There are many fields in which it’s impossible for the rest of Spain to compete with the Basque Country – finance, greenery, rock, bars with real atmosphere and 'pintxos' (these last two are inseparable). In Barcelona, pintxos – inventive and complex little tapas skewered onto a slice of bread with a cocktail stick – have a respectable but strictly limited presence. That said, things are looking up: on the site of the old Llibreria Catalunya bookshop, Zeruko is the little brother of the famous pintxos bar of the same name in San Sebastián, birthplace of the pintxo understood as small-scale haute cuisine. Edgar Suàrez, chef at the Barcelona branch – whose curriculum includes stints at Neichel under Ñandú Jubany – explains that the first hurdle to be overcome in Barcelona is practically insuperable: ‘It’s impossible to generate the atmosphere you get over there. People show up in big crowds, wolf down two pintxos and head for the bar next door.’ With the scarcity of eateries on Gran Via, that’s not an option. But let’s not lose hope yet.
Start with the bread
Zeruko in Barcelona is interesting in its own right. There are two stand-up bars, but many of the pintxos fit the concept of ‘creative haute cuisine in miniature’, says Suàrez, and are meant to be eaten sitting at a table. Priced between €3.85 and €8.50, in many cases they are much more substantial than a bar nibble. Working with Basque gastro-tavern specialist José Antonio Calvo, the young chef has put together a compendium of classics and original ideas. In the classic category, 'la foguera de bacallà' (‘salt cod bonfire’) – the best pintxo in the world circa 2011 – is a thin slice of salt cod served on a grill with a tiny piece of charcoal, allowing customers to smoke it to their own taste. Then there’s the lobster tosta: an apparently ordinary pintxo, it’s made only with claw meat, the juiciest part. Smoked and served with mayonnaise, it’s a tiny portion that begs to be a full- sized dish.
But the Catalan pintxo has one advantage over the Basque: the bread. ‘It’s not that the bread is bad in the Basque Country, it’s that they just don’t place the same importance on it as we do here. Bread is a key part of the pintxo,’ explains Suàrez. The main ingredients (including suckling pig from Segovia, bluefin tuna) are top quality, and the foundation layer of bread, from Triticum, is up to scratch. Yes, there are creative/ interactive pintxos, but flavours like that of the lobster, or an excellent pintxo of scallops, demand first-class bread.
Zeruko also has a repertoire of gourmet games that play with the connections between flavour and appearance: edible trompe- l’oeil executed with aplomb. This is most noticeable in the desserts, such as the Bob Limón, in which a fried egg is re-created in passion fruit, surrounded by an emulsion of citrus fruits and served alongside a lemon sponge cake. But there are no illusions here – just the best of Basque creativity, thriving in a new location.
|Venue name:||Zeruko [Closed]||Contact:|
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 654
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat noon-4pm, 8pm-midnight; Sun closed|
|Transport:||Urquinaona (M: L1, L4)|