Mar i Muntanya: Teoric Taverna Gastronomica in BCN

I found out about Teoric when I was at the picture framer’s, in the same block as my son was born nearly 22 years ago, in the Barcelona district of Gràcia. I knew it was my kind of place when the woman who told me about it started to tell me more… her daughter worked at Spring Restaurant in London; I trusted her opinion.

Teoric, or Teoric Taberna Gastronomica, did not disappoint. The desire to eat there became such an urge, like an itch that I needed to scratch, that we went straight there, to arrive 45 minutes before the shutters went up for lunch service at 1.30. We waited on a park bench in the busy Passeig de San Joan. What I do to eat well!

The restaurant is located in Carrer Bailèn, almost where the street meets Avinguda Diagonal; ten minutes’ walk to the Sagrada Familia and also, in the other direction, to Passeig de Gràcia, the city’s main upmarket shopping street. This part of Bailèn is not tourist land. It’s in the Eixample district, near the grittier part of Gràcia, traditionally a working class area.

My link with Barcelona

A bit of background. I lived in Barcelona for 5 years. I studied at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (in Catalan) and did an internship at Catalan TV station TV3. As a result, I put words in Catalan rather than Spanish, so I talk about the street being the carrer rather than the  calle. This November was the first time I’d stayed overnight in the city since I’d left more than 20 years ago. Yes, I’d been back to Barcelona in the meantime, but only for a day trip in 2015, staying in the nearby seaside town of Sitges.

Teoric – sea & mountain

Back to Teòric. If anyone asks me about Catalan cuisine, I recall the classic mar i muntanya combination, ‘sea and mountain‘. In particular, I love the traditional dish of chicken with langoustine, which came from the days when cheap and plentiful langoustine was added to the expensive delicacy of chicken, making the dish go further.

Catalonia offers everything – mountains, sea, sun, olives, wine, cheese, fruit, fish, vegetables. It truly is the land of sea and mountains. As a friend once said to me: “Here, you put a seed in the soil and it grows.” Whenever I plant seeds in my London garden, three times out of five they never emerge.

And this is at the heart of Teoric – that wicked combination of sea and mountain, brought to you with a sustainable approach, working directly with small, local producers. The experience is affordable, in a relaxed environment, serving ‘experiential’ dishes, small dishes for sharing, with culinary combinations and styles sufficient to keep the table conversation going all evening.

Facade, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Bailen Street, Barcelona

Oriol Casals & Teo Rubio

Oriol Casals, the chef, and Teo Rubio, front of house, opened Teoric in autumn 2016 – a year ago. Both are under 30 and are barcelonès pura cepa, from Barcelona to the bone, having met at school when they were 12 years old.

Casals went on to study Gastronomy and Culinary Art at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. For those who don’t know this centre, its international council reads like a top 13 of world chefs. To name a few: Joan Roca, Ferran Adrià, Gastón Acurio, Heston Blumenthal, Massimo Bottura and Rene Redzepi.

Oriol honed his trade with Andalusian chef Daní García, famed for his eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant in Marbella, and at Pangea Restaurant in Monterrey, Mexico, one of Latin America’s top 20 restaurants. Nearer to home, he worked at the one Michelin-starred Lluerna in nearby Santa Coloma de Gramanet, and at Gat Blau in Barcelona, renowned for its sustainable ethos.

Teo, meanwhile, studied restaurant management at the Escola Hoteleria i Turisme de Barcelona. He went on to work at Comerç 24 (now closed) of Carles Abellan, who leads one of Barcelona’s most famous gastronomic empires, and at Tapas Brindisa, where he was head manager, in London’s Shoreditch district… he wanted to practise his English with me, but I wanted to practise my Catalan, and we were in Catalonia.

Gina Power with Teoric chef, Oriol Casals

That day at Teoric

We ordered 8 dishes for two people. And it was a feast. In Barcelona, lunchtime usually starts at 2pm, so we had the restaurant to ourselves for a while.

It all started with the bread and the olive oil – so good that we just had to track them down, for more (see the end of the blog post – we found the bread).

Interior, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Menu, outside, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, with finger pointing, Barcelona

What we ate at Teoric

Olives, vermouth & orange, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Green olives with vermouth & orange for €3 – and there were more than what you see.

Beetroot soup, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Beetroot soup with fennel & apple, with goat’s cheese ice cream with pastachio.

Horse mackerel & carrot, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Horse mackerel & carrot for €5.90. Horse mackerel has a lighter flavour than other mackerel. It’s popular for sushi in Japan, and is often found in Spain and Portugal.

Wild mushroom salad with pomegranate, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Seasonal vegetable salad with black lettuce from Vilafranca del Penedès, pomegranates, pumpkin seeds & camagrocs (yellow foot mushroom – Catalans like their mushrooms).

Fish dish, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Slow-cooked loin of bonito, the fish of the day, with pickled seasonal vegetables.

Rice dish, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Sea rice: made from rice from Pals, in Girona, north of Barcelona, with cuttlefish, sea plankton, samphire seaweed and smoky alioli… divine.

Cheese, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

3 cheeses – Serrat del Tormo, a cured sheep’s; Cabra Flor, a soft goat’s; & Voler Volar, a blue goat’s

Almond, cinnamon & lemon, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Dessert: almond coulant with cinnamon & lemon ice cream, with the taste of the famous nougat, turron de Xixona, from Alicante, made with almonds and honey. At €5.50.

Natural Catalan wine – SiurAlta Antic

More and more, I only drink natural wine. The mass-market wine industry is killing itself with the use of chemicals, and my body is protesting. The legal requirements to explain what’s in a bottle are minimal – this is better in France than in the UK, and in the UK I am reluctantly turning into a whisky drinker. And I only drink about natural wine or minimum intervention wine.

So when I know it’s natural wine and it’s good quality natural wine, I drink and when it isn’t I don’t drink. So at Teòric I drank. I even drank with a friend of mine who doesn’t drink at all. And we got through a whole bottle.

We went for the SiurAlta Antic 2012 of Alfredo Arribas‘ Vins Nus (naked wines). It is my best red wine ever (with a few others), especially for the price. It’s mainly Samsó, or Carignan, with a dash of Sumoll. We are talking 14°, and black cherries, blackberries, and a touch of pepper – nothing too harsh.

Now I found out when I got back to London that Alfredo Arribas used to be one of Barcelona’s most famous architects. And he gave it all up for wine. You can tell by his photos on Instagram, though, that he has an artistic streak.

His SiurAlta wines come from the high hills of Montsant, 700-800 metres high, and with twice the rain of the neighbouring wine region of Priorat. He is not so much into natural wines but into producing wines in a non-interventionist way, with the rhythm of the local conditions.

Wine bottles, Teoric Taverna Gastronomica, Barcelona

Working with small producers

The quality of the food was so good at Teoric that we could not help but ask for a few local directions.

First up was 12 graus (12 degrees) cheese shop, where we stocked up to take home…

Cheese on display at 12 Graus cheese shop in Barcelona

Then to make sandwiches for the flight (I never eat on planes), we stopped of at nearby Forn Sant Josep for some bread made using natural yeast.

Forn Sant Josep store front, bakery, Barcelona

That’s my kind of way to spend a day … hunting, eating well, drinking well, and socialising.

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