When we first step into Mitja Galta, a long line of matrons gaze down at us from the wall to our right. Lola, Antonia, María, Fina… the photos of these women, with their names written on them, are placed one right next to the other on a ledge. Together they watch the dishes served at the tables opposite them, like protective goddesses.
They are the mothers of the owners, team members and friends who contributed their favorite recipes last year for the restaurant’s special International Women’s Day menu, which ran over the course of a week in March (the holiday is celebrated on March 8). These personal variations on traditional dishes were named after their creators. “Clients were ordering, [saying] ‘I want a María’ or ‘I want a Fina!’ It was fantastic,” says Elisenda Castellón, one of the owners of Mitja Galta.
It was a fitting menu for a restaurant built to feel like an extension of home. Located on the border between Barcelona and Hospitalet, Mitja Galta is a modern take on the neighborhood restaurant. Elisenda and her partner, Xavi Insua, opened it in the wake of the financial crisis, after losing their jobs in architecture and banking.
The culinary inspiration for their venture came from their nephew Manel López, an equal partner in Mitja Galta and a professional chef who most recently was head chef at Jordi Herrera’s high-end spot Manairó. Many of the sophisticated techniques he used there are reproduced here, albeit adapted to their slightly more humble fare. “We were clear that we wanted to make neighborhood cuisine, but different,” Elisenda says, food that was elevated but still affordable.
Elisenda and Xavi manage the dining room, where the team cultivates a friendly and close relationship with clients, many of whom are neighbors and friends. “We wanted our dining room to look like a home,” says Elisenda, and it does, particularly with the many photos of their family and close friends.
While the mothers are the main characters of the first room, the second, inner room features a wall decorated with numerous family pictures – members of the team are shown with their relatives, and there are many childhood photos, most of them taken at parties or family meals. “All of them are authentic, they are our family and our team, our fathers, our mothers, our grandpas,” says Elisenda when she found us admiring a black-and-white photo of some couples dancing.
“We wanted our dining room to look like a home,” says Elisenda.
Most of the clients are regulars, coming here again and again, usually for lunch. From Tuesday to Friday they offer lunch specials – a variety of simpler dishes at affordable prices. For dinners and on Saturdays, the atmosphere shifts: The food, served in both individual and tapas plates, becomes more sophisticated and celebratory, and a long list of wines and drinks accompanies the menu.
“We cook what we like to eat,” says Elisenda, pointing out that they serve both traditional family recipes and international dishes, which they enjoy reinterpreting. “You might think that because we are in neighborhood like La Bordeta [in Sants], far away from the cosmopolitan center, people here would like more classic dishes. Not at all!” she adds. “[Our clients] are willing to try everything – our older customers have even tasted recipes that they never tasted before.”
These older customers, including Elisenda’s mother, are the only ones who still call this street “mitja galta,” or “half cheek,” an old way to describe an area that was urbanized on one side of the street but not the other. But it also refers to the restaurant straddling the border between Barcelona and Hospitalet, the next city over. “We are the first restaurant in Barcelona,” jokes Xavi, “if you come from the south.”
Not only did this term inspire the restaurant’s name, it also “gave us the chance to offer a fantastic dish that we love, which is beef cheek,” explains Elisenda. The Mitjagalta dish is one of the must-tries on their dinner menu, a beef cheek slow cooked for six hours with vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, leeks and onions) and wine. After the sauce is reduced, they add a bit of chocolate and butter, which makes the dish even more sumptuous. The cheek has a beautifully caramelized exterior and a soft, delicate interior.
In addition to Manel’s original recipes that blend Catalan and Spanish cuisine with international influences, the menu also features family recipes like Elisenda’s grandmother’s potaje. The stew has its origins in her grandmother’s hometown of Almería, a city in Spain’s Andalusia region whose cuisine features a heavy Moroccan influence. “It’s a dish that we’ve repeated many times, with beans, chard, a sofrito with paprika, and fried bread slices with vinegar, then served with very fine cod crumbs on top,” she says.
Recently for lunch we had another dish with roots in southern Spain: corn migas with grapes and sardines. Migas, a dish made of fried breadcrumbs, is very traditional in Spain and likely originated in Andalusia. The Almería version uses corn bread, and that’s what you’ll find at Mitja Galta – it’s a hearty dish that warms the stomach and brings up fond memories for many locals.
When it comes to dessert, we fell in love with their mango “eggs.” A plate of what could easily pass as fried eggs were in fact made of mango cream spheres (the yolks) and coconut milk with tapioca pearls (the whites), with the latter having a fantastic bubbling effect. It was refreshing, softly sweet, very perfumed and fun to eat – we dipped the lime bread into the creamy yolks, just like we would with actual fried eggs.
Elisenda is also very enthusiastic about the restaurant’s themed menus: “It’s a fantastic excuse to do things you normally can’t,” she says. In addition to last year’s International Women’s Day menu, they also did a special week for Sant Jordi’s Day (which is also World Book Day) in April.
This year they are preparing another very special menu for International Women’s Day. In the week leading up to March 8, “we will offer specials dedicated to the most important Catalan female chefs of our day,” Elisenda explains. “We will – very humbly – adapt recipes from the great Carme Ruscalleda, Fina Puigdevall and Ada Parellada for our weekly lunch menu, at a price of only €13.50.”
It won’t be as emotional as last year, but it will certainly amplify women’s voices, something we’re sure that all the mothers watching from their perch will be proud of.