Albert and Ferran Adrià are famous for their culinary innovations as evidenced by Tickets, Enigma and the iconic elBulli, but Bodega 1900 differs by taking a giant step back into the past. The gastrobar—a part of the Albert-led restaurant collective elBarri in Barcelona's Poble Sec neighborhood—honors traditional Catalan culture as a vermouth bar and restaurant that one might have encountered in Barcelona a century ago. Bodega 1900 does serve Adrià-style innovations like the deconstructed olive and an anise ice cream-pastry topped with chicharon shavings, but expect lots of perfectly executed faves like iberico ham croquettes, fried codfish and three-week-aged lomo iberico. Some food critics claim the farm-to-table movement was partly a response to elBulli's molecular gastronomy, but Bodega 1900 proves the Adrià team can do straightforward farm-to-table gastronomy with the best of them. PRØHBTD spoke with head chef Ferran Soler to discuss vermouth, sourcing and Catalan's culinary heritage.
The restaurant's been described as a tribute to vermouth and the traditional Catalan food culture of the early 1900s. In what ways is it tribute?
The restaurant concept is more product cooking—which can be fish, cold cuts, et cetera—and old recipes and elaborated cooking. We work with the seasonality of the products. For instance, if it is not the season of the sea urchin, we would not have it because there is no point. Also, maybe in here, there is an option of using more humble produce as in green beans. That's not something you can find at [fellow elBarri restaurant] Tickets, but maybe here you can have a traditional dish from Barcelona or Catalonia, like green beans with potatoes.
What is the process for sourcing the best ingredients?
We're talking with suppliers all the time and with more than just one. I'm going to the market and trying a lot of produce all the time in order to understand when it's going to be better and to find the perfect way of finding the best products. I'll visit the market in La Boqueria to see what's going on and look for something interesting that could work well. You always have a radar for things to try.
In what ways does the restaurant's design and decoration reflect the cuisine you serve?
It's old fashioned. All these images [on the walls] are from the archive of elBulli. For instance, that's a photo of Albert and Ferran when they were… well, I don't know, Albert would be ten or something... over there on the wall. This is not like Enigma. It's more like an old school bodega.
What story do you want the food to tell?
I want to bring childhood memories of your grandma cooking traditional dishes at home. I want people to have memories of what they might have eaten as a child, which is the inspiration reflected in the menu here.
In what ways does the flavor of vermouth pair with the dishes served here?
It's about the salivating process. So you've got the acid and the saltiness of the escabeches and the anchovies and the ham, but the vermouth is sweet as well, which balances the saltiness of these little meatballs that you have at the beginning of the meal. So you've got this balance of salty and acid with the sweetness that makes you keep drinking and keep eating as well.
You incorporate vermouth into some of the dishes, correct?
Yeah, we have the melon vermouth, which is a dish that was discovered at elBulli. It's infusing fruit that is very porous. So it absorbs all the liquid, but it's vacuumed so it's not getting musty. It's still crispy and it's something that they do here. And in some stew, you have anise touches, and you add vermouth as well, which works well with the palette of flavors.
The restaurant features dishes from many decades ago. Is there a particular way we should eat it that reflects tradition?
The old ways—a spoon, a fork and sometimes a hand can work—but no weird tooling or anything. Just enjoy. It's always good to make our own way rather than, you know, use tweezers like you're gonna find in Tickets or something like that.
What is a food culture you explored while traveling that had an influence on you?
Japan and China have very good food. In Japan, I was shocked by the complexity of some flavors that might look simple but then there's an explosion of flavors and the the evolution of the aftertaste. It's something that made a deep impression on me 'cause it's not just one step. It's complexity that you cannot find in the first sight, but you discover it afterwards after you try it.
What would be two or three dishes here that people must try?
The razor clams [in white escabeche sauce]. This is very Spanish actually 'cause razor clams are not very common [outside Spain], but they are very tasty. The tomato—it's the fetish flavor of Albert—and you can find it everywhere. When it's in season, he is so happy. And the rubia gallega, which is beef that has been cured for four weeks and then in spices for four days. It's very rich. It looks like ham, but it's beef, and it's very complex in flavor as well. It's like butter in that it just melts in your mouth. Incredible. Also, there's the mollete de calamares, which is like a squid sandwich. It's very typical from Madrid, but it's so nice and crispy, and the sauces are very balanced. It's spicy but not too spicy.
What is the name of the tomato dish?
Ensalada de tomate. It's made with the raff tomato, which is a weirdly shaped tomato, green and red, and it's in season right now. The raff tomato is super tasty, and it's one of the most expensive because it's very complex. I mean, it's expensive in the tomato world compared to the average. We peel the tomato so it's sweet but not acidic. When customers try it, they say, "I have never tried this tomato, and it's such a rich tomato."
What should people understand about why they should come here?
The cuisine involves almost no manipulation to the produce, and at the same time, it's a way to discover a tradition that is very Catalan, very Spanish, with vermouth. It's a way of discovering cooking that we grew up with and that has always been made here. You will not find nori seaweed or kimchi sauce. Here's you will find more traditional flavors like manchego cheese and oils that reflect our culinary traditions.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photos courtesy of elBarri.