This venue is now closed It’s the iconic Catalan dish: pa amb tomàquet, bread rubbed with tomato (and sometimes garlic), drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. But a whole restaurant devoted to it? Sounds like a hare-brained scheme, but for Miquel Àngel Vaquer, the man who breathed new life into vermouth with Casa Mariol and is now creative director at Bar Nou, it’s all about the food, not the novelty value. ‘People come in expecting a pa amb tomàquet theme park. But no.’ Bar Nou is a restaurant ‘specialising in pa amb tomàquet, but where you can eat a lot of other things’. When he was a boy, and his mum made him omelette with pa amb tomàquet, the bread and tomato part was ‘practically half the meal’, not a slice of rubbery bread on the side. The key to Bar Nou’s approach is that ‘we don’t treat pa amb tomàquet as a side dish, but as part of the main meal’.
So how do they serve it? First, with a menu of outstanding breads from Catalonia and further afield. There’s a traditional Catalan pa de pagès (a round white loaf with crusty exterior), as well as a spelt flour loaf, black bread made with hops, thin coca bread from the Maresme, bagels, focaccia and pretzels, made with all those essential extras such as slow rising and wood-fired ovens. They use the best hanging tomatoes – the variety grown especially to be rubbed on bread – and you can choose between five types of salt and four olive oils, with garlic as an optional extra. When you order a cured meat or cheese board, you can take your pick of the breads to accompany it. They also have a range of soups and salads, plus four special hot dishes (meat, veg, fish and eggs), where bread is integrated into the recipe, taking the starring role, as Vaquer intended. ‘The idea was to surprise people with very basic dishes, to impress them with simplicity.’
Examples: a dish of bacon and eggs on a slice of saltless spelt bread (€7.50). The bacon, cooked at low temperature then seared on the griddle, is deliciously greasy and crunchy, with a salty kick. Or another of their hits, the crispy fried octopus chicharrón with olive allioli (garlic mayo), mixed with toasted and tomato-anointed dough balls (€14). Or rabbit with allada (garlic sauce) and pa de pagès (€9.50).
All the dishes on the menu can be ordered from 8am until midnight in a bar where the design is impeccably cool, the menu is a fanzine and the waiting staff are kitted out in full ’80s rockabilly revival drag. A jukebox dominates the room. Is this where the rustic Catalan breakfast goes hipster? ‘The idea is to offer a new take on pa amb tomàquet that will connect with a younger crowd who eat ramen. Hipster? If you think the word means opening up new cultural horizons, then yes. If you think it’s to do with following fashion, then no.’ With so many food gurus demonising wheat products and questioning bread’s place in the food pyramid, a good slice of pa amb tomàquet sounds more appealing than ever.