A night of Spanish-style tapas bar hopping
I’m met by the aroma of delicious food at every turn in Barcelona. It’s a true gastronome’s dream and absolutely impossible to resist the temptations of jamòn cut from the bone, pastries fresh from the oven and the largest array of tomatoes I’ve ever seen.
On our first night in Barcelona, we got straight into the Spanish spirt of tapas bar hopping along the streets of El Born and went home with a full belly (and a slightly heavy head!). Our evening adventure began at Euskal Etxea, a pinxtos bar recommended to us by our lovely (and dashing may I add) AirBnB host.
We positioned ourselves at the bar, as there were no tables available, which meant the spread of bites on bread were right at our fingertips! With the most expensive wine at only €4 a glass, we threw caution to the wind and asked the barman to choose for us, which resulted in a cool glass of smooth citrusy Verdejo. Of the pintos we tasted, the standout for me was a simple whitebait with peppers and a drizzle of olive oil. Others to mention were the Spanish tortilla, sandwiched with a light cheese filling and topped with chives, and a tartlet filled with mushrooms sautéed in red wine and garlic.
I could have worked my way through all of the bites on offer, but we withdrew after four or five and a final glass of apply cava, and made our way down the street to La Taperia.
Once settling in with a glass of fruity sangria, we ordered some Iberico jamòn, olives and tomato bread, which to my surprise was not a bread with tomatoes baked into it, but baguette spread with l fresh tomato pulp, garlic and a little olive oil – a simple and tasty bite that I’ll certainly be trying to recreate at home. The jamòn was meaty and full of flavour. I’ve always said the Spanish make the best hams – I love Italian food, but prosciutto loses the charcuterie battle.
(We went back to La Taperia a couple of nights later and had an excellent seafood paella too – homestyle, no pretence, just yummy and fresh!)
Our final stop was at Bodega La Puntual, almost directly opposite the first restaurant (so many great eateries in such close distance[!]), where again we asked the waiter to choose us a nice wine and ordered a selection of crochettas – a decadent cheese and jamòn version coated in golden breadcrumbs and a cod fritter, the white meat bound with a little potato and lightly fried in a flour batter, then coated in a citrusy cheese sauce.
We also ordered a tomato, tuna and confit leek salad, dressed in a fruity olive oil and sprinkled with crushed black peppercorns. Our second glass of wine here was a blush pink rosé. I’ve never had a rosé such a deep pink colour as this – it seems Spanish rosés are all deep in colour. You could taste notes of strawberry and raspberry. A perfect end, in lieu of dessert.
Day two: authentic Catalan food
Day two in Barcelona and taking a left instead of a right out of our AirBnB resulted in us finding a charming hole-in-the-wall restaurant, La Tinaja. Shelves lined with every kind of red wine – bottles big and small – terracotta vessels lined up neatly in rows, dark wooden tables and burgundy red decor gave the room a welcoming and warm feel. It was a subdued night – even the staff noted that the evening was unusually quiet, for every restaurant, not only their own, but I enjoyed the quiet and tranquil atmosphere. Had I not been with my mother, it would have been the perfect location for romantic, candlelit date.
The menu at La Tinaja is a selection of salads, cold meat and fish plates and several hot dishes. Four dishes are recommended for two, but we went ahead and ordered five – we were only in Barcelona once, so had to try everything that caught our eye.
We began the meal with wine, of course. The by-the-glass selection was expertly described to us – did we want a full bodied red with notes of winter berries, a light Catalan red with a smooth finish, or perhaps a vibrant summery white? We both went for the full bodied Shiraz – which really did taste of blackberries – but were a little surprised to see the waitress pull the wine bottle out from an ice bucket. Is it normal for Spanish to serve red wines chilled? I later asked this question to our host, who said that some prefer to drink their red wine chilled in the summer. I’m not opposed to the concept – Sangria and Tinto de Verrano are cold red wine drinks after all, and I love them(!) – but it does take a little getting used to.
Our first dish was the ‘preferita’ salad, with light and creamy mozzarella, walnuts, sticky, ripe figs – which had an almost confit texture – mixed leaves and a basil oil dressing. Oh, and a rather random addition of carrot shavings, which remained in the bowl once we had finished.
Next came the meats and bread. It’s DIY tomato bread here, so we were shown how to master the art by the waiter: slice open a clove of garlic and rub liberally over the toast, cut a tomato in half and rub the flesh into the bread, then drizzle with plenty of fine extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. The meat plate was a chance to taste the best of Spanish charcuterie. Robust Iberico, full flavoured lomo, piquant chistorra and chorizo bleeding its saffron-coloured oil.
A bowl of fava beans fried in olive oil with jamòn and mint were the standout dish of the evening. Nourishing and packed with flavour.
Our last fish was fresh cod loin, served ceviche style on a bed of fresh tomato, red onion and garlic salsa. Simple, fresh and delicious.
Cortado and cake
I hate traipsing around tourist sites: we of course visited the stunningly beautiful and overwhelmingly impressive Sagrada Familia and saw the intricate mosaics at Park Guell, but we spend many an afternoon enjoying a coffee or cocktail at Café Mudanzas, while sitting quietly with a good book and watching the world go by. Sometimes holidays are not all about seeing everything a place has to offer, but just relaxing and soaking up the local culture. We weren’t the only regulars at this cafe – a Spanish girl, who I assume worked nearby, was always perched at the opposite table with her regular order of a latte and salad.
With the best cortado in town, a-little-too-easy-to-drink cocktails and irresistible cinnamon buns – the smell of which wafted from the kitchen one afternoon and was impossible to resist, resulting in mum and I treating ourselves to an afternoon bite despite having a full evening of tapas bar hopping ahead(!). Café Mudanzas is a spot I’d recommend to any weary tourists after a morning of museums, shopping and sites.
Head here for a few early evening cocktails and try their perfectly balanced mojito, made with dark rum or their fruity pink lady with fresh strawberries, orange and lemon crushed into gin and ice.
Books and a bite
Story is a young and chic social eating house. Book-lined walls, independent artists’ artwork for sale and an armchair upholstered with old jeans; it wouldn’t be out of place in London’s Soho.
Mum and I ordered salad and a glass of wine as a light lunch. The salads here are simplicity at it’s best, relying on the highest quality Spanish ingredients to carry the dish. I chose an anchovy, confit tomato and lemon-mayo dressing salad, while mum chose the rocket, peach and ricotta salad. Both were faultless and elegantly prepared.
For lunch, don’t turn up before at midday – they run strictly on Spanish time here, meaning lunch doesn’t start until 2pm, when the chef gets in.
Euskal Euxea: Plaça de Montcada, 1-3, Born-Ribera, 08003
Taperia Princesa: Carrer de la Princesa, 20, 08003
Bodega La Puntual: Plaça de Montcada, 22, 08003
La Tinaja: Carrer de l’Esparteria, 9, 08003
Café Mudanzas: Calle Vidrieria, 15, 08003
Story: Carrer del Pou de la Cadena, 8, El Born, 08003