Eating Out in Barcelona
Last week I celebrated my birthday here in Sevilla with friends and then two days later took myself off for a special birthday treat – four days in Barcelona! My first trip to that vibrant and colourful city was seven years ago – also to celebrate my birthday – so it was time I went back. I met up with friends, did a LOT of walking around on my own, and enjoyed several good meals. I’ll do another blog post about some of the other great stuff I saw and did, but for now this is all about where I went to eat.
One of my favourite things to do is visit markets and check out what’s going on as market bars traditionally have a good rep for providing super-fresh market food. And although I’d been warned by my very savvy foodie friends that the Boqueria Market on the Ramblas had turned into a touristy nightmare I really wanted to see it again. My first memory was coming across it by chance on a January afternoon just before sunset… I had no idea it was even there and if I hadn’t turned my head to the left at that moment we’d have walked right by. Instead my friend and I went in and I was charmed and delighted by… well, by everything I saw. But it was getting late and we were tired after a long day out and about, so we didn’t stay long.
But this time I went back with the intention of spending some serious time having a good look around. And I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, it was packed full of locals and tourists, the latter (like me) snapping photos left, right and centre. In fact one stall holder told me that I couldn’t take any photos of her fish. When I asked her why not she said they were to sell not to photograph. And although I could understand that they probably get tired of camera-happy tourists who don’t buy anything, it wasn’t like I was elbowing paying customers out of my way to get a shot. But it is still a stunning market, full of just about anything you could ever want and, after a pleasant hour or so of looking around, it was suddenly Cava O’clock, so I stopped at one of the many little bars for a snack. Which was over-priced but good.
I think if I lived in Barcelona I would still visit the Boqueria now and then, but for personal shopping preference I’d go to the Santa Caterina Market in El Born. I also visited the Mercat de Sant Antoni, which is still in its temporary home while renovations continue (still no word on when those will be completed).
Getting back to tapas bars and restaurants… the first shock I got was that everything felt over-priced compared to Sevilla, which is probably fair enough since this was the Big City. But we’re talking way way more, especially for what they called “tapas”. I think I would have felt better if they’d just called them “dishes” or “plates”. For me a small plate of fried potatoes and a fried egg for 9 euros is NOT a tapa. Anyhow, here come the places I went out to eat, either with friends or on my own. I give this list about a year’s “credibility” rating as things change so quickly in the restaurant biz, and especially in a place like Barcelona.
La Bodegueta – Rambla de Catalunya 100 (Eixample)
This place was recommended to me while on the AVE… I knew I was going to arrive just after lunchtime but only wanted a quick snack. And it turned out that La Bodegueta was just around the corner from my hotel. So I popped over there and that’s where I enjoyed the fried potatoes and egg for 9€… which was good, but you know, expensive. I also tried a couple croquetas. Meh. But the ambiance was fabulous. Lovely rustic-homey-cosy… and the barmen were also very nice.
La Bodegueta – Provença 233 (Eixample)
On my way back to the hotel that first afternoon I felt like one more glass of wine before dealing with unpacking and by chance saw this attractive bar that had a nice welcoming feel to it. So in I went, sat at the bar and had a nice rueda for 3€… and it was then that it started looking familiar. Turned out it was the sister bar of the first place I’d just had a snack at. Anyhow this second Bodegueta ended up becoming my “local” while I was in Barcelona. Close to the hotel, pleasant ambiance, nice staff and – as I found out a bit later – quite good food too. Their version of the egg-potato dish also had lovely grilled chistorra in it, cost a bit more than at the sister bar, but felt more worth the price. The tempura prawns with romesco sauce were fabulous. Not sure about the buñuelos de bacalao though… they were mushy inside and I was told they were made with bechamel, which to me isn’t a buñuelo. But I’d go back.
Ceviche 103 – Londres 103 (Eixample)
This place was recommended to me by a Barcelona twitter pal I’ve never met – and didn’t get the chance to meet – but I ended up going here with yet another twitter pal. And we loved it. Curious retro-style decor that was pleasantly kitsch, we ordered a very good bottle of verdejo for 16€ and got to work on the menu. Of course we had to try one of the ceviches, which featured sea bass and “leche de tigre verde”. Excellent. Then we had grilled octopus on confit potatoes. The pulpo was lovely but the potatoes were a bit drab. Star dish was a crispy cochinillo with lentil “tacu tacu” (lentils with rice), tomato chutney and lots of finely sliced red onion. Sorry now that I didn’t try a pisco sour.
D.O. Restaurante – Verdi 36 (Gracia)
This bar (and the following one) I got to visit thanks to my friend Steve @foodbarcelona who took me out for a bit of a “tapeo” around Gracia. The only problem was I’d already had such a great lunch out that afternoon that I wasn’t up for much, though I loved being guided through the little winding streets of what was for me a whole new Barcelona experience. D.O. is a pleasant little spot serving that “tapas with a twist” thang… the arroz meloso with butifarra and grilled chipirón was fabulous, but we had to send back the carrillada. The pork cheeks actually had a nice flavour and came with a lovely sauce, but we could barely cut them with a knife. Unfair to judge a place on just two dishes, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say give it a try. But don’t ask the barman to recommend “a nice white”. I did that and found out I’d been given the most expensive on the wine menu.
La Pepita – Còrsega 343 (Gracia)
My other tapas stop in Gracia with Steve was the delightful La Pepita. Loved the cosy ambiance, the friendly service … and also the food! Okay, the croqueta “importante” was just a regular meh croqueta, but it was draped in delicious jamón Ibérico. The steak tartare with morcilla was divine and I especially loved the hot mushroom purée topped with sliced raw mushrooms and slivers of cecina. Add it to your list.
Paco Meralgo – Muntaner 171 (Eixample)
Pa’ Comer Algo – geddit? I actually ended up here twice on the same day. Once on my own for lunch and later for a snack with an acquaintance – that last visit didn’t go so well. Me? I think it’s just fine. I really enjoyed the lunchtime tapas: breaded courgette flower stuffed with mozzarella, patatas “bravísimas” (actually very nice and spicy hot), and the rabbit ribs “al ajillo”. Eensy little deep-fried ribs tossed in garlicky olive oil. Had the gambas al ajillo in the evening, which were also tasty, though a bit mushy. Earlier in the day I saw people ordering great whacks of seafood and other large platters of food… I guess what I liked best was that you had the option of ordering some nice proper tapas at proper tapas prices, as well as splashing out on something more elaborate. What I didn’t like when I was on my own sitting at the bar was that I got the “woman-on-her-own-at-the-bar-AND-she’s-a-tourist” treatment.
Cal Pep – Plaça de les Olles 8 (El Born)
Unfortunately or otherwise, I stopped in at Cal Pep a couple of hours after having a snack at the Boqueria Market, so I wasn’t exactly starving. And there weren’t any small dishes available. But somehow it felt comfy and welcoming so I ordered a glass of cava and waited for a spot to open up at the bar, which only took a few minutes. My main dilemma was trying to find a dish small enough… my heart was set on the grilled monkfish but I knew I would never get through it. So I ordered the grilled calamar and – wow! – they were perfect. And served with a nice selection of grilled veg. Out of all the places I visited this is the one I wished I could have returned to with a couple of friends. The food coming out from the open kitchen in front of the bar (I had a great “viewing” seat) all looked amazing. I also think, even though they didn’t serve tapas, it was the one place I’d been to that felt like a tapas bar. People were chatting to each other at the bar, the service was fast and friendly. And when I asked if I could sit across from the bar to recharge my iPhone they gave me a glass of cava on the house while I waited. It definitely left me wanting more. Next time.
La Mar Salada – Passeig de Joan de Borbó 58 (Barceloneta)
I met my friend Rachel @R_McCormack at the Caterina Market and from there we took a nice walk through El Born down to the port. Rachel gives Catalan cooking classes in London and just happened to be in town the same time as I was, also celebrating her birthday. So it was great to meet up with her again. Out of the various options available we finally decided on La Mar Salada – Rachel assured me that they had a great “menú del día”. And so they did.
We started with stir-fried artichokes with mixed veg and a curious ball of brandada de bacalao with roasted onions. Our main courses were grilled chipirones with bokchoy and arroz negro with sepia. Desserts were a vanilla flan with unsweetened whipped cream and fresh cheese with red fruit. Located across from the port, and the local wholesale fish market, the food was more than market fresh, the presentation was gorgeous, and all for about 20€ each.
Gresca – Provença 230 (Eixample)
Back in my ‘hood and saving the best for last, lunch at Gresca was actually my last meal in Barcelona. Small and unassuming, run by the equally unassuming Rafael Peña, Gresca was at once casual and elegant. And the food was the best I had during my visit. I opted for the lunch set menu (incredible value for 20€), though I was also tempted by the 5-plate tasting menu for 38€. But I had just over an hour before I had to leave to catch my train home and so…
… I started with a cabbage roll filled with butfarra and served with a lovely delicate broth. The main course was perfectly grilled lamb chops, finished in the oven and served with a gorgeous assortment of veg. For dessert I chose the fresh orange slices with conserved orange in Campari and a light whipped cream. A perfect ending to a wonderful birthday holiday.
I also visited a couple of cool wine bars that deserve a mention…
La Vinya del Senyor (Plaza Santa Maria 5) and Zim (Dagueria 20) are both in the Barri Gòtic, not far from the Cathedral. Very different styles, but both equally charming and comfortable. La Vinya has a more extensive wine list and you can also order a few tapas. At Zim, which opens at 6 pm, you get small tasty things on toast and nice charcuterie with your wine.
While in Barcelona I stayed at the ultra-modern Room Mate Hotel Emma in the very stylish Eixample barrio. More on that later…