I have excellent friends from the US who often visit - they try to make it once a year. On other occasions they send acquaintances to drop by for a few days on their way to other European countries. And the same question comes up again and again: “What’s the best restaurant in Barcelona?” I guess that could produce many answers, but at least in my neighborhood (Poblenou) I know exactly the place: “el 58, le cinquante huit”.
As I mentioned, it is located in Poblenou, a snuggly little neighborhood at the end of the Diagonal touching the beach. Quite a few cars roll by during the day, but thankfully the streets are wide enough to leave space for some fresh air to clean out the fumes. On several occasions I have even opened my window to smell the ocean’s breeze! The Rambla is lively and colorful, full of people strolling up and down, either coming back from the local market or heading down to the beach. The streets are full of little shops: the butcher’s, the bakery, the magazine stand, flower shops, little cafes. And restaurants, many restaurants! Among them “el 58, le cinquante huit”.
Overall the place is quite petite and the entrance reminds me of a traditional french bistrôt from the sixties, obviously due to its name and because it keeps its original wooden frame. Tradition. Inside we find a bartender on the left, preparing daiquiris, margaritas or pouring wine in big shiny glasses. A few tall round tables on the right, where one can have one of those glasses of wine before being seated. The dining area is at the end of a narrow hall, through where the kitchen can be seen. It smells delicious! The eating area is not too big, dimly lit with white globes hanging from the high ceiling, but with enough light to enjoy the meal (I hate eating in the dark!). The decoration is peculiar. The furniture is antique and the small but cozy tables consist of an iron foot and marble surface. The seats are all wooden chairs, as if they belonged at my grandmother’s place, but none of them match! The walls seem to maintain the building’s original red bricks and huge air pipes are visible, from where these wierdo human-sized red puppets stand. A stool here and there. All in all, it is a retro-style deco producing a laid-back atmosphere. Honestly, it’s like being in a rural french dining room. At the end of the hall is an open air area which is accessible only during the warm season.
The food is strictly mediterranean, catalan, but a creative touch; updated to modern cuisine. Many dishes are suitable for vegetarians, vegans or for customers who require gluten free meals and it consists of tapas, small dishes, a few main courses and sandwiches for snack hours.The menu is hand-written on enormous portable blackboards and we can usually find the same dishes all year round, although they have specials from time to time.
The first thing I tasted in this restaurant were the patatas bravas, deep fried potato slices with a special somewhat spicy sauce and croquetas, traditional spanish sort-of fried breaded meatballs. I love their special mixed greens salad, combined with very original products: strawberries and sprouts. Don’t miss the aubergines with rosemary and honey, sweet, soft and mellow; alternately the exceptional scallop and prawn ceviche with citrus fruits or the foie poelé and mushrooms, with an intense pear flavor and caramelized onion. Oh, and I must recommend the wonderful butifarra (local sausage) with soft fried chickpeas as well as the grilled razor clams with hints of gooseberry and vegetables. They also serve a wide choice of rice dishes but I have never had the opportunity to taste them yet.
However, one of the things I like the most about le cinquate huit is the wine selection. Despite how small the place is, they've got quite an outstanding wine selection, all national though: Rioja, Ribera de Ebro, Montsant, Priorat, Pla de Bages or Empordà. They also have great options regarding beers: Lager Pilsen, Pilsner or IPA.
All the staff are very kind and attentive; highly professional. The fact that you can see the kitchen gives me a feeling of trust. Even the cook and his helpers say hello as you walk by. The bathrooms are really clean, which is always a good sign!
They do not accept reservations and the place is well known, usually packed. So the trick here is to arrive early and be noted on one of their little blackboards and wait to be seated. I advise you to go at 1:30 PM for lunch or at 7:00 to 8:00PM for dinner. The earlier the better if you want to avoid queuing. Else one can taste one of the great wines while waiting. A decent meal can cost anywhere between 30€ to 60€ and they offer a daily lunch menu for 9,50€.
RecommendationWhat bothers the most might be the continuous bustle of customers passing through the center of the tables. Perhaps a small place for so many customers, but definitely a place I would recommend for the quality cuisine on offer. On the other hand, it is not the place to go if you plan to have a long chat over some spirits after your meal and it is definitely not a place for kids. But the cinquante huit is a restaurant with a different, excellent and fine gastronomic offer. It serves mediterranean food, but it is different and has a whole innovative presentation. But the rank and magnificent service are outstanding and it is, with no doubt, my favorite restaurant in el barrio.