lunch at Dos Pebrots

Before I started this blog, I had quite a list of restaurants I had to check. The idea was every week to pick one from the list. And then a friend has told me about Dos Pebrots – which, to my shame, never made it to the list. “They use recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome”, – my friend added. She did not even have to mention that they had pig nipples and an entire head of cod on the menu. I booked a table the very same day.

Spoiler alert – no, I did not had the pig nipples in the end. So yes, you can absolutely scroll down.

The first thing I probably should mention is that the man behind Dos Pebrots is the same guy who has brought Dos Palillos to Barcelona – chef Albert Raurich. Does not ring a bell either? Ok, then you are just not as much fanatic of Japanese-fusion cuisine as I am. And how about El Bulli? You sure hell heard about this one! And Raurich was a chef de cuisine at the latter.

Anyway, what I am saying, is that you take a well-experienced chef, a bunch of history books with rusty pages and you get Dos Pebrots – a restaurant which has all the perks of contemporary gastronomy and wholesomeness and honesty of the recipes which evolved from centuries-old traditions.

From the outside Dos Pebrots does not look particularly medieval – and except for a display of shiny vintage cutlery on one of the walls, the rest of adornment is stylish and refined. But there is more to that. Years before Raurich and his appointed chef de cuisine Borja García Ordoño have plotted to stir up the boundaries of modern cuisine, the same building housed iconic Bar Raval. It was once a place where locals would meet in the afternoon for ice-cold beers and chatter for hours. The bar has eventually become a part of barrio’s colorful history, and it leaves no questions behind why this exact location was chosen for Dos Pebrots.

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Now that I am thinking – I should have asked, what for exactly some of these were used. Some look like they were meant for tortures rather than cooking… or maybe, even both

I could choose a seat at the table or at a Japanese-style open bar – I opted for the latter, because I have to confess. Even though the idea of eating something which could be just as well served to pharaons or Greek philosophers was exciting, more than this I anticipated spying on cooks while they set up whimsical plates of burnt onions and peppers, fish that’s been cured on the premises for a year, and liquor-infused fruit.

The hardest part was… ordering. It is no one’s fault but mine. I wanted to try literally everything – and the menu did not “help” me either. It is a way too detailed, making each item sound like an extract from grimoire. Plus, it even includes a timeline with some of the recipes, and goes on to list how each dish was prepared, used ingredients, a year, or century, of creation, and then the most curious part – the correct utensil for consumption.

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Forks, knives but also tweezers and a giant toothpick – eating back in time was just as complicated as cooking

I knew that I wanted xarab – because come on, fruit, alcohol – does not get better than this; and the celebrated kebab. Kudos to one of the cooks who has recommended the rest – I was certainly impressed and satisfied.

Xarab was deliriously good – refreshing, a tad sweet, with just enough booziness to compliment each fruit. The “peach+amaretto” combo was by far my favorite.

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Liquor-infused fruit, known as xarab – delicacy from Al-Andalus, served to welcome the guests

Next on the list was an assortment of fish and fish roe – all cured and smoked on the premises. I don’t remember the exact timing for each species, but I can’t quite let go of my mind that for anchovy it takes… a whole year. Also. The flavors and textures are mind-blowing.

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Assortment of home-cured fish – mackerel, sea bass with fennel seeds, wild salmon, tuna, octopus, fish roe and anchovy

The third plate was really-really good, but I have to admit – it was the weakest link of the series. The vegetables, if I remember correctly, were char-grilled and then soaked in marinade of oil, vinegar and aromatic herbs. Resulted flavors were delectable and balanced – the vegetables were tender and sweet, while vinegar and capers certainly gave a pleasant piquant kick.

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Eggplant, fennel and butternut squash cooked in Neapolitan style. I cook them every day and they taste nothing like this- why? 😦

Next came the dish which I would never think I’d like – broad beans boiled with almond milk. I sincerely believe that few people would be excited with the idea of  mixing beans with milk. And I personally was fairly hesitant of the suggestion that came from the cook. But then again, if I wanted to eat normal food, I would go to pizzeria.

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Broad beans, almond milk, and half a dozen of aromatic oils to make the original pairing surprise your taste buds in the best way possible

The cook came back to me with a small pot of milk, still boiling, and beans floating inside. I almost regretted the choice. However, the liquid was soon poured in an ornamented ceramic plate, and then adorned with tiny drops of fragrant herb-infused oils, gelatinized cubes of savory chicken broth, fresh herbs, and finally I was presented with hearty satisfying dish. Certainly better than a soup, and totally not what you’d think beans and milk would taste like.

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Omelette with pine nuts and garum – the older brother of Thai fish sauce

If you have never studied the history of gastronomy (I did), you probably think that garum is some kind of a weird spice, or sauce. And you’d be right – in both cases actually. In Ancient Greece and later in Ancient Rome garum was used instead of salt – to enhance the flavors, but it was actually a liquid. Now the best part – according to one of the earliest recipe books, “Apicius”, garum was made out of… rotten fish intestines. Rotten. Fish. Intestines. Read it and think about the wonderful smell. I recall reading about the praised spice in my book on the history of gastronomy, and thinking to myself, “no wonder these people barely made it to their 40s… I mean, rotten fish intestines, for god’s sake”. Fast forward 4 years and here I am sitting in the 21st century’s fancy restaurant with an average bill of 50 euros per person, eating sauce made from dead fish. What an irony.

Good thing, though, despite whatever the present-day garum has, the end result is somewhat briny anchovy-like flavor, which certainly adds depth and yes, salinity, to the final product. Also, omelette is served in a bravura manner, and cooked right in front of the guests – the eggs are poured onto sarten with burning oil, and with a couple of deft swirls you have the lushest preparation of eggs you ever had.

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A fancy kebab. And onions. And fat. Yum

I already had a fancy taco – but fancy kebab has won me over. You see, I NEVER order lamb in the restaurant  – my stepfather makes the best roasted suckling lamb, and I don’t even mind taking a 5-hour train to Alicante to have this hell of a dish twice a year (and this is of course not the only reason I visit my parents). But checking the reviews I realized that every second person was like confessing endless love to Dos Pebrots’ impression on the famous Middle-Eastern recipe. What I did not know is that kebab will be a huge chunk of lamb neck so succulent, so enjoyably fatty, and although you have your toasted pita bread, and tangy yogurt dip, and spicy tomato relish – all to accompany the meat – honestly, it is so good, like give me more of it and save all the bread.

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A smoked milk ice-cream and strawberries – the recipe is from one of the world’s best restaurants, Etxebarri (San Sebastian), where Borja once worked

Strictly speaking, I did not have to order the dessert – if you have not grasped it from the photos, the portions in Dos Pebrots are more than sufficient. And for the first three dishes I actually ordered half portions (they do that upon request).

But… it was, and still is, a burning hell on the streets of Barcelona, and when I saw an ice-cream on the desserts’ list, I could not resist. A smoked milk ice-cream arrived half-submerged into sweet and tart strawberry sauce – the ice-cream at the same time had a flavor so intense, so pure. I remember commenting to the cook, “wow it does taste like smoked milk! – Well, it would not be called “smoked” if it did not…”. Yes, I am such a Captain Obvious sometimes.

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That Secret Ingredient no one should know about

After I have finished my meal, I was offered to go upstairs to check the “working huddle” – where the cooks guided by chef Borja do research and study old recipe books. On one of the walls I saw a detailed version of that recipes’ timeline, and close nearby – the smoking kilns for the fish. And then, of course – canisters of the one and only garum.

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Dos Pebrots. Carrer del Dr. Dou, 19. Menus (no drinks) start at 55€ (for 11 plates). Separate dishes from 4€ (burnt onion) to 16€ for kebab and 20€ for  the entire portion of  assortment of cured and smoked fish. Dessert 4 – 6€.  Vermouth 3€. Water and bread – free of charge.
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