Sometimes you go to places with lots of expectations, and get disappointed. Other times you go with no expectations, and you get pleasantly surprised.
In this case, I tried going with an open mind because this restaurant seemed to have good reviews, but they had also relocated to this location recently. So that tends to unsettle things a bit sometimes.
I wonder if that’s why we got the somewhat awkward experience we got.
As in, the food was great, don’t get me wrong, it was so delicious and well executed—totally worth as many Michelin stars as they have and perhaps more. A beautiful room, beautiful crockery. But then, the rest was weird.
There were odd things happening, like providing whimsical reasons for not offering a wine pairing, inexplicable gaps between dishes, and in general—the feeling that something was missing. Did we say something wrong and upset the maitre d’? Is that why no one looks at us? Did we miss some instructions? Have we been unintentionally rude to someone? Why are we alone in this room? How can we pay? Do we just leave? Etc.
If you like metaphorical car-crashes of restaurant experiences, you’re in for a bit of a ride. Hold on to your seat!
We arrived exactly on time for our reservation, and were welcomed in a very formal manner on the ground floor, and guided upstairs.
The person explained us that they had restored the townhouse but preserved as many elements as possible, and so some of the steps were uneven, so we should be careful.
I thought “maybe it’s worth warning us about that before we step on the stairs”, but OK.
At the landing, she halted in front of three closed doors without glass panes, which presented no indication as to what’s behind each of them. We were really not understanding what to expect or do already.
Then she pointed to the one to the right and said it was were the toilets were. And proceeded to open the middle one. This opened into a big living room where the considerably tall ceiling was decorated with lots of curry plants upside down. There were four big tables on it, one on each corner of the room.
She pointed towards the one on the left, and we sat at that one. She then asked what would we like to drink, offering us some house vermouths, etc. So we ordered those, as it was quite hot outside and it would be nice to cool down before getting to actually eating. So she took note (we thought) and left.
Promptly after, another person arrived and announced he’d be our waiter for the lunch, and asked if we’d like the descriptions of the menu in English or in Spanish. Since we had ordered a long tasting menu and I didn’t really feel like doing the translation service, and since they also were offering to translate for us, I suggested to go for English, as that way I could just focus on the eating rather than the eating and translating.
He reminded us that we had chosen the long tasting menu, which was named in honour of a character from Blasco Ibáñez’s “Cañas y Barro” which dies after eating a lot. I felt a bit judged, but OK. We confirmed that it was what we had chosen.
We asked if we could have the wine pairing that the website said was available. He advised against it, because it could be really “a lot”, as there were a lot of dishes in this menu.
And I thought “then serve less quantities of wine? you don’t need to fill the glass? and we don’t need to drink the full glass?“.
And he added that it was best if the sommelier suggested a glass of wine from time to time.
The questions kept coming to my brain: “so why do you say that wine pairing is available, and why do you have a sommelier?”.
At the end we just trusted him because we expected he’d know best as he works there, but my internal dialogue was brimming with questions!
Then he left. A short while after, they brought us these amuse bouche thingies.
Which we happily ate, because we thought this was The Beginning Of A Great Lunch! Bring it on!
And then we waited.
For 15 minutes.
In which nothing happened, except for the bit where they brought water to our table. But there was no sign of our vermouths. In fact, no sign of much else.
After about 7 minutes, I started looking at the four waiters who were hanging out in another of the rooms on the other side of this room, chatting amongst themselves. I wondered if maybe I could grab the attention of someone and ask for our drinks again. Or maybe they would notice that we were sitting at a big empty table with two glasses of water, we had already admired all there was to admire from our corner of the room, and we were starting to get bored and uneasy because nothing was happening in our table.
Or maybe we had missed something. We had asked for the vermouths, hadn’t we? Had it happened? Was it a dream? Is it that they didn’t like speaking in English to us? They knew I could speak Spanish too, as I had already spoken to them in Spanish, right?
The waiters would bring things to other tables. I tried getting their attention on their way back. But they always looked away. It was as if they were deliberately trying to not make eye contact, ever.
It was really frustrating because you want to be a good guest, being chill, not disturbing the other guests by making wild gestures or walking towards their table or wandering around the room to capture the waiters’ attention, but at the same time you’re wondering if this is going to keep going for much longer, and why did you bother being on time when they didn’t seem to be ready for us? etc. But I managed to restrain myself, and wait for longer.
The most infuriating fact, the absolutely most infuriating fact, is that the two jars of “home made” vermouth were just in front of us, in plain eye-sight. I started wondering if they were self-service? As if it was a hotel breakfast buffet?
This is what boredom does.
And suddenly, after those 15 agonising minutes, a battalion of waiters marched towards our table and started placing variously shaped little pedestals on the table, and placing various and distinct vessels with more amuse-bouches on them.
Then one of them started pointing at the vessels and explaining what each of these were, which felt quite overwhelming after 15 minutes of tension and nothingness… Am I really meant to remember what each of these small things is now?
I just tried to listen as much as I could, but inevitably my mind was just focused on trying to spot that brief moment of silence before she would turn around and leave and then… ask! quickly!
“I really don’t know if you’re the right person to ask but… we ordered some vermouths when we arrived and… we haven’t got them… I don’t know if it’s the sommelier that has to bring them? Maybe once he’s not busy he could do it…? If it’s OK… Or, well, I really don’t know who has to do it… But if you don’t mind…”
Now that I write this I feel this was really ridiculous: going to a restaurant and begging the front of house for the drinks we ordered 15+ minutes ago, and worrying that I was doing something wrong, or worse, that I had already done something wrong!
But a couple of minutes later, ta-da! Our drink was finally here. FI-NA-LLY. (There was no apology).
And the food: was it nice? It was very nice. Very unexpected, very delicate, well executed, tasteful, full of freshness. Some restaurants have an uncanny ability to bloat guests to oblivion when they take the tasting menu, but this one didn’t, as there were plenty of vegetables, even of the seaweed variety!
Some of the amuse-bouches were super pretty, like this one:
We then got some bread over which they poured olive oil (I think the waiter said it was from Viver, in Castellón).
The bread prompted me to have a few moments of deep reflection.
I suppose I was calming down now that things seemed to maybe go back to a somehow normal lunch in a restaurant. Or maybe it was that there was another bit of a gap, so I had nothing better to do than to reflect. Reflect or eat all of the bread.
But the summary of my thoughts was: in this day and age, with all the coronavirus scares still going around, the idea of asking guests to handle food with their bare hands when the way from the bathroom (to wash your hands) to the dining room involves touching various handles that aren’t visibly sanitised, and yet not providing hand sanitiser at the table could be described with anything in between “not very tactful” to “entirely tone deaf”.
It is also bread that is drenched with oil, so if you don’t want oily hands then either you lick your fingers (not “classy” in public, and also not appropriate when you don’t want to catch viruses) or you wipe your hands with something. But the only thing you have is the cloth napkin that is sitting on your lap. Because the tables don’t even have table cloth. So then you run the risk of transferring some of the oil to your clothes.
In short: impractical.
But, let’s try to be positive!
There were other pretty and delicious things:
I liked the seaweed and the sauce here – it went very well with the delicate fish:
A sort of seaweed spaghetti!
And more seaweed! This dish felt very nautical.
Including the cutlery. Very organic!
At this point I decided to take a break, and went to the bathroom.
Strictly speaking, I did not NEED to go to the bathroom but I needed SOMETHING to happen, given that there was another of those gaps between dishes where nothing was happening, and I was getting very fidgety.
It had been an hour and a half since we first sat down and I just could not bear it anymore. I had tried to rock in the chair since it had some sort of castors, but there’s only so much you can play with that before you start looking slightly deranged.
We’re talking about 10+ minutes between smallish dishes.
My only explanation is that they expected us to take longer to eat. And so were timing the dishes with long gaps. Or maybe they were super busy and that’s why it took so long.
Half the guests in another table had to leave before their lunch was finished; I suppose they had also expected a speedier lunch.
More dishes followed. The sommelier would approach our table from time to time and recommend one wine, by the glass (so there wasn’t a wine pairing, but they were happy to do this not-pairing-pairing 🤨).
The problem with this plan is that each dish was quite different from the next one, so the wine that paired with dish N would not pair well with dish N+1, let alone dish N+2. So we had suboptimal pairing: it worked just 33% of the time.
This one was an explosion of ONION in every possible way. Very bold, but good.
I think this was a refreshing “palate cleanser”, but I can’t really remember.
All I know is that when the desserts time came we thought it would be nice to get the attention of the sommelier to maybe get some dessert wine. It definitely existed, because some tables had got it (We heard it! We saw it!).
We hoped we could finish on a high note. Maybe this was the moment where everything was mended and we became super fans of the restaurant!
Then this ice-cream with biscuit arrived – it was very nice. Lots of unexpected flavours (salty! sweet! spicy!).
And then there was another really inexplicable gap while we just looked at the empty plate, and truly contemplated the possibility that this ice cream was the last thing we’d eat here.
Of course we hadn’t got the attention of the sommelier either, so what was the point of a dessert wine now?
Since we still hadn’t established with certainty if the waiters hated us, we did not know if we would get those second dessert-looking dishes that other tables had got. We were also alone in the room by then. Only the two of us sitting on the corner of the vast, empty and eerie room with the curry plants on the ceiling (thankfully they seemed to have been treated somehow, because I could not smell their normally pungent scent).
It was quite unnerving…
It had been three hours and I wanted to put an end to it. We had been on time, we had done our duty as guests, eating and drinking and treating staff respectfully, and still it was not over.
We could hear shuffling and murmurs coming from another room as the waiters chatted amongst themselves, but we didn’t know what to do.
Were they watching us with CCTV? Was this a sort of reality show to test our patience? A social experiment?
Should we walk up to them so we could get the bill and put an end to this torture? Or would they think we just want to leave without paying if they saw us standing up?
Or… would anyone notice?
Even more… would anyone care?
Did they even remember we were there?
A waiter appeared with this. Which was quite fun as the oranges would burst with liqueur when you bit into them, but frankly, I was just not in the mood anymore. I wanted to leave.
So we ate the thing, and we were back to the sight of an empty room.
At some point the front of house walked into the room and asked if we would like a coffee. “For the love of god, NO!”, a voice screamed in my inside. All I wanted was to get the bill.
“PLEASE BRING ME THE BILL I BEG YOU!!!!!!!”
said shouted the voice in my head.
And finally we could pay and be free to roam the earth again. AT LAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!
👵🏼 I felt like I aged a couple of years in that restaurant! 👵🏼
It’s extraordinary food, but I do not think I’ll come back.
And I still don’t understand what was happening. We talked it through, as if we had just been part of some sort of art performance (“did you notice when…? did you also feel that…? how would you interpret when he said…?”)
We certainly felt unwelcome. Was it because we asked to speak in English? Was it that we were making them work for such a long period of time, finishing at 17h? Surely they wanted to go home on time and that’s why they hated us from the beginning. But when we went downstairs, there was a lot of people in the terrace. So it’s not like we were keeping the restaurant open against their wishes.
But also, if you don’t want to be open until 17h, maybe don’t offer the long tasting menu starting at 14h?
Or maybe be faster so we don’t have such gaps. OR hire more staff.
Or maybe it would have been easier if we had got the drinks to start with and/or the waiters weren’t so evasive.
Or, maybe, I don’t know, don’t open a restaurant if you’re going to run it like this 🤪
As I said above, we did our part, arriving on time, eating promptly, being polite. We even wanted to spend MORE money with the wine pairing and with the dessert wine, and they did not want us to spend it!
Inexplicable. WEIRD. 🤷🏻♀️
I have been looking at various reviews of the restaurant elsewhere. My consolation is that they’re slow and weird and distant with other people. Which confirms that WE ARE FINE. It’s them!!! We’re still nice people.
Here’s their address, just in case you suddenly become rich and want to gamble your money on maybe having a good experience or maybe not. Exciting!
La salita https://www.anarkiagroup.com/inicio/la-salita
C/ Pere III El Gran, 11B
If you visit, please leave a comment telling me how it went! I’m curious! 🍿
Here’s a final picture of the floor. I spent a lot of time looking at the floor.