Located in Gràcia, a bohemian neighbourhood in the north part of the city, El Tast de Joan Noi is not your typical restaurant… in fact it isn’t a restaurant as we know it.
In Barcelona, food markets are longtime culinary institutions beloved by both neighbors and chefs. Their intense sights, smells, and sounds are a wonderful, chaotic amuse-bouche that stimulates our senses without our even opening our mouths to taste any of the products being sold. But sometimes, we long for the chance to combine the multisensory experience of market shopping with the taste of great food. Although this concept can seem obvious, it’s actually not easy to find places that combine the selling of fresh products with their cooking. But not in Barcelona, the shops of this city have long mastered the art of attracting customers. And El Tast de Joan Noi, a fish and seafood food bar situated in El Mercat de la Llibertat in Gràcia, does just that, offering diners the huge pleasure of discovering an eye-catching piece of tuna amongst the ice and then seeing how the expert chef, Paco, cooks it in front of their very eyes. The expertise of the owners of this family-owned stall in selling fish goes back to the 1950s when Paco’s uncle Joan opened their first fish shop in the Barceloneta neighborhood, Barcelona’s old fishing port. Now, after three generations operating numerous fish stalls in the markets of the city, the family keeps businesses at two locations: in El Mercat de Lesseps and in La Llibertat, a historic market building dating to 1888. Paco opened El Tast de Joan Noi, adjacent to their seafood stand, in 2009, after the restoration of La Llibertat.
They work with a menu based on the seasonal fish and seafood sold in the stall next to the bar, with most items served grilled. The simplicity of the setup – without a real kitchen or cold-storage facilities, but with a fish purveyor right next door – guarantees that everything at Joan Noi is always fresh, cooked right in front of diners and served in the moment. For me, two of the most appealing specialties are the baby scallops and the diced tuna, prepared with recipes created by Paco -a former chef at an upscale restaurant in the city- exclusively for Joan Noi. The delicate and tasty scallops, simultaneously soft and crunchy, are sprinkled with salt and pepper, placed on a toasted slice of bread with caramelized onions and some brandy, then topped with a cheese sauce and finally baked au gratin in the oven. But the simply amazing diced tuna is perhaps the venue’s “star dish.” The tuna is perfectly grilled to the point where it has a thin, golden grilled layer on the outside, while the inside remains pink and as soft as butter. The whole dish is drizzled with a vinaigrette made with soy sauce, Jerez wine (sherry) and walnuts. Paco also prepares special paella and other rice dishes, which need to be ordered in advance; these include the “Arròs Caldós amb Llamàntol” (lobster with a brothy rice stew) and the “Sarsuela de Peix” (seafood casserole). To die for!
Markets of Barcelona fact file
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Video: © Mercat de la Llibertat