In these days of mass refrigeration and icey cold drinks being available at every kiosk to cool us down on the sweltering days, it’s easy to forget that chilling food and refreshments was much more of a chore in bygone years. In a past incarnation El Sortidor supplied the neighbours of the Poble Sec barrio with ice for their refrigeration needs and the ice cabinets still in situ in the restaurant give testament to this fact. Situated on the Poble Sec plaça of the same name, this endearing restaurant makes dining there feel similar to starring in a French film noir. I was doing well at fitting into the role of a protagonist from that genre although my constant itching of my summer long succession of mosquito bites was something of a distraction from my personaje. Dinner, along with lunches and tapas which they also serve, can be enjoyed in these century old surroundings or taken on the terrace in the square outside. Or like my companion and I, you can sample a taste of both and finish your desserts, coffees and a strong cigarette at a small table in the evening air. The menu has a broad mix of Mediterranean influences with dishes from Spain, Italy and France making an appearance. We started with courgette flowers stuffed with bacalao salt cod paste and deep fried in breadcrumbs. These came with a dollop of guacomole on the side. Even my unartistic eye immediately noticed this was a nil point on presentation and although they’d been deep-fried just a little too long they thankfully more than made up for in flavour what they lost on first impressions. The guacomole was zingy and limey and was a surprisingly balanced accompaniment to the fried and salty courgettes.
Our other starter was a slice of foie which we lathered on mini toast crispbreads and piled up with French fig and chestnut jam which was so delicious we asked for a second helping. The foie was very well seasoned and a generous portion which left us without toasts at the end.
The waiter recommended, amongst others, the ‘Castell de Remei Gotim Bru’ which was rather delicious even to my uneducated wine palate.One thing I love about eating out in Barcelona is that’s it’s not frowned upon to order main courses and share them. As a variety of pastas features heavily on the menu we plumped for a dish of pappardelle with confit rabbit ragú and offset this with a main course of duck breast in honey and balsamic sauce with parmentier potatoes (a very smooth mashed potato purée) and mushrooms.
The fresh pasta papardelle had a lovely bite and a slathering of the rich tomato sauce which could’ve done with being a little less stingey on the rabbit. This was a hefty portion as well and we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom for not ordering two pasta dishes for the main course.
The duck breast, the brown side of pink, would’ve been improved with a slightly crispier skin, however the whole dish was wonderfully balanced and moreish if slightly composed of the shades used in my parents’ living room in the 70s.
Yet again a dessert got gobbled before the camera was whisked from its case, this time a simple, satiny white cinnamon ice cream which was superbly refreshing after the richness of the main courses. Our final dessert was, and remains, something of a mystery. Described as an almond and walnut tart it was slightly reminiscent of a very light bakewell tart with a layer of something akin to marshmallow through the middle. Despite my research I am slightly perplexed as to what this was. That said, the initially strange accompaniment of chocolate orange ice cream and berry coulis blended into a harmonious fruit and nut relationship.
The setting, ambiance, and pleasant, friendly service along with every dish pleasing us in some if not all ways left us departing contentedly. At 85€ for dinner for two El Sortidor is heading into the fine dining category yet at the same time left pretentions and stuffiness behind. As someone who struggles to make great food look good on the plate it galls me to criticise others for it, yet a touch more care with presentation would elevate them to high praise. In the meantime they continue to safeguard a piece of Poble Sec heritage and remind me often of the joys of easily procuring an chilled drink on a parched summer’s day.
El Sortidor, Plaça del Sortidor 5, Poble Sec