If a cat has nine lives, how many reincarnations might an elite chef be able to count on? Jean-Luc Figueras was Barcelona’s chief chef of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the hottest man behind the burners of the Barcelona Olympics as late as 1992, the name on everyone’s lips (and palates) before Ferran Adrià and his iconic El Bulli reconfigured the culinary map of Europe around the turn of the century.
Eldorado Petit in Sarrià and then Azulete in Tres Torres were cult addresses before the chef's own Jean-Luc Figueras restaurant in Gràcia became the Michelin-blinged place of reference in the late '80s. Several ventures later it was Jean-Luc Figueras at the Hotel Mandarin’s Blanc in 2010, until his latest landing at the Hotel Mercer in the Gothic Quarter’s Sant Just neighborhood in 2013.
With son Edu in the Mercer kitchen and daughter Claudia at the diminutive Le Bouchon tapas emporium out on Carrer Lledó, Figueras, a native of St-Antonin-Noble-Val in France’s Occitan region, northwest of Toulouse, seems at home in this gorgeously restored Gothic palace, redesigned by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo in 2011.
With a private dining room in 4th-century Roman watchtower #XXVIII (of the LXXVI — 76 — that defended the walls of the Roman city of Barcino), and a lunch menu for a reasonable 39 euros ($54), Mercer is an address to keep in mind when in Barcelona’s bustling Gothic hub.
Jean-Luc recently served up four delectable entrées: ensalada de bogavante con micro-veggies (lobster salad with micro-baby-veggies and spherified asparagus), fresh spring peas from Llavaneres (in season now) with black truffles and codfish tripe, múrgulas con crema de foie (morels with cream of duck liver) served in a glass skillet, and a lovely dark carrillera de vedella (calf cheek).
These four offerings were accompanied by some excellent wines, starting with flutes of Louis Roederer champagne (French Champagne is still French Champagne, even though Catalunya’s cavas have been known to win head-to-head blind tastings now and then), a crisp Lagar do Merens Ribeiro white from the small minifundio vineyards of the Galician Ribeiro grape in the northwest corner of Spain, then another Ribeiro, a red Copelos, and a red Rocallis from Can Rafols del Caus in the Penedès region just west of Barcelona. The wines were elegantly recommended, served, and explained by young sommelier Arnau Marco, who, as it turns out, is actually old enough (30) to legally serve wine and is furthermore encyclopedic on the subject thanks to many years working at Racó del Cesc in Barcelona’s Eixample District.
Barcelona-based journalist George Semler has written for, among other publications, Saveur, Epicurious.com, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal on subjects as diverse as music, poetry, theater, travel, fly-fishing and dining and wine.