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An old star from the previous century still shines brightly in Port Vell. Renovated in 1992 and again in 2016, La Estrella 1924 is a classic restaurant that serves simple, refined Catalan dishes, thoughtfully prepared from quality local products.  The atmosphere is formal but relaxed, quiet and friendly, and time is kept by the discreet sounding of the clocks hanging upon the wall. It feels like eating in someone’s home – and, in a way, it is.

Josefa Chiquillo, great-grandmother of the current owner, Jordi Baidal, opened La Estrella in 1920 as a kind of travelers’ inn, located in the Born neighborhood near the old train station Estació de França. In 1924, Chiquillo cooked her first meal for guests, turning the place into a restaurant, which she called Casa de Comidas y Fonda La Estrella. Innumerable events have changed and shaped Barcelona since then, including the Spanish Civil War, a dictatorship, democracy’s return, the Olympics of 1992, (the impetus for the restaurant’s previous renovation) and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. And yet La Estrella (“The Star”) still shines brightly, growing and ushering in a new era of contemporary culinary excellence.

The current menu, created by Jordi and his wife and head chef, Josefa Villada (known as Pepi), is short and polished, combining iconic old dishes with new seasonal creations. “Classic cuisine could be as relevant as any avant-garde cuisine – it is the root [of modern cuisine],” says Jordi.

La Estrella only works with high quality seasonal local products (mainly Catalan): fish, meat or vegetables, often sourced directly from organic farms nearby. “Now we are also in contact with a, organic meat farm from Girona and we want to make them known,” says Jordi. “We also work with producers from [nearby regions] Pla de Bagés, El Penedés, and the Ebro Delta [in Tarragona province], were we have a lot of friends and from where we source many wonderful products: prawns, scampi or the delicious small mussels called clòtxinas.” The latter are tasty, small mussels similar to the French bouchot, also common in the Valencian Community region.

The idea at La Estrella 1924, as Jordi explains to us, is to “Work with products that might seem basic, but which are also special or unique and recognized for their quality – though not necessarily with an official protected designation of origin label; sometimes, you don’t need it! There are other products around that are equally as magnificent or even better. [By using these local products], we benefit both the producer and our customers, who also pay less!”

The maestra who creates magic in the kitchen with these precious ingredients is Pepi, who studied high cuisine and patisserie at the famous Hofmann Culinary School of Barcelona. Working alongside her is their son, Pau, who is currently studying business management and cuisine.

La Estrella’s menu has strong Catalan roots with a classic European touch, and includes many of the iconic dishes that first attracted devoted customers decades ago. Some of the mainstays include confit veal cheeks, cooked slowly for twenty hours until the meat falls off the bone; the Iberian pig trotters with seasonal mushrooms; or the unexpected ancient house recipe of marinated reindeer carpaccio, slightly smoked, served with parmesan cheese and boletus edulis mushrooms. The codfish dishes are also staples on the menu: take one of the oldest dishes, codfish filled with homemade foie gras and Oporto sauce, or the bestseller, codfish gratin with romescu sauce.

Cured codfish is one of the flagship products that has been present at La Estrella 1924 since the beginning, and the multigenerational owners are now experts on the product. They only work with the Catalan bacallaners Perelló 1898, another local establishment with four generations behind it, purchasing only the tasty loin piece called morro – the best cut. Salted cod in a product with long history in Spanish cuisine and hundreds of different traditional cod recipes exist. “One of the great successes of the house is the codfish,” Jordi explains proudly. “I’m the fourth generation working with codfish and we know it very well. And after all this experience we developed our own technics for its cooking. We cook it in different ways depending on what we are looking for. The central piece of codfish is always the same, and then we look for more or less contrast, more powerful or softer flavors depending on the dish.

One codfish dish we loved was a seasonal menu item made with a fantastic cod morro cooked at low temperature in a roasted tomato sauce. An extremely simple recipe, it doesn’t require anything more than the high-quality ingredients and the expert hand of Pepi to bring out an incredible concentrated taste and perfect texture.

We also enjoyed a wild salmon tartar with grated summer truffle on a crispy brioche, a spectacular contrast of textures and flavors. This lesser-known summer truffle, black on the outside and white inside, is found in the high Mediterranean forests. At La Estrella, it also makes an appearance atop a coca (a flatbread similar to a focaccia) of local white eggplant finished with an Italian scamorza cheese that adds a touch of smokiness.

Although La Estrella is not a paella restaurant, they also offer excellent seasonal rice dishes in a variety of different styles. Here, Jordi takes old recipes from the family’s collection, updated to match the contemporary quality and style of the restaurant. To finish, the desserts are another can’t-miss specialty of Pepi’s, like her bestselling fondant soufflé.

Like an aged cheese or cellared wine, La Estrella 1924 has only gotten better with time. We can’t wait to see what the future brings.

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Published on August 22, 2023

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