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The name of this appealing Gràcia eatery is a play on words, an amalgam of la taberna, or “tavern,” and lata, or “tin.” Owner and head chef Juanjo Martínez has dedicated his restaurant to the culture of canned food and other uncanned treasures that are linked to traditional Spanish tapeo and rituals like vermut hour, which always include preserved foods.

Martínez started this project in Barcelona after many years cooking in numerous kitchens, some Michelin stars among them. He worked everywhere from Portugal to China to Dubai, creating new concepts for restaurants and hotels. When he returned to Barcelona, an acquaintance mentioned that he was looking for someone with culinary talent to run a new restaurant there. Initially, Martínez considered offering the position to someone else, but when he saw the space, he was seized with inspiration and decided to take it on himself. At Lata Berna, he turns superb raw (and canned) materials into wonderful high-level presentations with a touch of originality, and offers great service to boot. His primary objective: to please the neighbors, who are the regulars here, and to give an affordable yet exceptional experience to all customers, and not just where the food is concerned.

Each of Lata Berna’s rooms offers its own ambiance and experience. There’s the bar for a quick vermut with some tasty canned cockles, an informal corner with wood barrels and stools to share some tapas with a few friends, a larger room where customers can taste or share from a menu with more than 50 options and a cozy private room ideal for group celebrations. All the rooms are fresh and fun, full of winks to old-school taverns, but brought up to date with charming, clever objects that bring smiles and feed the atmosphere: old restored furniture, a strong box-turned-fridge, vintage wine glasses, lamps made from cans or even cutlery and a car in the wall that conceals the bathrooms.

The concept here is la lata y la tapa. Conservas, canned foods, are intimately connected with the vermut tradition and the spirit of the traditional taverns – and thus a part of the Spanish culinary soul and nostalgia. On the other hand, these products have a rising gourmet status. To consolidate this link, Martínez began working with one of the most beloved local brands of high-quality canned specialties, Espinaler. Using high-quality fresh ingredients, he created a repertoire of amazing hot and cold tapas that are often served in an evocative tin container.

His cooking style draws from many Spanish regional culinary traditions and is inflected with modern international influences and a little insouciant punk attitude to free the mind and palate. Among his many innovations are the tortita de camarones de Triana, a typical crispy Andalusian pancake of shrimp with an atypical Thai vinaigrette, and the delicate, delicious scallop ceviche with passion fruit caviar. We love the patatas bravas encabronadas, in which the “mischievous” potatoes are served in a tin with two bold sauces, a garlicky white and a spicy red one, as well as the creamy, savory mini caneloni (a traditional Catalan preparation with some Italian influence) of roasted meat or spinach, also served in a tin, with dried tomatoes and a hint of basil. But best of all is the soft-shell crab in black tempura (made with squid ink) with tartar sauce and yucca chips. It may look like a crustacean-shaped lump of coal, but the combination of flavors and textures is beyond brilliant.

Lata Berna is especially rewarding to go to with a large group so that everyone can order a lot of tapas and spend the night tasting a little bit of everything, but we’re also happy to go on our own, so that we have a reason to return for another round of Martínez’s utterly delicious creations.

Published on January 20, 2015

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