Lasarte opened in January 2006, a younger sister to Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian. It was given a Michelin star in its first year and a second star in 2009. It was awarded the ultimate third star in the 2017 guide, which was published in November 2016. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Monument Hotel, in an expensive shopping district of Barcelona.
The chef de cuisine is Paolo Casagrande, who has worked with Martin Berasategui for over a decade. There is an a la carte menu as well as two tasting menus, at €185 and €210. Starters were priced from €30 - €39, main courses €49 to €58, meat main courses €53 to €57 and desserts €25 - €34. The dining tables are unusually large and very well spaced out, covered with impeccably ironed white linen. As well as the main dining room, there is a private chefs table overlooking the kitchen.
The wine list had a quite extensive selection of references, with around 650 choices in all, and quite variable markups. For example there was Can Feixes Huguet Blanco Seleccio 2015 at €50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €12, Torres Mas la Plana 2011 at €90 compared to its retail price of €46, and Vega Sicilia Alion 1998 at €146 for a wine that will set you back €85 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Vega Sicilia Unico 1999 was an excessive €990 for a label whose current market price is €347, while Guigal La Mouline 2012 was €530 compared to its retail price of €271. Weirdly, the Guigal La Londonne 2012 was also priced at €530, despite being considerably pricier in a shop, currently retailing at €348.
The meal began with some nibbles. A twirl of tupinambur (Jerusalem artichoke) root was unusual, served along with “caviar” of beetroot and wasabi. The twirl was delicate, and went well with the beetroot. A tuile was topped with shrimp tartare and green curry cream, the tuile delicate. There was also a tempura of sea anemone with yuzu cream, which sounds rather weird but actually had excellent texture (18/20 nibbles). A further amuse bouche was a miniature version of a classic dish at Martin Berasategui, with eel, foie gras, apple and spring onion. This is a lovely dish, the apple cutting through the richness of the foie gras, the eel bringing its own distinct flavour to the party (18/20).
Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen. A selection of loaves included brioche, an Italian style bread, sourdough, baguette and multigrain. These were classy breads, the multigrain having an excellent crust, the brioche having lovely texture (18/20). Five different flavoured butters were served alongside the bread. A final nibble was a bowl of jalapeño cream with liquorice ice cream, and razor clam tartare with cucumber. This was surprisingly spicy, with good razor clam, the liquorice flavour mercifully subdued (17/20).
The first formal course of the menu was queen scallop with black garlic, girolle mushrooms, quail egg, a sliver of black truffle and cauliflower cream. The scallop had very little flavour, and although the other elements were very pleasant they could not rescue the dish given the limitations of the main element (15/20). This was followed by crayfish that had been steamed for a couple of minutes, served cold alongside cauliflower cream, sauce of the crayfish roe, swede, and lemon foam. The crayfish had nice flavour and went well with the earthiness of the cauliflower, and the acidity from the lemon foam provided balance (16/20).
Next was a salad that had within it a single piece of lobster and a sea snail, along with fennel and jelly of green tomato, lettuce cream and assorted herbs, vegetable leaves and petals. This looked pretty enough, but the vegetables had surprisingly ordinary flavour. It was a world away from the gargouillou at Bras, which perhaps inspired this dish (barely 15/20). This was followed by a dish called “truffle” but consisting of pigeon mousse, foie gras, fermented trompette mushroom along with mushroom foam, collard greens, girolles, olive oil and “black truffle water of Catalonia”. This was harmless enough, but given the appealing ingredients the dish brought less excitement than it promised, with little in the way of truffle flavour. Hence it mainly coming across as a mushroom dish enriched with some foie gras. Nice enough, but I was hoping for something more than this (15/20).
The next dish was slices of Iberian presa (a part of the loin where it meets the shoulder of the pig) on foie gras curd, tarama oyster and mustard ice cream. The meat was cut quite thick and was suitably marbled, and though the mustard ice cream was an interesting idea it needed more mustard bite, and I am not sure what the oyster brought to the dish (14/20).
This was followed by citric risotto, flavoured with a mix of grapefruit, orange lime and lemon. This came with cockles and sea urchin emulsion, paprika, lime zest and bottarga (grey mullet roe). The texture of the rice was fine, and there was some logic in the citrus flavour to balance the brininess of the sea urchin, though the latter’s flavour was quite subdued anyway. I was less sure about what the cockle and bottarga contributed (15/20). This was followed by a red prawn from Barcelona, on a broth of lobster, seaweed, fennel and coral mayonnaise. The prawn itself was good quality, but I really did not enjoy the broth, which to me had an oddly muddy flavour (14/20).
Next was a piece of grilled Dover sole, with octopus slices, pumpkin, saffron foam and a little barnacle “mariniere” sauce. The fish had been cooked sous vide and then finished a la plancha, yet somehow managed to be overcooked on arrival, which is a shame as I love the taste of this fish. The octopus was tender though what pumpkin was doing here in July was a puzzle to me, and its slightly sweet flavour was jarring. I am not sure what to score this dish but even if the fish had been better prepared I am not sure it would ever be more than a 15/20.
After this was cooked toro tuna belly, with kaffir lime, watercress and fennel. Tuna is a fish that I feel is always better raw than cooked, so although the fennel was quite nice and the lime was a logical acidic accompaniment, the tuna itself was rather wasted in my view, and was cooked longer than necessary (15/20).
Sea bass came with mantis shrimp foam, chard cream, and truffle and mussel mayonnaise. Sea bass is one of my favourite fish, though I am puzzled why in a fine dining restaurant the skin was not either crisp or removed entirely, rather than arriving soggy. The bass flesh at least was properly cooked and had good flavour, though the mantis shrimp flavour was rather lost at sea, and I was unconvinced by the mayonnaise (barely 15/20). The final savoury course was charcoal-grilled pigeon with capers, apple and black olive, with a drizzle of smoked galangal sauce. I quite liked the accompaniments, but the pigeon itself had rather ordinary flavour, though it was accurately cooked (15/20).
For dessert we had chocolate soufflé with rum and vanilla ice cream. The soufflé itself was light and had good flavour, the ice cream a good pairing for the chocolate (17/20). Finally there were some petit fours suspended in the air on a wire contraption. There was a white chocolate bonbon, fried corn (why?) and a green apple sphere. Coffee was good, rich and nicely flavoured.
Service was excellent, the staff extremely attentive and charming. I recognised the head sommelier from the old days of Can Fabes, and his young Portuguese assistant was knowledgable and friendly; he had also served me before when working at Enoteca - this evening demonstrating that the world of gastronomy is quite small when it comes to staff. The bill came to €342 (£301), albeit for the full tasting menu with two bottles of excellent wine. If you shared a modest bottle and went for the cheaper menu then a typical cost per head might be around £250. Overall, while this was a pleasant enough experience, only the service really seemed to me to be of three star level. Not even the best dish touched the average level of the three star meals that I ate a week before in the south of France. There also seemed to be a discernible gap in standard between this and my last meal at Martin Berasategui, and yet Michelin now rates these restaurants at the same level. This was all rather a pity as the meal started well, and the front of house staff are genuinely lovely.