|tuna tataki and white fish ceviche at tapaç 24|
o and i were in barcelona in early december last year and were instantly charmed by its cheerfulness. the cold was mild and there was plenty of warm custard coloured sunshine. some of gaudi’s architecture dotted around the city is reminiscent of the candy-esque colours of the witch’s house in hansel and gretel. even in the barri gòtic (gothic quarter) the sun illuminates the otherwise grey-black architecture giving barcelona lightness. our five days featured a whirlwind of museums, la sagrada família, park güell and of course plenty to eat.
our first meal was at tapaç 24. its founder and chef carles abellan is a well-known entity having trained under ferran adrià. he has a mini-empire of restaurants around barcelona including the michelin starred comerç24. the bar is minimally accessorised allowing the open kitchen to be the main focus. the custom of tapas allows for different tastes and so o and i work our way through a selection starting with squid in tempura batter. it came with a flourish of romesco, the quintessential catalonian nut and pepper sauce that gave it a creamy and nutty dimension. there was an outstanding white fish ceviche served with crisp lettuce and avocado, all of which interacted to create layers of flavour and texture. the tuna tataki possessed a mere seal at its edges and a citrusy ponzu dressing to cut through its meatiness. o was mesmerized by the bikini comerç24, an impossibly thin and soft sandwich of grilled truffle, cured meat and cheese. for good measure he also had the mc foie, a dainty little burger with foie gras in the patty and a foie gras mayonnaise on the side. tapas would be incomplete without pa amb tomàquet (bread whose surface has been rubbed with a cut tomato and then drizzled with olive oil) and cava to drink, both of which remained a standard at all our meals.
|vegetable stall at santa caterina market|
we spent an afternoon exploring santa caterina market with nico (a spain based wine and cava specialist) that included a leisurely lunch at cuines de santa caterina. once again we shared tapas but it is the memory of the grilled artichokes and onions that lingers on my taste buds. the little onions wore a coat of balsamic that piqued their natural sweetness and melted in the mouth. the artichokes had a pronounced citrus flavour. a traditional and simple stew of white beans with octopus was a revelation as it embodied the full flavour of both its parts. there was an exceptional cava by juve y camps, a family owned winery that prides itself on using tradition cava making technique. it had tight small bubbles and the flavour of crisp cold pears and honey.
we breakfasted at el velódromo, a 1930s establishment that is said to have been the meeting place for catalonian intelligentsia, politicians and underground artists of the 20th century. it retains its art deco décor along with high ceilings, olive walls, mahogany staircases and marble flooring. i will not forget the lunch party of old well-dressed ladies with crimson lipstick and perfectly folded napkins on their laps who sat at the table next to us. nor the thin slices of bread with a pool of melted dark chocolate, a drizzle of grassy green olive oil and a generous pinch of flaky salt.
|salt cod doughnuts at el velódromo|
lolita is a sassy, smart and self-assured tapeiria in a slightly rough neighbourhood. she may modern but her menu is that of a classic tapeiria. we started with gilda ‘verd picant’, olives wrapped in anchovies and skewered with piquillo peppers. they were punchy, umami and briny. i had mojama (cured red tuna) that had an intensely meaty almost beef like flavour paired with salty fried almonds. there was a soft and delicate tapa of baby beans with truffle oil, avocado and quail eggs. the mussels’ marinara tasted of the sea and the earth bound as they are with a bright and savoury tomato sauce. o who does not usually eat these molluscs devoured them swiftly. i spooned the juices into my mouth, dispensing with bread for fear of adulterating the flavour.
|lolita's version of quimet's salmon with |
yoghurt and truffle honey
our parting lunch was at quimet y quimet, a local gem somewhat removed from the tourist ridden centre. although small, it feels spacious on account of its high ceilings. essentially a bodega, its walls are lined floor to ceiling with wines, spirits and liqueurs from around the world. it specialises in montadito’s, bite sized assemblies made with toppings piled on lightly crisp bread. the list of these was so long that we had to rely on the lady behind the counter to give us some direction. lunch was composed of several montaditos which included cured beef the colour of maroon leather riding a slick of tomato jam and finished with a salty tapenade; a thick slice of cured salmon atop yoghurt and truffle honey; preserved mussels with a pile of caviar and a curl of prawns resting on baked red pepper with more caviar. i had a rose hued cava that was dry and sprightly and o chilled and fruity sangria.
there were delicately assembled pepita’s at la pepita. the sandwiches are a daintier version of pepitos; the classic sandwich of veal steak. la pepita is home to creative tapas, mostly improvisations of classics by bringing in continental and far east asian influences. there was an equally creative drinks menu scribbled on the mirror that lines the bar.
we had an express lunch at flash flash, a chic 1970s tortilleria where one can choose from around fifty different types of tortillas. there were classics like tortilla de patatas (potato) and tortilla de bacalao (salt cod) along with contemporary food like burgers and salads. the décor is spare and bold as the walls are alive with the images of life sized and vivacious photographer painted in black.