I still remember my first visit to the restaurant Gresca about 12 years ago. I must have been alone in the dining room, or almost.
I forget what I ate that day, with the exception of one dish of sliced octopus with a black pudding cream shaped like a domed tile, with a colourful brunoise of pickled vegetables that showed, beyond any imperfections that there may have been with the menu, a clear desire to plate with a certain originality. Sometimes, just a couple of details are all that is needed to recognize potential talent.
The stint that Rafa Peña did at elBulli, at the beginning of the 2000s, does not seem to have made much of an impression on him, at least not at first glance. Some stagiaires insist on immediately reproducing the techniques they learned; others, like Rafa, took it to be a culinary experience based on an exceptional method and a work discipline that always, whether you like it or not, leave a mark.
Over the years, Gresca’s cuisine has become more refined, shifting towards a new vision of modern Catalonian cuisine which brings together its sometimes-French influences (the finesse and intensity of his dark, beef stock, which accompanies his sweetbreads, cheeks or poultry is spectacular) with the streamlined plating of Nordic cuisine, particularly evident in his starters.
A couple of years ago, Rafa Peña decided to shape this dual soul that comes through in his work – fine-dining that has great depth of flavour combined with his passion for bistro-style dishes – by opening Gresca Bar, a space which, in theory, was going to be a simple extension of his old establishment.
Success came instantly.
Gresca Gastro and Gresca Bar have now been differentiated to give diners a chance to enjoy them as they wish. It was a way of shedding the ‘bistronomy’ label, invented in 2004 by French journalist Sébastien Demorand, and that was applied for a while to his restaurant, thus slighting his effort to democratize haute-cuisine’s prices while still using tablecloths and Riedel glassware.
Today, the space is larger, has an open kitchen and comfortable bar, and a bustling, French neo-bistro atmosphere where natural wines (Rafa’s great passion) are especially important. Right next to it is the quietest part where the elegant tasting menus can be enjoyed. An indisputable synergy between the two spaces can be felt, and they are choc-a-bloc every day.
With no communications agency and just based on word of mouth, Gresca is the story of a slow but certain success. I am proud to have been able to contribute, for over a decade, to this small discovery, a usual meeting place for Barcelona locals, but also for foreigners in the know.
In any place in the world it would have a Michelin star, like Chateaubriand in Paris or Saint-John in London. Maybe it will come one day, but perhaps he won’t need it.
By Philippe Regol