Upscale (and lesser scale) in Barcelona & Madrid - Report

Here’s my summary of a recent trip to Barcelona & Madrid. On this trip we were (mostly) accompanied by a pair of ‘newbies’ to Spain, so we concentrated on visiting ‘old favourites’ and ‘greatest hits’ rather than exploring new places.

I’ve split the comments into ‘upscale’ and ‘lesser scale’.

I’ve ceased organizing pictures (I found it interfered with my enjoyment of meals) but in many cases there are already pictures posted elsewhere (many on this site).

A few general observations:

The Charles posted on his recent meal at Disfrutar (and many thanks Charles for the pictures). His ‘complaint’ was the 5 hour time the meal took. Our meal (for four) with the identical menu choice took just under 4 hours – maybe taking those pictures adds ‘more than a few’ minutes to the experience!

Elsewhere there was a discussion on ‘tear peas’ – after several experiences, our conclusion (unanimous) was that the ‘Zamora’ origin was our favourite, but the Maresme were still well worth trying!

And, at every place we tried, the restaurant was full. Attempted walk-ins, even at opening time were turned away. So, make those reservations.

First the upscale (in order of preference):

#1, 2 Disfrutar (Barcelona) and DiverXo (Madrid) tied.

Our ‘newbies’ definitely preferred Disfrutar, but we were forced to choose the same menu for the whole table so had some dishes repeated from previous visits (would have chosen the ‘seasonal’ menu if just us). Service at Disfrutar was exceptional, and their wine list seemed more solid on this visit compared with last time (2 years ago).

DiverXo was my favourite by a slim margin. They were aware of our visit two years ago and subbed in a number of dishes that were ‘in preparation’ for the new format they are preparing for their upcoming location change.

In summary, I think Disfrutar is my ‘favourite restaurant’. However, DiverXo has served my favourite ‘meal’ of the past 10 years.

If you can afford it – go to either (or both!). Assuming you can get a reservation – not an easy task.

#3 Enigma Concept (Barcelona) (but a large gap between this and the top two)

Seemed to be a parade of techniques, rather than a cohesive meal. Many ‘this was developed at El Bulli in 199X (or 200X)’ references. Not as enjoyable as the pre-Covid format (which had progressions from station to station). Also, a disappointing wine experience. I recognised very few producers on their Spanish list and was informed that many are very small producers that only supply Enigma. The sommelier did recommend some fine wines, but they did not necessarily match what I had requested (example I requested an Albariño from Rias Baixas with some time on the lees. His selection lacked the complexity of lees aging, albeit a pure example of Albariño (Eulogio Pomares, Parcelo en Aios – single vineyard, organic, cult winery)).

#4 Cocina Hermanos Torres (Barcelona)

The weakest (on many fronts). A VERY strong (attempted) upsell at the start for cocktails etc. When I asked about the wine pairings, they were VERY reluctant to identify them. Suggested that the selection could change depending on our reactions ‘along the way’.

I ordered from the wine list but allowed the sommelier to choose a dessert wine. I outlined parameters and was served an ‘interesting’ wine (Monovar Fondillon 50 Anos) – 47 euros for 50cl – I could (and should) have asked the price (that works out to over 700 euros per bottle) and left a slightly bitter taste in my final impression! Food was good but still at #4 even without the service issues.

And now the ‘lesser scale’:

#1, 2 Mont Bar (Barcelona) and Rafa (Madrid) tied (and maybe not coincidentally, both originally recommended by Maribel – MANY thanks).

Mont Bar has definitely moved more upscale. No longer a neighbourhood place, it deserves its Michelin promotion (although seems to have lost a bit of its charm in the process). Prices are higher, but the service, presentation and wine list have also moved up. Still a ‘must visit’ for us.

Rafa is no longer our Sunday evening ‘must’ – just a ‘must’! Sadly, no longer opens on Sunday evenings. We ate ‘early’ (8:30pm) so were able to snag their entire stock of Percebes (a special that day). Prices are ‘very fair’ and their wine list is still an absolute bargain – where we were able to compare, easily the lowest prices – other places were 50% higher.

#3 Gresca (Barcelona).

This now seems more casual than previously – even in the ‘restaurant’ side (tablecloths no longer). The wine list is also more pedestrian than before. I’m guessing that the success of the ‘bar’ side (with faster turnover) has encouraged that model. Still worth a visit, but less of a ‘destination’ now.

#4 Capet (Barcelona)

This WAS new to me – recommendation from Hungry Onion. Service was good but food mixed. Major issue was the temperature of the dishes (lukewarm, rather than hot). My diagnosis was that the kitchen had difficulty managing the delivery of four dishes simultaneously (there were 4 of us) – some were hot, but some less so – and this happened more than once. I might try again with just 2 people (or less).

#5 Dos Pebrots (Barcelona).

Open Sunday (a bonus) but service was inconsistent – servers were rushed as the place was slammed. We also had a ‘questionable’ wine served (copa) – ended up ordering a different wine (several glasses) but the server INSISTED the wine was fine – came from an “organic producer”! We never did consume that glass but the 6 euros remained on the bill. They also slopped several pours (from the other two bottles we ordered) on the table and never mopped either up for the entire meal. Food was much better than the service.

#6 La Bien Aparecida (Madrid) – sorry Maribel; I have to call them as I taste them!

Sunday in Madrid is a ‘challenge’ but the Calle de Jorge Juan is an exception – it was ‘buzzing’ and crammed. Accordingly, we were advised that we only had the table for 1 hour and 45 minutes. OK – except nobody appeared to take our order for 20 minutes (and I have allergies, which necessitated a change in our choice, as not all ingredients were listed).

We ordered the identical wine to that we had at Rafa – it cost 50% more!

But the issue here was the saltiness of three different dishes. This was the only occasion on this trip where saltiness was noticeable. And in 3 of the four savoury dishes.

Also, a few hours later, I had a reaction that I usually associate with MSG (and I perceive MSG as ‘saltiness’ – an issue that has occurred multiple times over the years). I don’t really believe that a place like this will add MSG, but still can’t explain the saltiness I perceived in 3 different dishes (clams; lamb; vegetables).


Hi estufarian,
Great report!

Now you have just taught me something new----I’ve always associated those extremely delicate tea pears, guisantes lágrima¨ first and foremost with the Basque Country coastal areas (around Getaria in Gipuzkoa & Arrieta in Bizkaia), and also with Sant Andreu de Llavaneras in the catalán Maresme, which the catalán chefs prefer.

While I´ve learned they’re now grown also around Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz (Paco Morales at Noor procures his from there) and now in Teo Galicia (served at Culler de Pau in season), and even now in the mountains of Jaén, I had no idea that farmers are growing them in Zamora.

I associated them only with damp, cooler coastal areas closer to the sea and not in Castilla-León.
Petramora, a company founded in Zamora, sells them but I thought they came from Kosta Aroa near Getaria.

Thanks so much for your honest feedback about La Bien Aparecida on Jorge Juan.

This “you only have the table for 1 hr 45 min”, unfortunately has crept into the practice of many “hot” Madrid restaurants these days. And it would have been especially annoying to have to wait 20 min. for someone to take your order.
We experienced this recently at the new “Varra Fina” on Hermosilla, another “it place to be”. 1 hr. 45 min. and it felt rushed.

Sunday night is a major challenge, now that Rafa has changed its hours. Lucky you for snagging all those percebes!
Sunday afternoon in Madrid, fairly easy, but Sunday night, not at all, now that Viridiana is permanently closed.
Maybe the new Tragabuches on Ortega & Gasset by Dani García for a taste of haute andaluz and Andalusian vinos generosos, (Equipo Navazos, etc.)

We find Dani’s Lobito de Mar on Jorge Juan ok for an aperitivo or small plates at the bar, but wine prices are higher than they need be, and there is a bit of “upselling” by the wait staff in the dining room. Nice rice dishes, though.

There’s also the haute Peruvian, Quispe, on Conde de Aranda in the Barrio de Salamanca, where we had an enjoyable lunch in its downstairs atrium garden. Come here for superior Peruvian Nikkei and Chifa cuisine and piscos, if you want something totally different.
We had our table for 2 hours, which was plenty, and no rushing us out had we extended that time. Attentive service.
Open Sunday nights.


Great Report, Estufarian!!
Brought back tons of fond and ’ pain-in-the-butt…and more ’ memories!
Glad you folks stayed away from those tainted Galician Oysters!! :joy: :crazy_face: