With the advent of internationally renowned chefs and restaurants such as Ferran Adrià and El Celler de Can Roca, Spanish food has evolved almost beyond recognition in the last 5-10 years. While we’d be the first to praise the culinary revolution that’s come about as a result of this, there’s definitely also a special place reserved in our hearts for more traditional cuisine, too.
El Jardi de l’Apat falls squarely into this category. Located in the residential lanes winding up round the back of the Alfons X metro stop, it’s not far from Parc Güell or Gràcia in terms of distance, but is a million miles from either in terms of atmosphere.
The restaurant is decorated in a way that is, to put it politely, somewhat rustic – complete with garden gnomes and stag’s heads on the walls. You won’t find any drinks served in jam-jars, cakes under glass bowls, or any other of the accoutrements so popular in modern restaurants here, but you will find two large terrace areas, filled with luscious trees and foliage.
In fact, the terraces are one of the main attractions that pull visitors to El Jardi de l’Apat, as they make the restaurant a great place to bring large groups of friends or family, particularly if you’re celebrating something special. The majority of the outdoor space is covered, so no need to cancel your plans if it rains! There’s also an indoor dining room, but the best seats in the house are clearly the ones outside. Although most of the views of the city are obscured, the fact that El Jardi de l’Apat is located quite far up the hills round the back of Barcelona makes this a pleasantly pollution-free space.
Now you’re comfortably seated, over to the most important part of the experience: the food. Personally, I find “traditional Spanish cuisine” can sometimes be over-romanticised to the disadvantage of its (often more deserving) modern counterpart. That said, even my cynical, nostalgia-free heart failed to find fault with El Jardi de l’Apat’s menu, which contains a wide selection of simpler and more adventurous traditional dishes, from wild boar stew to toadstool crêpes with foie shavings.
One of the house specialities is “cargols a la llauna”, a dish made from snails which is an important feature in Catalan cuisine. This was one of the starters we ordered (along with some decent if unremarkable patatas bravas), and the homemade sauce and generous portion size made this a dish definitely worth trying if snails are the kind of thing that floats your boat.
A main of venison with berry and port sauce was a great match of flavours and textures, mixing juicy game with acid and a touch of sweetness. We also ordered a torrada (toasted bread), with goat’s cheese, walnuts and honey on top. All washed down with quantities of pa amb tomàquet, the tomato bread Catalonia is so famous for and which you’ll find in any decent restaurant here.
The other main house speciality is its calçotades (take a look here if you’re not sure what a calçotada is). So if you were looking for that special place to celebrate a calçotada in Barcelona and welcome in the spring with friends, family or work colleagues, you may just have found it. Prices are set at just over €30 per head, which is not cheap, but bear in mind that everything is included, from drinks and dessert to a mixed grill and, of course, plenty of calçots.
The waiting service was remarkably friendly and cheerful. Perhaps this is what being located outside of the city centre does to people? We ended up paying €25 per head, but bearing in mind that we ordered a lot of food, I think we could have paid a lot less if we’d wanted to. Given the generous quantities and the quality of the ingredients used, it is definitely a very reasonable restaurant, if not cheap exactly. Mains cost around €10 each.
El Jardi de l’Apat misses being a more highly starred restaurant due to the presentation of these dishes, which (although it is not by any means sloppy) could be somewhat more sophisticated. This is not fine dining, but with good food and large groups of friends all around, does it need to be? If the owners wanted to take it up a notch, all it would take is the most superficial of makeovers, but in doing I suspect the prices would also go up a star or two, so perhaps it’s best for all of us that they don’t.
I’d have no hesitation in recommending El Jardi de l’Apat on account of its food, which is traditional yet varied, its attentive service or attractive outdoor area. That said, given its size and general atmosphere, the greatest advantage El Jardi de l’Apat offers is actually one which will require you to bring a certain amount to the table yourself: a space in which to enjoy breaking bread with a large group of your most loved family or friends.
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