My Barcelonista friend was quite adamant. If I wanted to eat at Disfrutar on a Saturday night and without a reservation, then I had better meet him there at 8 pm, the Spanish equivalent of 5 pm elsewhere.
I arrived on the dot, to join a small queue of two English women waiting patiently outside the restaurant's closed glass frontage that offered an excellent view of Francesca Gallardo, its talented pastry chef, hard at work. I walked a few hundred metres to the Ninot market, listened to a band called Quartz, and watched numerous under-fives dance to their music as the shop shutters were pulled down for the weekend, before returning to Disfrutar.
Our luck was in. Because of our early arrival, there was space for two right by the counter and in between the front window and the front door, seats which offered us double the pleasure of the food and wines we were to enjoy. This was entirely due to the diligence of Huc Sanchón, Disfrutar's relaxed but extremely well-organised maître d', and the creative use of a difficult space made by chefs Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch.
From the restaurant's narrow frontage, it carries on at the same width until you are forced to turn left past areas that have now been converted into kitchens on either side, one for cold food, the other where all the hot dishes are prepared, after which the restaurant opens out into an area that has a full view of all the chefs. Beyond this, there is a spacious terrace for aperitifs and coffee.
The space has been designed so that customers wherever they are sitting see the chefs in action and this provides Sanchón with enough material to initiate a dialogue as he guides you to your table. Past the pastry counter is the wine cellar, as he explains, with tiles the colour of a Mirò painting, while past the kitchens there is a lot of blue on the walls to give the air of the seaside and particularly of Cadaqués, where this trio opened their first restaurant together.
The three chefs met together while cooking at El Bulli and then opened Compatir (meaning 'to share' in Catalan and Spanish) in Cadaqués that I reviewed very favourably in 2012. With Casañas still in charge of these kitchens, Castro and Xatruch opened Disfrutar, which means 'to enjoy' in Spanish, in December 2014.
While we certainly enjoyed everything that emanated from the kitchen, an added pleasure was watching Sanchón in action. He is a fluent linguist, switching from talking in Catalan to his staff to speaking English with his customers; he is highly mobile, switching from answering the phone, to gently telling the number of people who walked in after us without a reservation that most regrettably the restaurant was full; and he is full of enthusiasm for all that Castro and Xatruch have created, never losing his smile as he explained the layout of the restaurant while he showed every customer to their table. In a city where chefs are apparently not in short supply but there is an acute shortage of good waiting staff, Sanchón and his gifted sommelier, Rubén Pol, lead an exemplary team.
Like an increasing number of restaurants in this city seemingly overflowing with impressive restaurants, Disfrutar offers only a tasting menu, well, two in fact: one called Festival at €105, the other Grand Festival at €145. Partly owing to the pound's weakness and partly because the latter menu seemed to include too many meat dishes, we chose the Festival menu.
Our meal got off to an impressive start that owed only its edible element to Catalunya. In a dish that resembled half a coconut came a dish of local caviar topped with hot coconut water served with a glass of Mád Furmint 2015.
The sequence of dishes then appeared at an impressive pace. A dish of mango, tonka beans and whisky topped with salted and candied wet walnuts came with the explanation that the final ingredient came from Tarragona, as do the two chef/owners.
There then followed three even more dramatic dishes. First up, described on the menu simply as razor clams with seaweed in salt, was a tray with a dome of sea salt. This encased four razor clams that had been cooked 24 hours earlier with the seaweed and then covered in a plastic film to stop them getting too salty. They were sweet and delicious. Then came a gazpacho sandwich, which was precisely that: two halves of what looked like a cheddar filling inside slices of white bread that had taken on a pale pink hue. The bread was in fact a meringue, with the same texture as bread, but it was made from tomatoes encasing a solid gazpacho sorbet. Finally, there was a 'pasta' dish but one where the pasta was transparent and light. Ham stock had been made into tubes of macaroni, cooked very briefly, and then brought to the table where they were topped with a foam of carbonara sauce. We were instructed to mix the two together and enjoy the combination immediately, directly from the serving pan.
It is a risk only offering two tasting menus. But it is one, amazingly, that the whole team at Disfrutar seems to respond to.
Disfrutar c/Villarroel 163, Barcelona 08036; tel +34 93 348 68 96