Hidden away on a side street in the trendy gastro hub of Poblesec, Catalan chef Bernat Bermudo and Venezuelan chef Oswaldo Brito elevate Catalan market cuisine with international ingredients and their own creative style of non-conformist cooking.
“Mano rota” means “broken hand” in Spanish and comes from an old expression used to boast about being extremely skilled at something. A littler bit arrogant, you may well think, but these innovative chefs can afford to be. The pair met at the revered Hoffman culinary school in Barcelona but went their separate ways to perfect their skills at some of the world’s finest restaurants.
Chef Brito headed north to San Sebastien and chef Bermudo to Peru. Influences from these gastronomical destinations are clearly visible in their cooking, as are touches from Japan and Thailand, but I wouldn’t really brand Mano Rota’s cooking as ‘fusion’. Besides, these maverick chefs are known for their rebellious nature and resistance to being pigeonholed into any one style.
As congenial chef Bermudo explained to me during a brief introduction, “We don’t really fit into a specific style. It’s market cuisine, it’s seasonal, but we have so many influences, from Peru, Venezuela, Japan, Spain.”
The relatively large dining space is bright and well-lit. Crisp white walls and exposed brick give provide a minimalist feel, with elegant pieces of furniture made from reclaimed wood. Ultimately, it’s clear that the chefs want you to focus on the food, not the décor.
You just tell me if there’s something that you don’t like or can’t eat and then we surprise you.
The crowd tends to be a mix of both locals and in-the-know gastronauts. Well-dressed groups and couples huddle around bottles of wine, sharing each other’s food, mmm-ing and argh-ing in unison. It’s refined, but very laid back – you don’t really need to dress up to dine at Mano Rota.
You can order from the a la carte menu and eat really well for about €30 per person, but if you really want to see what this place is all about then I suggest ordering the tasting menu. It’s €60 for 3 snacks, 6 plates and 2 desserts, which I think offers outstanding value for money when you consider the quality of ingredients and cooking.
Note: There isn’t a physical menu for the tasting menu because, as Bermudo explained, it changes so frequently that they don’t have time to actually write it down. “You just tell me if there’s something that you don’t like or can’t eat and then we surprise you.” I’m sure that some diners might not love this concept, but for me it’s exactly what I want from this kind of dining experience.
The “snacks” include flavours like cecina (deep purple salt-cured beef) with fresh tomatoes and chives, chunky little yuca croquettes (a hint at Bermudo’s years in Peru) and Spanish Idiazabal cheese topped with a zesty citrus mayonnaise, and a mouthful of raw salmon.
Main dishes include artichokes with red quinoa and a creamy mascarpone sauce – it’s really all about getting the most out of each ingredient.
Spanish flavours include Basque-style kokotxas (salted cod) and tuna marmitako with peppers and avocado, and more international influences can be found in the likes of “aguachile de mejillones”, which is mussels drizzled in a light and zesty Chilean salsa made of lime, coriander and chilli peppers.
Save space for the house-special deconstructed lemon meringue pie, and homemade (I think) chocolate ice-cream with orange.
The wine list is small but considered, with a solid selection of references from local boutique wineries. We enjoyed a bottle of white from the Pardas vineyard. Crisp and fruity. Very nice indeed.
In a Nutshell
This is what Catalan dining is all about: quality ingredients treated with respect and elevated with a little bit of imagination (without going over the top). This is where I’ll be taking my foodie friends when they visit from out of town. Highly recommend.