Food & Wine

The chef with a finger in every pie

Chef and businessman Òscar Manresa's ambition and untiring energy has allowed him in the last two decades to set up a growing empire of restaurants around the world

Òscar Manresa is a chef but with an entrepreneurial spirit and a restless mind that has turned him into one of the most prolific restaurateurs in the country. Òscar always seems to have a new project underway, and his latest is to open a sandwich bar beneath the arches of Barcelona's Boqueria market with French cuisine exponent, Romain Fornell. With quality food on the one hand and an inexhaustible energy on the other, Òscar is building a gastronomic empire that goes from the fun Restaurant Kauai to his scientific incursions at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC).

Self-taught, Manresa has been on the local food scene for 20 years. He originally worked for a multinational company but his love of good food (his wife Teresa was a fishmonger with links in the restaurant business) led him to study at the Hofmann school and open El Magatzem del Port in the port of Barcelona. Since then, he has not looked back.

Five years after opening Restaurant Kauai on the coast at Gavà “so many Barcelona people came that it became another Barcelona beach”, he says. For a price of around 30 euros, diners at the restaurant are treated to succulent tapas, paella and fish dishes in an open air venue next to the sea, which evokes such emblematic sites as Formentera or Ibiza, although Manresa prefers to draw on the image of Hawaii. The chef has continued to improve the restaurant so that it can now feed 500 customers on a Sunday, has its own lounge area, a frankfurt bar and barbecues for groups.

“All of us dream of crossing the Atlantic,” says Manresa when asked about his latest restaurant venture, opened in partnership with a local investor in the financial centre of the city of Miami. Manresa's first project outside Spain is a restaurant with high wooden ceilings and the aim of serving “good Barcelona tapas cuisine”. A review from the Miami Herald has pride of place in his Kauai restaurant and Manresa says: “We did the catering for Miami Fashion Week, where we also got to see a Custo Dalmau catwalk, and we are very happy.”

Òscar has also made a base at the UPC, from where he will manage his restaurants and launch new business projects. He also has a 10,000-metre allotment in Prat de Llobregat, the produce from which he hopes can form the basis for joint initiatives with the UPC: “Together we can improve things such as the quality, flavour and colour of tomatoes.” He also wants to look into the possibility of using Google glasses during cooking to reach more people over the Internet.

The jewel in the crown of Manresa's growing empire is the Torre d'Altamar restaurant at the top of the 1929 cable car tower in Barceloneta. Karl Heinz Müller confessed that it was eating there and taking in the wonderful view that convinced him to bring the Bread&Butter fashion fair back to Barcelona in 2015.

Manresa also has a pasta restaurant inspired by the Sopranos TV series in Gavà and the 99% Moto Bar, a Tex-Mex restaurant with a Harley Davidson theme, that he owns jointly with rocker Loquillo (they used to play guitar together). If that wasn't enough, Òscar says he would like to start a franchise in the style of the Hard Rock Café, with music that will be streamed live to the Internet.

Boqueria Michelin star

In autumn Manresa will get together with Romain Fornell to take over premises below the arches of the Boqueria and start serving local food. The project includes other chefs, such as Carles Abellán and Quim Marquès. “With Romain we'll bring a Michelin star to the Boqueria”, says Manresa, who shares the cocktail bar Rian de Rian with Fornell in Barcelona.

It is not Manresa's only incursion in this area of the city, as next to the market, for the past two years he has run the former delicatessan, Casa Guinart, with David Moyà.

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