Coure in Barcelona: 7 Course Lunch with Many Surprises
Last month, we told you all about our visit to Hisop, one the great “bistronomic” spots on Passatge Marimón in the upper Eixample area. Having heard so much about Hisop’s neighbor, Coure, we decided to give it a try, and what better chance to do so then the visit to Barcelona of EatCatalunya contributor Andrew Hwang. Andrew wanted to try modern Catalan so we met up at Coure for a 7-course lunch featuring some very ecletic dishes.
Luckily, unlike my meal at Hisop, I had Andrew with me to help keep up with all the dishes and give testimony to what we ate. We were also both armed with iPhones so we could share images with you here. The pictures are no works of art (click on them for large version), but, for the most part, the food indeed was.
So rather than just giving you my rundown of our meal, Andrew and I are doing this tandem style. And to keep things fair, we didn’t compare notes. Again, this isn’t a review, but rather a series of observations about the restaurant and the food that we hope will be helpful to you. We know that many visitors to Barcelona often find themselves in a toss-up over what restaurant to choose, so we hope that these descriptions and observations help make your choice a little easier. Here goes:
Jen: You walk through the door and the first impression that you get is that you are in a very small, very exclusive restaurant.That’s until you say you have a reservation and they inform you that this isn’t the restaurant…it’s downstairs. Coure is not small nor big, but it is dark. It’s in a basement level room so natural light is impossible, but even still the artificial illumination is almost non-existent. Dim lights barely light the restaurant and there is some help in seeing what is on your plate from the candles on the tables. This is probably really lovely for dinner, but for lunch it seemed a bit odd, and made for a kind of stuffy atmosphere. Nothing terrible, just a bit strange to me.
Andrew: Restaurant Coure is located on a tiny street just off of the tony Avinguda Diagonal. The entrance essentially prepares you for what the inside will be like: casually but understatedly elegant, seemingly intended to be non-intrusive to the dining experience you are about to encounter. Upon entry, you see an elongated small room where a large crafted wooden counter, beautifully striated, alongside to the right served as a bar and eating space for those who just want a drink or quick meal. Behind it were glimpses of a kitchen where the food must have been prepared.
At the end of the hallway leads to small flight of stairs that take those prefering a table to the more serious sala de menjar. The dining room has cream-white walls sparsely decorated with occasional paintings that puncture them with a burst of colours; blond wood floors; dark wood chairs and tables topped with starched linen table cloths, formal table settings next to white modern plates, and paired with a stand-alone silver bucket to keep a wine bottle to the side of the diners view. As this was lunch time, and there are a couple of other knowing tourists around, the atmosphere did not feel inappropriate for those more casually dressed, such as I, to enjoy the warm Mediterranean sun. With all that said, let’s move on to what really counts: the food! Jen and I decided to splurge a little and went for the 45 euro seven-course degustació.
Amuse bouche: Black olive grissini
Jen: Skinny and light olive oil breadsticks with little flecks of black olive. Very good but nothing really surprising or exceptional (and I say that knowing that I could eat my own weight in these things).
Andrew: These irregular-shaped short crusted batons were a nice savoury start to the meal. They were served on the table in a glass, baked to a soft golden brown and flecked all over with little black dots of olive bits. The batons were not crunchy like the traditional Italian grissini. Instead, they were more buttery and crumbly, a nice departure from the regular bread sticks.
First course: Potato, carrot and anchovy salad with foie and tapenade
Jen: This was kind of a sophisticated take on an ensaladilla rusa or the various other potato based salads that you might find at any tapas bar. The base was chunks of blanched carrots and boiled potatoes topped with very large, excellent L’Escala anchovies. My first thought when this was placed in front of us was “wow, that’s a huge portion”. This observation was foreshadowing for what was to come. Unlike Hisop and establishments of the same genre, the portions are far from miniature…they are huge. This salad might have been so-so if it weren’t for the shavings of a very firm foie throughout, and the drizzle of black olive tapenade. A very nice combination indeed. I even ate the carrots…I hate carrots!
Andrew: The first dish, in my opinion, was the only slight miss in the entire meal. Curls of sliced foie gras were accompanied by a salad of potatoes, carrots, onions, anchovies, all accentuated with tapenade dressing. The execution was impeccable in terms of texture and presentation, and the ingredients were first rate. However, for me, it was simply that the anchovy and tapenade, both extremely strong and dominant flavours, simply robbed the foie gras – the star of this dish – from its delicateness. So between occasional hints of rich liver I was more tasting anchovies and salty olives, both of which I love, but found a bit too overpowering to be paired with foie.
Second course: Lightly poached jurel with mint pesto and avocado
Jen: One of my favorite dishes of our meal. Andrew and I speculated as to how this was cooked so perfectly. The fish seemed like slightly cooked sashimi but it wasn’t seared…Andrew thought it might have been lightly poached in olive oil so that is how we are describing it. The accompaniments were great, but the standout here was the quality of the fish — extremely fresh and with a delicate texture — and the soft flavor of the olive oil.
Andrew: Fortunately for me, the tasting menu kept moving a notch up from here. The next dish was fillets of jurel that is warm but essentially raw, served with chunks of avocado dressed in mint pesto. Jurel, also known as jack or horse mackerel, is a red-fleshed fish often found canned as an economical yet nutritious way of adding fish to your diet. Here at Coure, it was given star treatment of being seasoned fresh and poached lightly in oil (something I surmised based on the sheen of oil on the surface and the slightly warm temperature of the fillets). The result was a silky smooth texture, an asset particular to a firm fleshed fish such as jurel, that took the raw edge out of what was essentially served as sashimi. The sprightly mint pesto gave the fish and the avocado a perfect match.
Third Course: Johny Dory pizza with melon, feta and tomato sauce
Jen: When I saw this on the tasting menu I thought it sounded kind of, well, unappealing. I was pleasantly surprised by this dish; it wasn’t a pizza in form (the waiter referred to it as a “deconstructed pizza”). The fish, grilled in olive oil, was layer on top of a bed of flavorful tomato sauce and cubes of fresh feta. On top, a paper thin wafer of “pizza crust”. This really stood out as one of the most interesting and was delicious.
Andrew: Next up, the imagination turned playful with an unusual deconstruction of a pizza. A fillet of John Dory sits on a pool of warm tomato coulis with dices of cantaloupe and feta, topped with a “crust” of chick pea cracker. I would have to say calling it a “pizza” was a bit of a stretch of imagination considering that the flavours do not tend to evoke what people commonly associate with pizza other than the loose organization of elements pertaining to tomatoes, cheese and dough. Nevertheless, this didn’t subtract from the execution of the dish and how it was presented. The fish was seared to perfection, and the melon and feta gave it a wonderful sweet and salty counterpart. The chick pea cracker was melt-in-your-mouth savoury, and added another layer of texture. I certainly didn’t mind suspending disbelief to let myself be led to believe this could be pizza.
Fourth course: Lamb in sauce of ceps, goat milk foam and ceps
Jen: My second favorite dish of the meal. The aroma, the presentation, the execution were all sublime. The plate was spread with a creamy, savory-sweet sauce made of ceps, Catalan mushrooms, with a drizzling of goat cheese foam to contrast. The lamb was tender and perfectly cooked and topped with the sauteed mushrooms. Strangely, while the lamb was exquisite, when I think back on this dish I remember the mushrooms the most. Fresh and gamey-tasting, they go so well with the lamb. Oh, and all of this was topped off with fresh chives. Delicious.
Andrew: The final savoury course was also my most favourite of them all. A fillet of baby lamb braised in jus with ceps, accompanied with sautéed ceps and a swirl of goat milk foam. The lamb was juicy and tender and the ceps perfectly cooked to the bite. Both were lightly bathed in a delicious jus and each taste was punctuated with the subtle tartness of the goat milk foam. Personally, I would have been just as happy without the foam, but it did raise it another level by bringing in an extra dimension of flavour. As a side but relevant note, having dined in Barcelona in all seasons except spring, I found that many restaurants don’t seem to adjust their menus to reflect the season. During this trip, I was happy with the traditional Catalan fare of braised pig’s feet and pork cheeks. But the recipe for heavier dishes typically remain the same as when they are served in winter. The result is a satisfied but weighed down feeling after lunch, especially when you walk out into the hot sun. Here, the jus for the lamb is rich in flavour yet light in texture, unlike many of the heavy sauces of Catalan dishes that, though delicious, often necessitated a migdiada (midday nap).
First Dessert course: Crème of coconut, mint granissat, passion fruit
Jen: The nature of this dessert (see a better photo here) — light, crisp and refreshing — seemed more like a palate cleanser than an actual dessert. Of course, palate cleansers don’t come in such large sizes. The bottom of the bowl had a coulis of passion fruit which was layered over with the créme. We polished this off pretty quickly as it was very airy.
Andrew: This dish was a symphony of textures, temperatures and flavours. A sweet, rich and airy coconut cream foam hides a dense purée of sweet, tart passion fruit, topped with icy crystals of bracing mintiness. Each layer served as a perfect foil to the other, and turned out later to be a lovely lead in for a second dessert we didn’t expect.
Second Dessert course: Homemade pound cake with coffee granissat and vanilla bean crème anglaise
Jen: As you can assume from the description, this wasn’t a very daring dish. But I applaud that. Being bold might have gotten in the way of what, in this case, was the perfect execution of a dessert classic. I loved this dessert but it was a bit heavy after such an abundant meal. Not that I’m complaining….
Andrew: The final dish was not revelatory, but was nonetheless wonderfully executed and provided a more old-fashioned sweet ending to the meal. A warm pound cake moistened with a simple syrup sits on top of a generous bed of unctuous crème anglaise dotted with vanilla beans with a coffee granissat.
Jen: Overall, the service at Coure was very good; we never had to flag down our server and our wine glasses were always full. I would have appreciated a bit more detail in the explanation of the dishes, and I think the staff was a little stressed by the lunchtime rush. One more point that was weak in my opinion was the inability of the servers to help choose a wine. Interestingly, this also happened to me at Hisop across the street. The server at Coure clearly didn’t have much training in this area and at Hisop my server straight up told me that she knew nothing about wine. Here we were left to our own devices when a little guidance would have gone a long way.
Andrew: The service was efficient and attentive, though our server – friendly as he was – presumably did not speak Catalan and announced our dishes only in Castilian. For those readers wondering, I am starting my linguistic studies in preparation for this wonderful city by honouring its roots and beginning with its native tongue (I would have also attempted to study Castilian as well sooner if it wouldn’t just complicate matters by trying to do too much rather than taking it one at a time). As such, I had a bit of difficulty understanding everything that was said (besides the fact that people in Catalonia and Spain tend not to slow down their speeches for obvious foreigners). Luckily, Jen, my co-conspirator in this dining experience, understood perfectly and had the foresight to later jot them down. Other than that, the service, just like the décor, was as subtle and un-intrusive to the dining experience as possible.
Jen: My conclusion is simple. I really liked Coure. Not giddy, I can’t stop thinking about it LOVE but I thought the meal was rock solid. The stumbles were minor and the combination of dishes that made up the meal was pretty much ideal. I love that some of the dishes made me change my mind about certain combinations of ingredients (the John Dory pizza springs to mind) and the fact that the chef appears to make daring moves while still not going over the top to sacrifice comfort.
Andrew: Overall, Restaurant Coure represented a very good example of the quanlity and price range for the bistronomic movement in the Barcelona dining scene. Although the 45 euro degustació does not represent a typical lunch for most people, it gave Jen and I a good sampling of what the chef was capable of so it was a perfect splurge. More importantly, both of us remarked how the servings were quite generous, even with the multi-course meal, to the point that I was sated with a very light dinner later in the evening. Such value for the price in an elegant restaurant such as Coure is yet another of its virtue amidst an economic crisis where people pay more attention to what they get in proportion to what they pay. Utilitarian considerations aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, as well as my company (not often these days does one spend three plus hours at lunch), such that I look forward to return and try the a la carte items on the menu.
Passatge Marimon, 20
932 007 532
Coure sign image by loremipsum on Flickr via Creative Commons
Coure interior image by bcnrestaurantes.com