Whether you are party-goer or beach bum, artsy or foodie, Barcelona has a little something for all of you. Awash with architectural masterpieces, world-class museums, rolling green hills and not to mention one of Europe’s sexiest city beaches, it’s a bustling, multi-faceted metropolis that has cool written all over it, blending old and new ever so seamlessly. It’s no surprise that the city has been home to some of the most influential, avant-garde personalities and concepts over the past couple of centuries. Gaudi. Dali. Messi. And who can forget, El Bulli.
Despite Ferran Adria’s early retirement, El Bulli’s culinary influence seems to have left its mark, lifting the average standard of restaurants and Tapas bars across the Catalan capital to another league. Even the most old-school of eateries feature a level of quality and creativity like no other. I’ll cover the Michelin star places we hit in another post. For now though, here’s 3 must visit Tapas bars which Jo and myself tracked down on our recent bar hop round the Catalan capital…. each slightly different in terms of forte and concept. But boy did all of them blow our socks off.
1. Quimet i Quimet (Carrer de la Poeta Cabanyes, 25, Poble Sec)
It’s tiny. It’s jam-packed. And most of the food here comes straight out of a can. But a prized seat at the counter of this bottle-lined, 5-generation-old institution is so worth the wait.
It’s all about the Montaditos here – crispy, bite-sized, open sandwiches… fully loaded with the most exquisite of seafood and canned produce. No fishy, waterlogged tuna chunks here though. Instead, tuck into the juiciest of langoustines and mussels, all topped off with bucket loads of caviar. Don’t forget the house speciality either – Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Honey Montaditos. They are simply divine. And with most dishes priced between €3-€5, it won’t break the bank either.
** Opening times are noon-4pm for lunch, 8pm-midnight for dinner. Turn up early or nearer to closing time to avoid the heaving crowds (we managed to snag a spot at the bar for late lunch relatively easily after 3pm).
Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese & Honey
…the happy boy tucking in @ Quimet i Quimet. Ho Ho Ho.
2. Tapas 24 (Carrer de la Diputació, 269, nr Passeig de Gracia)
Run by Carles Abellan, El Bulli alumnus and the brainchild behind the 1-Michelin-star Commerc 24, this upmarket basement Tapas bar just off the glitz and glamour of Passeig de Gracia features a combination of traditional dishes and more contemporary, avant-garde creations. Classics like their Arroz Negre di Sepia (Squid Ink Rice) were textbook perfect – so comforting, we ended up going back a second time for another helping. But it was their more modern dishes which delighted most. The ‘Bikini’ is an absolute must. Packed with Iberico Ham, Black Truffle & oozy Mozzarella, it’s a monster of a Cheese Toastie on steroids. Even more interesting and original was the Muslitos de Cordoniz (Quail’s legs) which were coated in a sweet, sticky soya sauce glaze. Talk about beautiful plating and a great use of Asian flavours…
If you’re out for a shop on Passeig de Gracia or visiting nearby Casa Batlló or La Pedrera, this is one that is definitely worth a visit. There is one downside though. With smaller dishes ranging from €5-€12, and larger raciones upwards of €14, designer Tapas certainly doesn’t come cheap….
** Although no bookings are taken, they are open all day. So if you’re feeling peckish during siesta time or want an early meal outside of Spain’s usually late dinner hours, this is a great impromptu option.
…cooling down @ Tapas 24 with a beautiful glass of local Cava
3. Bar Pinotxo (Rambla de Sant Josep 91, Mercat de la Boqueria, on the right of the main La Rambla entrance)
Word has it that Juan, Bar Pinotxo’s legendary head bartender, has been behind the counter of this historic market Tapas bar for almost 40 years. Sporting an immaculate waistcoat and bow-tie, his charisma resonates through the bustling crowds and kaleidoscope of colours of the market. It’s no wonder many regard him as the heart and soul of Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria. If he’s not greeting customers in multiple languages, you will find him announcing the daily specials with such gusto, you won’t feel like ordering anything else.
Seafood dishes are the order of the day here… Prawns, Chipiron (Baby Squid), Bacalao (Salt Cod). This was some of the freshest seafood money can buy, sourced just footsteps away from the market’s fishmongers.
Yes, it’s inevitably a little touristy given the traffic that passes through the market and its proximity to Las Ramblas. But if you’re lucky enough to be served by Juan, it’s not just a seafood feast that you will be treated to. Just watching him in action is a cultural experience in it’s own right. In some ways, Juan personifies everything that is great about Barcelona… its raw energy… its ability to blend traditional and contemporary… its timeless style… and of course, its endless obsession with great food and wine.
It’s undoubtedly one of my favourite European cities and up there with the likes of San Sebastian, Florence and Berlin. I’d go back anytime in a heartbeat.