Ávalon by Ramon Freixa, Grand Hotel Central, Via Laietana, 30, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
It was our first night in Barcelona and as we’d spent most of the afternoon wandering through the Gothic and El Born areas of the city, we had worked up quite an appetite. We were staying in the Grand Hotel Central (read our review here) and had read some fab reports of its restaurant, Àvalon by Ramón Freixa. So we decided to give our weary legs a break and eat here – a good idea. What wasn’t such a good move was our choice of time for our reservation. We walked in at 8.30 to find the place empty except for one other couple, who looked very relieved to see us.
Had we made the wrong decision? Was Avalon empty because the food was bad? Were the staff so rude that all the guests had simply walked out? Well the answers to these questions are no, no and no! It was simply that the locals simply don’t go out to dine till at least 9.30/10.00, in fact it wasn’t till we’d finished our meal at around 10.30 that the restaurant was really buzzing with both locals and tourists.
The decor follows the same theme as the hotel, dark, neutral and muted, with an accent colour of orange, giving a relaxed minimalist feel. Tables are uncluttered and spacious and the lighting low and calming, we particularly liked the LED lights at the windows. There is also a small lounge area where hotel residents and passing trade can enjoy a drink or bar snack.
Ávalon is under the direction of two Michelin star chef Ramón Freixa, who also operates from the Grand Hotel Central‘s sister hotel, The Hotel Unico in Madrid (which hopefully we’ll visit if we win the Fire & Stone pizza competition – click here for details). Ramon’s menu is based on traditional Spanish, Catalan and some Mediterranean dishes, although his tapas dishes defiantly looked like they had been given a modern twist.
At this point I’m going to offer my apologies for any incorrect spelling when typing the Spanish variant of the dishes, this is mostly down to the very reasonably priced bottles of red wine we drank and my appalling spider-like writing (although I can partially blame my extremely blunt pencil.) Talking of wine, the house wines (red, white and rose) started at just €14. Whist a bottle of Cava was only a jaw-droppingly cheap €15, we’ve seen it for more than that for just 2 glasses in London! At the other end of the scale a very, very good El Puntido Rioja was €57 and the best champagne was only €70.
We started our meal with a selection of tapas first of which were Les braves de l’Avalon (Patatas bravas) €3. These weren’t the usual cubed or sliced potatoes, these were whole small potatoes roasted with skin on, cut in half, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and drizzled with a spicy tomato and red pepper sauce and a subtle alioli. Next up was Croquettes de rostit (roasted meat croquettes), €3.50, these two little parcels of crispy coated, fluffy centered meaty perfection were by far my favourite tapas dish of the night (I even suggested to Saff that they may contain cheese just so I could eat them both).
No.3 on the tapas hit list were the simple yet very tasty Carxotes arrebossades, (battered artichokes) €5, finely sliced artichokes, battered and deep-fried and served as you would a portion of crisps. So easy that I may even try make them at home…
Tapas dishes No’s 4 & 5 were both ‘Coca bread’ based, a traditional sweet Spanish flatbread. Coca de vidre amb tomaquets (Coca bread with spread tomatoes), €4, was extremely simple and tasty, our new favourite thing that we’ve since made at home. The flavours of the ‘squashed’ tomatoes and drizzled oil were so fresh and clean, we could have eaten at least another portion. The Coca amb tomaquets i Llonganissa (Coca bread with cherry tomatoes and Llonganissa), €6.50. Llonganissa is a delicious long and thin rustic-style sausage, typical of Spain. It’s made from quality shoulder and belly pork, seasoned with sea-salt and pepper and cured for a minimum of two months. The bread on this dish was thinner and toasted for longer to give it a more cracker like crunch.
The main courses were in two sections, meat and fish and to be honest both Saff and I were drawn to the meaty options, as usual. I very nearly went for the interestingly sounding Big duck hamburger with mustard ice-cream, €10.50. But as Saff isn’t a huge fan of lamb and rarely cooks it at home, when I see it on the menu I jump at the chance. So I ordered the Espatlleta de Xai la cadaver amd sobrasada (lamb shoulder glazed with Mallorcan sausage), €16.50. The lamb was incredibly tender for such a chunk of meat although I couldn’t really taste the sausage in the glaze, more of a sweet taste. It was served with a cube of minted cous cous, I’m not usually too keen of cous cous but I managed to eat most of it.
Saff liked the sound of the Picanto rostit amb cab dells a la planxa i un bon pure (roasted baby chicken with grilled lettuce hearts and mashed potato), €15. A whole smallish bird with a dark treacly sticky sauce giving the appearance and flavour of blackened chicken. Served with a well seasoned and very creamy mash and some grilled lettuce (what would Gordan Ramsey say? A few days earlier we watched him freak out as a chef served it in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares). It didn’t taste as wrong as it sounds and Saff devoured it, it turned out to be her favourite thing on the plate as the chicken was a bit gristly in parts.
From memory the dessert list was fairly short, by now the very drinkable bottle of house red (Gandesola Negra Tempranillo) was kicking in, we think there were three or four to choose from… Saff was fairly full so could only manage the Encenalls de sindria i melo amb granitzat de Mojito (Melon and watermelon carpaccio with Mojito sorbet), €4. These thin ribbons of melon were so refreshing and looked great too, the sorbet tasted exactly like a Mojito (not sure if there was any white rum in the mix). Saff said that it would be good served as a starter or as a palate cleanser, although she got bored with it half-way through as it was quite a big serving.
I ordered the Tutto Cafe, €4, a dessert very similar to a tiramisu but with the sponge drenched a light coffee syrup rather than a sometimes overpowering coffee liquor. The coffee cream on top was sweet and again not too strong, the sponge was light and airy and soaked up the syrup like a, well, like a sponge. My favourite part was the dense, thick ice-cream, it had a really rich and strong ‘burnt’ coffee flavour, almost as strong as an espresso. A real coffee lover’s dessert…
Overall this meal was a cut above the average hotel restaurant’s offering, we’d expect that coming from a chef such as Ramón Freixa. The service was attentive and our waiter very knowledgeable of all the dishes on the menu, but the most unexpected bonus was the extremely reasonable pricing. The Avalon recently won a ‘Best meal under €35′ award and we can see why… Make sure you finish with a nightcap in the hotel’s Skybar, the most amazing views over a fantastic city.
Monday to Sunday from 13:30-16and from 20:30-23
(Friday and Saturday until 23:30
Nearest Metro: Jaume I