Vegetables often get short shrift at restaurants – greens, legumes and tubers are relegated to the same tired side dishes, or just one component of many in a generic main, subsumed by the dish’s other ingredients.
Not so at GatBlau (literally BlueCat in Catalan), located in the Left Eixample. This restaurant is a shrine to vegetables, showing them anew in all their complexity. Here, the personality of a parsnip, a kohlrabi or any other delicious weirdo from the garden is taken to the next level, refashioned into carpaccio, cake or even rillettes.
In 2010, after working in several Catalan restaurants that favored a more conventional and traditional cooking style, Pere Carrion, GatBlau’s co-owner, felt that his professional life was going in the wrong direction. “You could call suppliers at 2 a.m. and the next morning you’d have any ingredient you want in the restaurant. It doesn’t matter what you need, the season or where it comes from,” he explains. This was in stark contrast to his personal food consumption – every Wednesday he was buying a box of seasonal organic vegetables from a cooperative.
At that time, Barcelona was home to only a few restaurants that specialized in vegetarian or organic cuisine, and were also affordable and popular. “Nobody thought that a good top restaurant should also be conscious with their products,” says Pere. “So I thought that this connection would be basically impossible.”
They serve up almost exclusively organic products – not just vegetables but also meat and fish, although they are used sparingly.
Sometimes, though, a few words from the most unexpected person can change the course of one’s life. That’s what happened to Pere: “The first person who opened my eyes was Pep Montserrat, the director of Barcelona Botanic Garden, a personal friend of my father’s. He told me, when nobody was really talking about Km0 [a Slow Food designation for food that has been locally grown and produced], ‘What you have to do is a restaurant fed only with products from 50 km around.’ I told him, ‘This is impossible!’”
Yet Pere started to research and almost immediately discovered (and joined) the Slow Food movement in Barcelona. In 2011, Pere and his new business partner, Jo Mestres, open GatBlau in line with the sustainable philosophy they share. In 2013, the restaurant was certified as Km0, and in 2015, they moved to their current location, very close to the intersection of Gran Via and Urgell – an area that combines residential and business life. In this open space, with its natural colors and easygoing atmosphere, they serve up almost exclusively organic products – not just vegetables but also meat and fish, although they are used sparingly.
Over the last four years, GatBlau has matured, developing Pere’s personal Km0 philosophy, which resulted in good food, into a higher gastronomic concept: creating dishes that spotlight one seasonal vegetable in all its unique glory, supported by a cast of other vegetables and products. They landed on an ever-changing menu of 16 dishes, half of which are completely vegetarian while the other half feature veggies mixed with dairy, fish or meat.
Lunchtime is always busy for restaurants in Barcelona, but that’s especially true for those located in commercial areas like the Eixample. GatBlau’s “Eco2” lunch (ecologic and economic, priced around €14) has been so successful over the past few years that they also began offering a complementary “Gastronomic” menu that has more sophisticated and creative dishes for bit more money.
The cuisine at GatBlau is strongly rooted in the Catalan and Mediterranean traditions, with a few international touches. Some of their creations mix land and sea vegetables, including a green hummus made of chickpeas and algae, and fresh Ganxet beans with mushrooms and algae from Portomuiños in Galicia. Sometimes they get creative with traditional meat dishes, like their fennel fricandó (originally a stew of thin beef filets with St. George’s mushrooms) and parsnip rillettes with Marcona almonds, where the grated parsnip is confited in Marcona almond oil and then torn apart to create the same texture of the meat in a rilletes.
On a recent visit, we loved their creamy and luscious gnocchi made of sweet potato and served with aromatic rossinyols (Cantharellus cibarius, a mushroom that is very common in Catalonia) and a chestnut pesto that gets its zing from a subtle touch of garlic. The dish is crowned with a few thin shavings of Gran Reixagó cheese (made from artisan Catalan raw cow’s milk and aged for 24 months), which adds both acidity and intensity. A similarly powerful dish is their flavorful squash escalivada (Catalan for roasted and peeled), served with barbecue sauce and caramelized squash seeds, which give a crispy touch to balance the creamy texture of the squash.
Vegetables are having a moment, gaining new importance on our tables and in our restaurants. At GatBlau, Pere Carrion and Jo Mestres are giving shape and color to this new gastronomic world full of delightful vegetable characters.