Denassus can be found in a narrow space on Blai Street in Barcelona’s Poble Sec neighborhood. Here, the bar occupies nearly half the room, with little tables lining the other side. Upon entry, we are greeted by the jubilant god of wine himself: the giant face of Bacchus, covered in grapes, looks down on us from the wall above. He presides over the scene: a warm, relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy natural wines and thoughtful dishes.
It’s not easy to find a place that blends quality and fair prices, tradition and modernity, identity and open vision, all into one easy-going style. Denassus has this touch. Here, you can find the typical tapas patatas bravas, Iberian ham, cheese boards and oysters, as well as some international basics like ceviche, steak tartar or aromatic grilled leeks marinated with citrus and agave. There are also heavier Catalan and Spanish traditional dishes like fricandó (beef filets with saint George mushrooms), calamares with delicate stir fried Santa Pau beans, or the ultra-famous, old school callos (a stew of aromatic, spicy tripe). For even bigger appetites (or to share), there is a grilled txuletón (Basque-style rib-eye steak, matured 45 days and weighing in at about one kilo), or a magnificent selection of grilled fish, from scorpion fish to whole turbot.
“De nassus” is, in fact, a Catalan expression (in Spanish, “de narices”) literally meaning “of noses,” used to indicate that something is going in the right direction, or is really good. Opened in August 2019, this little wine and tapas bar is the result of a long friendship between Sergi Ruiz and Alejo Mailan, who met in 2011 as student sommeliers. Before Denassus, Sergi made a name for himself as the best sommelier of Catalunya 2014 in the Spanish contest Nariz de Oro (“Nose of Gold”) and Alejo worked as director of the already classic Bar del Pla, another fantastic gourmand tapas bar in the city.
“We learned a lot from owners of Bar del Pla,” Sergi tells us on our last visit to Denassus. He and Alejo spent many hours together at Bar del Pla, where they started to give shape to their current project. “We used to say: let’s open the place where we would love to go on our free day. A comfy place, relaxed, with easy conversation with the waiters, where, of course, you can also eat amazingly.” Sergi continues. “It was not easy to find the right place,” he remembers, but finally they found a classic Barcelona space – a long, narrow bar – on Blai, a very popular street full of bars with wine and tapas lovers passing by.
For Denassus, the pandemic was a break but not a stop, and from then the concept and commitment to quality just grew stronger. Sergi insists: “We like to work properly with local, seasonal products, focusing on short seasons that change frequently, with no intentions beyond to make good food. By that, I mean well prepared, but not super expensive.” Now in winter, for example, we find the sweet, delicate Maresme Tear Peas that we love so much, provided by Petrás, one of Barcelona’s great distributors of local products. The peas are lightly cooked and served with gelatinous cod tripe, which gives cohesion to the flavors, and the seductive aroma of black truffle, also in season in Catalonia. We also can’t miss the local artichokes from El Prat, another “seasonal must” in Barcelona. As spring inches closer, you will also find on the Denassus menu the famous white asparagus from Gavá.
The wine menu includes 150 names, with about 70 percent dedicated to biodynamic and natural wines. But there’s always a constant flow here of new bottles to try: “We are very alert to new, interesting wines, we like to taste and change”, Sergi says. There are also bottles here that form a fundamental part of Denassus: the house wine is literally one they made themselves, in collaboration with partner wineries around Catalunya. To make their natural white and orange wines, they work with Cal Xurriu in the El Penedés wine region. For their foamy cava, Celler Vell provides the facilities. The mistela, a sweet white wine made from grape juice with added alcohol, is prepared with another Penedés neighbor. And the Denassus team are also working on their next surprise, this time a red wine which will be made in the southern terroir of Montsant, Tarragona province. As wine lovers themselves, Sergi and Alejo look also in other directions and try to include some French wines in the menu too; at the end of the day, France was one of the pioneers of modern natural wine in Europe.
With so many choices of excellent food and drink, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed, but at Denassus, we know we are in good hands – Bacchus is here to watch over our conscience and make sure we choose the right wine to pair with our chosen dishes. Or we can also ask the waiters, always available to give us a friendly nudge in the right direction, or – as the restaurant’s name suggests – we can just follow our nose.
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Published on March 01, 2023