This review of a Barcelona restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
I was attracted to Manairó because of its apparent reputation as a place for ‘snout to tail’ eating where every part of the animal is used. With this in mind, it’s therefore blackly ironic that the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it restaurant is located within a skip and a hop of Barcelona’s Monumental Bullring where bullfights used to take place before being banned by the Catalan authorities.
The decor is quite masculine with what appear to be deer horns acting as everything from coat racks to glass racks and decoration. Service was quick and efficient, even though there appeared to be only one staff member servicing a small L-shaped dining room of around a dozen tables or so. Despite, or because of, the small space, the atmosphere was rather hushed. The waiter only spoke halting English, but I didn’t have to rely too much on my own halting Castilian since the menu is thankfully available in English.
Oh deery me.
The food, as far as I can tell, isn’t anywhere as bloody as its location and reputation would suggest, but the tasting menu is very meat heavy, even by continental standards, so this isn’t a place for vegetarians or even pescatarians. The amuse bouche started off with a spoonful of fish pate which was coarse and didn’t taste of much else beyond tuna. The egg yolk was more interesting since it was surprisingly firm, rather than bursting straight away, with a film-like surface texture to it.
Sorry for the iffy photo folks.
Manairo’s rabbit croquette with smoked aubergine and red peppers bore a certain resemblance to the yam and pork croquettes often found in Cantonese dim sum. The pastry exterior was crisp and unoily, but the minced contents was rather lacking in both texture and taste and could really have been any meat. The bed of vegetables tasted mostly of aubergine, but with little of the smokiness I was expecting. Underwhelming.
Go on, hop it.
More successful was the ‘pizza’ croquette, although its only discernible relation to its Italian namesake is the use of cheese and tomato. A crisp and flavoursome gorgonzola croquette had its distinctly bold taste complimented well by the sweetness of the delicate slivers of tomato.
I generally detest calamari rings as a bland and unimaginative waste of a seafood rich with possibilities. Manairo’s version was only partially successful in putting a new spin on this perennial favourite of the gastronomically unadventurous. The soft doughy rings were filled with a rich egg yolk and sat on a bed of squid tentacles and potatoes. The latter was unremarkable, but the eggy rings were very moreish, but in a very one-dimensional way – I suspect it’s not a dish that stands up well to repeated tastings.
Why is squid called calamari when it's wrought into a ring?
Meat and rice doesn’t sound very interesting, but Manairo’s take was reasonably successful at holding my attention. The large meatball was tender with a stewed beef-like texture, but a bold, gamey taste reminiscent of venison. Whatever meat was used in the ball, it was accompanied by a big serving of firm, large-grained rice that had been steeped in an equally bold, gamey broth that clung to the individual grains. It’s a very moreish dish, but the large amount of firm rice was a bit of a chore to work through.
The ol' ball and chain.
Fish and beef is an unusual combination, but here it works well even if it does feel like the kitchen just slapped the two together. A tender, flaky and juicy fillet of tilapia was served on a bed of bold, sticky, salty, tangy chunks of beef and tendon. While both were delicious in their own right, there seemed to be little benefit in pairing them together and the anonymous green sauce did little to act as a unifying element.
Sinks or swims?
Following numerous meals at Hawksmoor
back in London, I’ve largely favoured chateaubriand over other cuts of beef, but if all sirloin were as good as Manairo’s then I could be tempted back into the sirloin fold. The exceedingly tender beef was cooked rare and had a smoky, slightly sweet taste to it. It was served with a ratatouille-like collection of root vegetables as well as some courgettes and turnips.
Meat and at least two veg.
The savoury dishes ended rather abruptly and the desserts arrived very shortly afterwards. Arriving first was a very boozy granita topped with a mildly vanilla flavoured ice cream. Since I don’t drink alcohol, the pungent granita didn’t agree with me but I enjoyed the ice cream, in spite of its muted flavour, due to its almost viscous creaminess.
Cold as ice.
Following my first experience with torrija, a French toast-esque pudding/breakfast dish, I was looking forward to Manairo’s take on this typically Easter-time treat. In contrast to the soft, fluffy and wonderfully light texture of the torrija at Chocolate Y Churros in Madrid
, the version here was dense and rather dry. Although rather milky, it was plain in comparison to the bold cinnamon flavour of the Madrid version. The crumbs of pistachio did little to soothe my disappointment – that job was done by the sharp and acidic tang of the thick lemon and cheese ice cream.
The kitchen at Manairó is capable of doing some lovely things with meat, but the dishes in the tasting menu during my visit weren’t as consistently well executed nor as inventive as I would’ve expected from a Barcelona restaurant in this price range. It’s not bad, but there are far more interesting and accomplished places I would rather eat at when visiting Barcelona.
Address: Diputació, 424, 08035, Barcelona, Spain
Phone: 0034 93 231 00 57
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 13.30-15.30 and 20.30-23.00. Closed first week of January, Sundays and public holidays.
Reservations: highly recommended.
Total cost for one person including mineral water: €85 (£70 approx. at time of writing).