The screaming orange washi tape catches my attention. Holding up a black and white printed A4 menu affixed by its four corners. Inside, the large wood-burning oven proclaims the theme of the restaurant. The food will be baptized by fire to emerge as the purest version of itself.
I feel a titter of excitement at the prospect of eating here only to promptly forget as life and Covid waves take over my thoughts.
But then, the Proper dulce de leche flan appears ceaselessly on my Instagram feed. With proclamations of undying love from some and others, that this is the BEST dessert in Barcelona. (Even better than the matcha cheesecake at Direkt Boqueria or the flan with shaved truffle at Fonda Pepa? I wonder.) It’s enough to animate me into action.
Proper was a restaurant in Buenos Aires. A very good one, regularly named on Latin America’s 50 Best list. They decamped to Barcelona and opened up in the summer of 2020. (Incidentally, they are not the only ones, Argentina’s continuing financial woes have led to an influx of talented chefs into the city of Barcelona, notably at Fat Veggies and Coroto.) The restaurant is nestled in one of the permanently shaded narrow side streets of El Born. An open-plan space with kitchen and restaurant existing without a clear delineation of where one ends and the other begins. A stacked four fronted fridge tells me they are as interested in wine as food.
The menu is short. To the point, I know I have to order the bread and the flan. The bits in the middle are a mystery to be discovered. I rely on the server, distracted by the curling tattoos on her forearms. She gushes that she loves everything, which is the same as not making any recommendation at all.
Mimi wants sweetbreads. The last time I had sweetbreads was at Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant in London. And then they were so worked over and cleaned that they almost didn’t resemble themselves. At Proper, they are fat, dimpled, seared. Crusty on the outside and bouncy on the inside. I have no trouble imagining them as an organ in the neck of an animal. We share a plate of asparagus, fanned out over a cashew puree. My order of frisee lettuce, which usually comes as a backdrop for esqueixada in Catalunya, lacks an assertive partner on the plate. Its texture is too similar to the shredded cabbage under the sweetbread. I grumble a bit that our server lacked the foresight to steer us to something else, like the sardines that Salvador Sans from El Magnífico, who happens to be having lunch next to us, is enjoying.
Mullings over missed opportunities dissipate as the flan arrives. An elegant coma of cream to one side, a delicate pooling of caramel and that darkened top. It delivers, and I mentally grant it a space on the bench next to the Matcha Cheesecake and Fonda Pepa’s truffle flan.
For my next visit, I will be certain to focus my order on things that have come out of the oven and like today. I will begin with the bread and end with the flan.