STEP outside your comfort zone. That’s the invitation from Tast, whose immediate selling point is its tilt away from the Spanish tapas and Basque pintxos template. ‘Tastets’ are this proudly Catalan venue’s more expansive take on small plate dining.
To experience them without booking you can walk in off King Street into the downstairs refectory style space, all sleek limed wood and tiles, or reserve a table at the slightly austere first floor dining room with its dark blue walls and immediate sensory connection with the main open kitchen. For the ultimate separatist blow-out commandeer the second floor private dining room.
To proclaim Tast’s true Catalan credentials each of the three floors is named after a level in the region’s ‘Castells’ human tower tradition. Pinya (the pineapple) is the base; Folre the straining middle; Enxaneta, the topmost participant, usually a child – sporting a crash element in these safety-conscious days.
In 2010 this extreme gymnastic and rather bonkers feat, involving up to 100 bodies, was declared by UNESCO to be among the ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. We took the stairs to Folre.
Exec chef Perez visits regularly from his two-star flagship, the Miramar, outside Girona. On a day to day basis the Tast food – from tastets to mains to tasting menus – is in the hands of his protege, 27-year-old Miquel Villacrosa, former head chef at Perez’s one star Restaurant Cinco in Berlin.
Miquel (above) is from Sant Hilari Sacalm, a small mountain town, which he tells me he misses …along with the chance to watch his beloved FC Barca (“they still have the edge over Manchester City”). On the evidence of most of the food he prepares for us we’re not letting him go back any time soon. He has the edge over most chefs in town. A few snapshots:
A playful signature ‘amuse’ from the Miramar – a sweet/savoury round of foie gras, white chocolate and raspberry.
Sandwich de Formatge Trufat
A truffled soft cheese butty between thin prawn cracker-like wafers. Unmemorable.
Croquetas are my test for any Iberian joint and these pass effortlessly
Esparrecs Verde, Bauma, Cherry Tomatoes, Rucula
Green asparagus, rocket and tomato combo held together by goat cheese. Harmonious but maybe not assertive enough.
Tomaquet, Bou de Mar
The real deal – a tomato and basil gel mousse, resembling an orange jellyfish, hides a stunning cache of crab meat.
Pop La Boqueria
Name checking Barcelona’s benchmark market, this is a refined version of the kind of octopus snack you might pick up there. Enhanced by remarkable cephalodic serving dishes, this deceptively traditional treat with potatoes and romesco sauce, a slick of reduced oloroso lifts it to heights. Odd that they use sherry in the cooking but it doesn’t figure on the predominantly Catalan wine list (ably marshalled by Sicilian sommelier Filipo Zito, once of The French).
Arros de Verdures
Once I had got over my disappointment that this traditional Catalan rice dish didn’t come with the giant, head-suckable prawns the city’s foodies had been raving about (ours were topped with cauliflower and broccoli) I loved the sticky, crunchiness of the grains, that had been cooked on flat trays – as a short cut to achieving the coveted crust paella at the bottom of paellas. Costa de Umami!
Xuxio de Crema Xocolata
Classic Catalan pud with puff pastry, custard and deeply delicious dark chocolate, suitably closing a meal that combines ‘dare to be different’ with some deceptively simple casual delights. Interesting to see how, as Tast finds its feet, the food offering develops. We probably ain’t seen nothing yet.
Phew, nearly forgot to mention: Pep Guardiola is one of Tast’s backers
Tast Catala, 20-22 King St, Manchester M2 6AG. 0161 806 0547. https://tastcatala.com