Ultramarinos is not a small, charismatic restaurant where an erudite chef re-reads Bauman when he’s not in the kitchen, and who revives his great-grandma’s recipes when he’s at the stove, adapting them with precision and sensitivity to his own philosophy. Ultramarinos is a macro-space with spectacular interior design (the work of designer-of-the-moment Lázaro Rosa Violán), recently opened in the middle of La Rambla, and it’s playing in a different league, up against places like El Nacional, another of the mega-projects that, whether we like it or not, also help shape the culinary character of a multifaceted city.
The name comes from small, specialist groceries where people once shopped for imported goods (ultramarino means ‘overseas’) – a kind of business that, rather than disappearing, is simply changing, often into mini-markets.The traditional grocers have always been a favourite of the owner of Ultramarinos. ‘There are two things I’ve always liked: strolling down La Rambla, and the old-style ultramarinos,’ says José Lombardero, head of the Lombardo Group, the driving force behind the project, and an unquestionably self-made man who comes from a family of Galician farmers. ‘In fact, I didn’t go looking for this place, but when it was offered to me, I felt it had been looking for me,’ he says.
That was how this immense, industrial-scale – and yet welcoming – space came into being, with wooden furniture, paintings covering the walls, a DJ at the decks every day, and a cocktail bar for which expert bartender Cristina has designed a menu with 13 cocktails inspired by a journey around the world. The food at Ultramarinos, supervised by Kate Preston, Lombardero’s wife, is serviceable, with strong Mediterranean roots and international touches, as be fits a restaurant located at the heart of everything: pizzas, hamburgers, tartares and salads share menu space with meatballs with shiitake mushrooms or noteworthy ceviches, as well as other nicely devised dishes, including crunchy aubergines with coriander and citrus fruits.
Don’t confuse this place with the other Ultramarinos, a tiny cocktail bar specialising in G&Ts on C/Sant Pau. Just remember the two establishments represent the two faces, condemned to coexist, of the same Barcelona.