BAR-BAR-BARCELONA: 10 OF THE BEST TAPAS BARS IN THE CATALAN CAPITAL
Whether you are party-goer or beach bum, art-buff or foodie, Barcelona has a little something for everybody. Awash with architectural masterpieces, world-class museums, rolling green hills and not to mention one of Europe’s best city beaches, this bustling, multi-faceted metropolis blends 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. El Bulli.
El Bulli has long since closed, but Ferran Adria’s culinary influence and his long list of protégés continue to leave their mark on the city’s food scene, 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. And no trip here to Barcelona would be complete without a Tapas bar crawl round town. Here’s 10 of the best Tapas bars we tracked down on our recent visit to the Catalan capital (there’s a map at the bottom of this post too!).
First on the list and my favourite of all of Barcelona’s classic tapas bars is the legendary El Xampanyet. The old school vibe here is second to none and the friendly staff are always incredibly welcoming even when the place gets packed to the rafters. Be sure to order a portion of their marinated anchovies (boquerones) and their Grilled Iberico Pluma & Padron pepper special. Wash it all down with a copa (or three!) of their €1.60 house cava.
This bustling tapas bar in El Borne serves up superb modern dishes alongside traditional classics. Bacalao stuffed squash blossoms, crispy ox-tail croquetas with foie, and their signature squid ink croquetas share the spotlight with ‘grandmother’s dishes’ like Braised Beef Cheeks and ‘Callos’ (Tripe stew). There’s some unique natural-focused wines being poured here by the glass too ranging from locally produced Catalan varieties to other gems from round the world. A must on any tapas crawl of the Borne district.
The brainchild of Chef Jordi Cruz of the 2 Michelin star ABAC, this upscale, modern spot is the more casual sister in the family. The quality of the cooking here and molecular gastronomy at play though certainly takes after its big sister. Their beechwood smoked octopus with paprika, potatoes & arbequina oil was next level pulpo a la gallega! Even more delicious was their Lobster, foie & sea sprout rice – moist, meloso-style arroz cooked in the most moreish lobster-veal stock combo. Great execution on the cooking of the seared foie & lobster too. The prices are a tad more expensive than other places in town, but a bargain for the sheer quality and ingenuity of the food. My favourite out of all of the Catalan capital’s modern offerings.
Every natural wino’s favourite wine bar, Bar Brutal serves up some very accomplished dishes to pair with their stellar arsenal of low intervention and biodynamic wines. Their home-made, melt-in-the-mouth ‘Cecina’, a local speciality of cured, air-dried Beef had the most beautiful depth of flavour. Other dishes we tried like their Lamb sweetbreads were cooked with care and paired beautifully with the natural wines they were pouring by the glass that evening.
The long, gleaming counter-top of this Barcelona institution has been the blueprint for many counter-top dining options in London and around the world. There’s no menu here so it’s up to the staff to recommend the daily catch and whatever signature dishes are in season. Expect classics like Clams steamed in white wine-garlic-jamon, Grilled Octopus & Foie with Port reduction & beans. The Tuna tartare we had here with sesame, soy & lemon was particularly terrific… sashimi grade fresh with beautifully balanced, Japanese-influenced flavours. Prices are on the steeper side relative to other peers in the El Borne district, but the portions commensurately larger too.
The small plates at this convivial wine bar & restaurant in Barcelona’s Eixample district may not sound particular interesting at first glance on their menu. However, the top notch quality of the produce & precise cooking here doesn’t lie. The simple, produce driven dishes here such as their Veal Tartare and Marinated anchovies in olive oil, lemon & soy were just exquisite. Add to that superb service and one of the most interesting, diverse and natural-focused wine lists in the city and it’s no wonder we ended up here on more than one occasion on our recent trip!
This buzzing, neighbourhood hot-spot in Vila de Gracia comes to life in the evenings, with a constant queue of people milling outside, waiting for a spot at the bar or table seating to open up. Their V.I.C (‘very important croqueta’) is a must – pillowy soft potato on the inside, crispy on the outside & topped with a mountain of hand-carved Iberico de Bellota ham… the classic jamon croqueta but on steroids! Save some space also for their modern, creative options. The melt-in-the-mouth Beef Carpaccio with frozen foie shavings, caramelised onions & pomegranate was especially marvellous!
Surround yourself in old world 1950s glam at this stylish bar in Vila de Gracia. The house speciality here are their ‘Entrepanes’ sandwiches, chief of which is their Entrepanes de Calamares – crispy calamri doused in squid ink aioli and stuffed in their signature home made bread roll. The squid sandwich of dreams! There’s also all the usual classics like Grilled Octopus, Morcilla & Croquettes available too. Ask one of the smartly dressed, bow-tied staff to pour you a glass of local cava or Montsant to wash it all down.
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 plenty of caviar. Don’t forget the house speciality either – Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Honey Montaditos. Divine!
Word has it that Bar Pinotxo’s proprietor, Juanito Bayen, has been behind the counter of this historic market Tapas bar for over 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… Scarlet Prawns, Chipiron (Baby Squid), Bacalao (Salt Cod)… some of the freshest seafood sourced just footsteps away from the market’s fishmongers.
Yes, it’s inevitably a little touristy given the people traffic of 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 obsession with great food and wine. I have no doubt I will be revisiting the city many a time in the years to come.