Thursday, 15 January 2015

Eating at the Adriàs': Niño Viejo in Barcelona

A review of Niño Viejo, the Adrià brothers' Mexican taquería in Barcelona


Since the closure of top Spanish restaurant elBulli, celebrity chefs Albert and Ferran Adrià have ploughed their investments and expertise into a handful of new venues in the Paral.lel area of Barcelona. Their first city centre venture was tapas restaurant Tickets, and they've since opened Peruvian-Japanese Pakta, traditional taberna Bodega 500, fancy Mexican Hoja Santa and its more wallet-friendly neighbour, Niño Viejo. Cynics think this could be a collaboration with developers to add appeal to this area of Barcelona, but whatever the case, you can't deny these restaurants are bringing punters to this corner of the city.



My only previous experience of a 'celebrity' chef's restaurant was dining at Jamie's Italian in Oxford (hey, it was the first branch of Mr Oliver's chain), so I was understandably excited to try the Adrià brothers' dishes. Although I booked several weeks in advance, I could only snag a table for the earliest dinner slot, the guiri-friendly 8pm sitting. Niño Viejo is a pocket-sized place on a pedestrianised part of Avinguda de Mistral, accessed through pricier Hoja Santa. Taquerias traditionally serve tacos (hence the name), and as such are more informal than some Mexican restaurants: with it's neon 'Taqueria' sign, wipe-clean floral tablecloths and fun-but-simple decor, Niño Viejo is no exception.

Diners are presented with a short menu on a sheet of paper; choices are indicated by writing an amount in a box with the pencil proffered by the waiter. Our waiter for the evening was Italian, and what he lacked in Spanish skills he made up for in enthusiasm, offering to choose for us. When that failed, he made recommendations and attempted to explain the rather brief descriptions of dishes. The other waiting staff seemed a little less eccentric and a little more comprehensible, let's put it that way. With some guidance, we selected a number of dishes: everything but the tacos, quesadillas and tostadas (which make up a surprisingly small section of the menu) are apparently sized to share.

Linguistic difficulties seemingly out of the way, we sipped our drinks while we waited for our first dishes to arrive. J took one mouthful of his michelada, which had been described as a strong house beer, and pulled a face the Adrià brothers presumably don't often inspire: disgust. With spices garnishing the rim of the glass, the 'beer'  tasted like liquid curry and was soon rejected for a soft drink. Post-Micheladagate research shows that the michelada is actually a beer-based cocktail which is usually made with tomato juice, hot sauce and lime. No mention of curry powder, though.

Guacamole. Is that pestle necessary?


My white wine was a safer bet, and thankfully so was most of the food. While ordering, it came to light that J hates coriander: well done me for booking a Mexican restaurant. We started with guacamole, which was served in a mortar and garnished with both the avocado stone and a pestle: signature Adrià quirk on show. I later learnt the presence of the stone was to stop the guacamole from turning brown, but the pestle was entirely unnecessary as the dip was already prepared, especially when you're sitting on  table the size of a postage stamp. Presentation irks aside, it was wonderfully tasty, and the serving size generous (as you'd hope for €9.50). Presumably because avocado is an expensive ingredient, this was one of the priciest dishes on the menu: other items ranged from €2.50-14.80.

Ensalada de quelites

The menu is quite meaty, with the few fish dishes being a little unusual, from sea urchin to oysters. I opted for an octopus tostada, which was as delicious as it was diminutive, while J enjoyed his carnitas (pork) taco. Tacos, tostadas and quesadillas come with a selection of homemade salsas, some spicy, some less so. We also shared the queso fundido con rajas poblanasan Adrià spin on a traditional green chilli-based dish which was pretty damn tasty, with a great gooey texture thanks to the melted cheese. This one also came in a decent-sized portion (although if you were sharing between more than 2, you'd only be lucky enough to taste a couple of mouthfuls. I also sampled a baby corn salad, the ensalada de 'quelites', which was fresh and flavoursome.

Tequila macaroon




For me though, the best thing was the dessert. J tried a tequila-infused macaroon (€2.50), which came in the colours of the Mexican flag (not the Italian one, as someone thought... someone being me). It was a perfect macaroon, with a subtle flavour  a good one to pair with a post-dinner coffee. I opted for the chocolate ice cream in a corn cone, a bargain at €3.90. Admittedly not the easiest dessert to serve, it was presented proudly upright in an Ikea plant pot filled with chocolate chips. The overall result was pretty unusual (and I assumed you weren't meant to eat the chips), but the taste was excellent: a rich chocolate ice cream contrasting against the crunchy, slightly savoury corn cone.

Overall, I'd say Niño Viejo is a good introduction to the Adrià empire if you're on a budget and like Mexican food. If it's not really your thing, I'd give it a miss. I enjoyed the fun decor and the different flavours we tried; the small pick-and-mix menu allows diners to sample a good variety of dishes. I can't say I was stuffed at the end of the meal, unlike most Mexican experiences: what we ordered was just enough. The over-involved waiter did dampen our experience somewhat though. And what did the coriander-hater think? Well, the portions were too small, there was too much coriander in everything and the michelada was utterly disgusting and should be removed from the menu. So there you go.

The details
Niño Viejo is at 54 Avinguda de Mistral.
Tel: +34 933 482 194
Open Tues-Sat from 13.00-15.3- & 19.30-23.00
Booking well in advance advised.
We paid around €50 for dinner for 2.


2 comments :

  1. I loved micheladas while in Chile last year. I tried so many varieties: one had Tobasco and Worcester sauce with beer (lager) and lemon/lime juice. When made at home we put lemon juice around the rim and salt with "merkén", also known as "ají". No curry powder! Maybe the waiter was asked to make it...
    Restaurant sounds great though! I am going to try a new Mexican in one of the barrios next week, so I'll no doubt write up on it.

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    Replies
    1. That's interesting to know - I'd never even heard of them before! Suppose this could be the Niño viejo take on them... but the waiter should have known better than to say it was a house beer. At least, I THINK that's what he said...! Yeah it was good, quite different to others I've tried in the past. Let me know how the sevillano Mexican works out!

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