restaurant.”
Petit Pau is indeed a small restaurant of 16 seats. One waiter to serve, the chef behind the bar and a sous chef inside. On the seasonal menu, 6 starters and 6 mains. We order the clams with boletus (baby ceps) (€17.3), the rice with duck and artichokes (€16.50) and the egg, trumpet mushrooms, mash and Cecina (€16.20).
The clams come first, large and meaty – not a grain of sand in one of them. The silky mushrooms pair beautifully, mirroring the bounce and texture of the molluscs. The three of us scoop up the creamy broth in the spent shells and then move on to husks of bread to wipe the plate clean.
The mash, egg & Cecina arrive next. Two of us pull out our cameras and start to take pictures, then our iPhones so we can post to ‘stories’. It prompts the bandanad chef to come out of the kitchen: “I didn’t realize that you would be taking all these pictures, it’s not photogenic, I build the potato wall quite high to keep the egg inside…” He isn’t annoyed but he is visibly perplexed. He’s made this food for us to eat not photograph. There are some fish mains, including cod Kokotxas (cheeks) but it’s a cold evening and we opt for meat. Meat being something I rarely order because of its poor quality and thin flavour. Out comes the brownest plate of food I have seen in the last decade: beef fillet with a potato gratin in a shiny sauce (€20.10). A bold and confident dish. The flavour of the meat makes our eyes go wide. “Oh my – try the potato gratin.” Wafer thin slices with a sticky brown crust. “That potato crust makes me think of canelés?!” I exclaim. The confit pork oozes cheese out of the middle and comes with a mound of diced tomatoes with blades of basil.
It’s as astonishing in its simplicity as it is in its depth of flavour.
The restaurant has filled up. No one is photographing their food. Except for a couple of Spanish-speaking Swedish women, everyone is local. The waiter rolls over the dessert trolley. It all looks generic and bland, a few of the Physalis have rolled off the chocolate slice. “Does the chef make the desserts?” We ask, dubious that the answer will be yes.
“No, we get them from an Austrian pastry chef.”
We order the apple strudel, shaped like a bag. It’s disappointing, especially after the meal we’ve had.
We pay and go outside for a smoke.
“What did you think?” I ask my friends?
“I thought it was incredible! I haven’t eaten food like that since I was making it!”
This is the highest form of praise Sarah can bestow. We carry on with our evening, telling everyone we meet along the way – “You have to try Petit Pau!”
Petit Pau Sants
Carrer de l’Espanya Industrial, 22