Sunday, 22 July 2007
In hindsight this city was easily my favourite food destination during our travels and it’s easy to understand why Barcelona is being touted as the new Paris. With exceptional produce that doesn’t need to be masked with fussy preparations, I can't think of a better city to spend your summer. From the fresh octopus doused in garlic and parsley at market tapas bars to afternoons of sangria and chorizo eaten while lazing in a sunny square, it is hard not to fall in love with Barcelona.
If visiting in the summer months it is far more enjoyable to spend your evenings bar hopping and sampling tapas and pintxos than settling down to a heavy three course meal.
Only on one evening did we do the latter and indulged in the obligatory paella. It gave us the opportunity to experience Can Cullertes, Barcelona’s oldest restaurant. The restaurant opens at 9pm in a city where it is shameful to be found dining before that hour. Fifteen minutes to nine there is already a queue winding its way down the lane. The paella is a little daunting in the warm climate but a sight to behold when the pan descends on the table.
Our preferred evening routine was to settle at a table in a sunny square. Our favourite was easily the Placa de Santa Maria where you can nibble on olives and sip beer while watching local Wedding festivities. We would then explore the city’s various tapas establishments of which there are no shortage. Most bars are lined with either pintxos (bread topped with everything from jamon to crab) or terracotta dishes filled with tapas. An almost unbreakable rule for both lunch and dinner is to sit at the bar. Not only are the prices better but you learn a lot from the local knowledge of your fellow diners and the staff. The staff at most bars were exceptionally friendly providing us with recommendations to other bars and restaurants and answering our questions on local wines and dishes by providing a complimentary taste. It is easy to spend an evening sipping local beer and nibbling away.
In an unprecedented move breakfast became my favourite meal of the day. As long as you steer clear of overpriced touristy strips such as Las Ramblas there is great delight to be found in perching yourself on a bar stool with thick hot chocolate and fresh, hot churros before you.
On other days we would head to what is perhaps my favourite place in Barcelona, Mercat de la Boqueria for Catalan pastries and coffee. The market is lined with stalls hung with an incredible assortment of jamon and chorizo, the freshest seafood offerings and a rainbow of fruit and vegetables.
Some of our most enjoyable meals were at one of the market Tapas bars, Bar Boqueria found at the back of the delicatessen stalls. Here you will sample the market’s freshest produce prepared simply such as octopus in parsley and garlic or grilled langoustines with a wedge of lemon.
It is hard to take more than a few steps in Barcelona without stumbling across yet another restaurant or tapas bar yet some of the city’s best food is to be had elsewhere. Slip into one of the city’s many delicatessens to select a picnic lunch of cheeses (the classic manchego and a semi-hard goats), quince paste, crusty bread and an assortment of jamon. We became addicted to sampling this Spanish prosciutto at every opportunity and enjoyed discovering the differences between regions and makers. It is worth trying at least a slice or two of the most expensive jamon in the market to taste the difference. Perfect to nibble as you wanter through the city. We almost never needed to use the metro as we saw far more exploring on foot.
We ventured out of the city twice. Our first excursion was a short train trip away to the beachside town of Sitges. With its white washed houses adorned with blue shutters and flower pot filled balconies it is an absolute delight to explore. After a day on the beach and wandering the hilly lanes we enjoyed a quick gazpacho before hopping on the train home before the summer showers drenched us.
Our second and unplanned stop was Girona, a medieval town filled with beautiful squares and bridges crossing the river winding through the old quarter. If you have more than a week in Barcelona it is well worth a day trip but if like me you fall in love with the city you will feel as if you could spend a lifetime there without needing to venture out.
We spent our days enjoying the art featured in the Picasso Museum and the palatial National Art Gallery of Catalunya. We wandered along the waterside of La Barceloneta and people watched. We explored the bohemian Gracia neighbourhood with its wonderful nightlife and the historic Barri Gòtic with its beautiful architecture. We sat in squares watching concerts and Spanish weddings and explored the city well into the night. We ate well and inexpensively although there was no shortage of more elegant establishments. As it was our first time in Spain discovering Catalan cuisine we were happy just enjoying the simple things.
Carrer de L’Argenteria 62, Barcelona
93 319 9993
A reasonably priced pintxos bar. These delicious bites featured on cocktail toothpicks are a great way to start the evening. Make sure to keep your toothpicks as the waiter will count them to calculate the bill.
El Rovell Del Born
Carrer Argenteria 6, Barcelona
93 269 04 58
A modern pintxos bar with wonderful staff. Make sure to sit at the bar and save room for something from the outstanding dessert platter. I may have been partial to this place as when I asked the barman about cava (dry champagne) sangria his response was to give me a complimentary glass.
Carrer Ferran 15 Barcelona
933 189 693
The wooden bar is laden with terracotta platters overflowing with tapas selections. Don’t be tempted to sit down for a meal as this is one of the pricier establishments due to its proximity to Las Ramblas. There is only one thing you’re here for but it is more than worth the visit; the chorizo wrapped jamon pintxos with its paprika juices dripping through the bread and a cold Spanish beer.
Els Quatre Gats (4 Gats)
Montsio, 3 bis Barcelona
Picasso’s famed hangout with a beautiful old world atmosphere and charming staff. This place can be a three-course tourist trap so take in the atmosphere over a coffee or if you want the more glamorous night service the large appetisers make for ample mains. Share the mussels and cuttlefish and leave room for a dessert. The staff were charming and gave us complimentary champagne with dessert.
Carrer Quintana, 5 Barcelona
93 317 3022
Founded in 1786 this is the oldest restaurant in Barcelona and the second oldest in Spain. It offers a wonderful selection of Catalan dishes at excellent prices. Make sure you get in early as there will be a queue when the restaurant opens at 9pm. Although the interior is not that familiar to the original 18th century diners there is a clear sense that this is a Barcelona establishment. Catalan matrons staff the restaurant providing a smooth service. The menu is filled with a mix of hearty meat dishes, simply prepared seafood and quintessential dishes such as gazpacho and paella. The gazpacho is excellent featuring superb produce. Closed Sunday and Monday.