There are many legends and myths surrounding the Pyrenees. Some claim that the divine hero Hercules created the mountains by piling up rocks as a tomb for his love Pyrene, who had died in one of the area’s forests after being bitten by a snake. While a romantic story, the Pyrenees are much more than a mausoleum and a symbol of mythic love – they are also the birthplace of Basque culture and a disputed border between Spain and France, a place crisscrossed by Roman roads and sprinkled with Roman architecture, a key point in the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) and a legendary land for the Catalans.
Perhaps more importantly, beyond the region’s stories and legends, and in between its beautiful mountains, forests, rivers and lakes, we find an equally rich culinary culture that consists of shepherds, farmers and humble artisans who produce all kinds of edible treasures in a still pristine natural environment.
“We always thought it was a pity that products from the Pyrenees never come down to Barcelona,” explains Diana Capdevilla, one of three owners of Pirineu en Boca (“Pyrenees in the Mouth”), a restaurant-shop in Barcelona’s L’Eixample district. This multipurpose spot – it houses a butcher, charcuterie, a take-away service and a pretty restaurant with an indoor patio – was created to bring all of the region’s incredible organic, artisanal and natural products directly to the city, without intermediaries.
The idea was something that Diana and her husband Mauricio Fita, who was born in a Pyrenean village, had been percolating for some time. (For the past 17 years, the two have owned La Llavors del Origens, a restaurant-shop with two locations in Barcelona that specializes in traditional and hyper-local Catalan cuisine.) But the project only came to fruition when they connected with the Barcelonan butcher Jaume Graell, who would become their partner.
“We always thought it was a pity that products from the Pyrenees never come down to Barcelona.”
“We found the right venue in Barcelona, but kept it closed for one year to develop the project,” says Diana. “We started to travel around all the Pyrenees, Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra, Basque Country and Midi Pyrénées (the French side of the mountain range), the French Basque Country and Languedoc, searching for and contacting producers.”
It was an intense process to find and select all the different cookies, marmalades, yogurts, honeys, wines, vinegars, ciders, beers and amazing cheeses with PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) recognition. Even harder still, and where Jaume’s expertise and connections came in handy, was sourcing meat – Pirineu en Boca’s specialty – from different mountain hamlets, with a focus on free-range cows, pigs, sheep and chicken. In total, they work directly with around 70 producers.
But Pirineu en Boca does not just pay homage to the Pyrenees with their products – the interiors are also a tribute to the Herculean mausoleum. Consisting of mainly natural materials like wood, slate and iron, the restaurant-shop gives the feeling of a refreshing escape from the city, with lots of plants punctuated by evocative stone sculptures and traditional village objects, as well as reproductions of Roman murals on the walls.
In this atmosphere, guests can choose from a menu of tapas and sharing plates or a menu of meat and fish mains. Another option is to go to the butcher in the shop and select the piece of meat that you want to be cooked by the kitchen team – for the price of the meat by weight plus a supplement of 9 euros, it comes out perfectly cooked, served on a hot iron and with a side of a salad or a soup.
We went with the specialty – beef – and ordered a traditional cut called falso filete, which comes from the outer edges of a Bruna cow’s sirloin, grilled. While we were slicing through the tender meat, which had been grilled to rosy, juicy perfection, dressed simply with some salt from Basque Country and accompanied by a few baked potatoes with parsley, we saw other dishes flying out of the kitchen; the grilled pork loin of a Latón de la Fueva pig, served with rice and caramelized pears, caught our eye.
But not everything here is meat. We also had a succulent eggplant stuffed with minced carrots, onions, parsley and sweet paprika, accompanied by a salad dressed with a divine seasonal citrus vinaigrette made of oranges, lemons, apples, pomegranates and some honey and mustard. For dessert, they have artisanal cakes and exclusive mountain dairy products, like Pyrenean ice creams and yogurts. Their love for the Pyrenees can really be tasted from start to finish.