Saturday, 19 July 2014

5 Cheap Eats in el Born, Barcelona

La Paradeta

Possibly my favourite 'cheap eat' in Barcelona - we've visited La Paradeta the last two times we've visited the city. On entering, you're encountered with a massive fresh fish counter - think monkfish, lobster, sea snails, oysters, mussels, razor clams, tuna, salmon... there's pretty much everything a fish lover could dream of here. It looks busier - and scarier! - than it is; queuing like a well-behaved Brit worked in our favour this time; everything's charged by the weight (though the staff will portion the fish out for the number of covers dining) and you can choose how you'd like it cooked (grilled/fried/steamed).

There's cheap wine (like everywhere in Spain) - and ice bucket stands sit at every table. Don't let that comment fool you - this is a self service restaurant if ever there was one. Your receipt will specify your number to listen out for (in both English and Spanish - phew!) which you collect at the hatch. Don't forget the sauces when you pay, and load up on ailoli. Skip the salad - it's nothing special but grab a couple of breads for the mussels. Beware of the gambas (prawns) - four of these babies cost 8 euros; well worth it for the quality on offer, but some of the shellfish can stop it from being a 'cheap eat'. We've only eaten at the Born location, but there's four other branches in Barcelona.

Carrer Comercial, 7
Barcelona, Spain

La Taguara Areperia

We actually ate here as a "starter" before visiting Mosquito. It's a stand-up kind of joint, with Moritz beer and a large menu for your fillings. Not sure what exactly an arepa is? Check out our pals, Arepa! Arepa! Arepa! in Manchester.

There's pretty much anything you could imagine to stuff in your maize patty - from black beans & roughly a kilo of cheese** to chicken & avocado. Can't choose? Fortunately, there's also "La Mixta", basically a bit of everything. When you've finished your grub hot foot it down the street for a post-dinner Manhattan at Gimlet. You can afford it - none of the arepas are more than five euros.

Carrer del Rec, 10
08003 Barcelona

Pim Pam Plats

Looking for a 'cheap eat' on our last day for lunch, we scouted Pim Pam out for a little while before giving it a go. This casual eaterie was clearly popular for takeaway when many of the options seemed to be available to purchase by weight; there's an impressive looking counter, filled with 10-12 different salads, four fresh pastas, tagines, curries, meat..... well, nearly everything you can think of. We both plumped for one of their confusingly good deals - I chose one of their daily salads with a delicious almond, cream & spinach tortellini (beware, they do heat this in the microwave and mine came out not quite hot enough), whilst Jamie gave me the worst case of food envy with his burger. This simple bun filled with a perfectly pink patty, gherkins, lettuce and mustard blew every other burger we'd eaten in a restaurant out the water. Two salads, a burger, fresh pasta and a beer came to around 18 euros (£16).

Next time we'll be trying the original Pim Pam Burger, round the corner at Carrer del Sabateret, 4.

Carrer del Rec, 8
08003 Barcelona


Nearing the end of our trip and craving a touch of good ol' Mancunian service (a.k.a. hipster service, as described by Good Gobble here), Mosquito was the obvious choice. Situated just a few minutes walk from the main square in El Born, Mosquito is a tiny Chinese style restaurant, specialising in dumplings and crispy duck. Oh, and not to mention a pretty damn good craft beer selection. On the evening we went, they were all out of English menus but staff were friendly and disappointingly un-hipster (though very stylish); we tried three different kinds of dumpling, their crispy duck and rice. Along with two very decent beers, the bill came to under 30 euros (or about £25). We arrived pining for Manchester* and left pining for a place like this in Manchester.

Carrer dels Carders, 46
08003 Barcelona

Pizza Paco

Every time we've visited the Born area of Barcelona, it's been hard not to notice how popular Pizza Paco is. Word has it it's hard to grab an outdoor table in the evening - so we plumped for a completely un-cool dining time of around 5 in the afternoon. The beer's crap in that way that it just about becomes acceptable because you're in a hot country, but the pizza is worth a visit. One between the two of us, with a, um, side of empanada was more than enough for a light tea. The lot came to around £13. This joint ain't gonna knock you out if you're a pizza perfectionist, but it's pretty damn good, with smiley, relaxed service and a lovely courtyard. The desserts sounded good too. No website, but the address is below.

Carrer de l'Allada-Vermell, 11
08003 Barcelona

*obviously I am lying. I have never pined for anywhere in Barcelona.
**I am exaggerating - but the amount of cheese was sort of ridiculous.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tickets, Barcelona

There are a few restaurants in this world whose reputation precedes them to the extent that the desire to eat in them is surpassed by the feeling that you, in fact, already have. The Fat Duck, for me, is one; The Hand and Flowers another. And outside of the UK, that restaurant, for me, was Tickets. I had digested so many reviews, read so many articles and seen so many photos, that it nearly felt like I had eaten there - without, of course, the pain of shelling out a couple of hundred euros in cash.

...but everyone said, "Go!", "You'll love it!", "It's amazing!". Given the two month waiting list online, and the fact that it was now just a couple of weeks 'til we set off on our jollies, I didn't believe we'd, er, be partaking in a spherified olive in our time in Barcelona. We'd debated trying for a walk-in, but by the fifth night of our stay in the surrealist city, we'd found so many other places we were dying to try (and one that we even wanted to visit twice), we'd crossed it off our list.

Cue charming waiter, who delivered the best service we've experienced at a restaurant, and a suggestion he could bag us a table for a couple of night's time. Well, it sort of felt rude to turn down such an offer.

Two days later, we sat outside the restaurant on a bench, watching staff mill between Tickets and its neighbour, 41 degrees. The anticipation was building and we began to let ourselves get excited. It was Jamie's birthday and I was excited to treat him to a meal in a restaurant that had seemingly nailed mass-market molecular gastronomy.

And, we found, it had. More or less. The food - for the most part - was pretty perfect. Spherified olives with a skin you could barely taste - explosive flavours of brine and garlic hitting the roof of your mouth. Watermelon infused with Sangria - a dish I really didn't want, but that Jamie did - and y'know, it being his birthday an' all. Well, it was... watermelony. Like, the best watermelon with a hint of red wine.

There were the Manchego cheese puffs we painstakingly watched a chef compose. Like Quavers on acid, I could eat a Grab Bag of these things (it might cost 40 euros for the pleasure, but man, I could eat them... coming to a Spanish petrol station near you, soon!).

The little nori-wrapped cone of tuna made me feel like a baby mermaid (would a mermaid eat fish? Hmm.); the anchovy with a film of olive oil was deliciously flaunty, the superficial skin being just that. Octopus with a take on kimchi didn't live up to the tentacled creature we ate at Suculent on the first night of our trip, and the accompanying salad to the crab cannelloni was something we could have made at home (though the crab wrapped in avocado itself was pretty divine).

The mollettes (a sort of soft bun, containing pork and mustard) were wonderfully comforting (and thank fuck they were, after waiting 25 minutes for the buggers) and the basil macaroni was, perhaps, one of the best 'pasta' dishes I've ever eaten. It was almost worth the visit just for that last dish.

But why did the service feel like we were being waited on by dancing bears, kept captive in a circus they wished to be no part of? Like teenagers given detentions in the heat of summer, few staff members seemed to want to be there, let alone permitted to experience fun. With stern-faced managers and steely sous-chefs watching over everything with distaste, it felt difficult to really enjoy the experience - which, I had hoped, would be the main point of this restaurant. A small break-through came when I dipped into the 'cortado', and a chef spotted the smile on my face - visibly pleased at the delight of a diner; and later, again, when the bored waiter made a crack about the 'broken' espresso cup (the crockery was intended to have its side cut away).

The manager appeared to care less that I found the service so dire it impacted upon our experience. Why should he care that we holidaymakers were shelling out a substantial amount of cash on a visit when they had an American TV crew in, filming? Perhaps if they'd mentioned this at the start of the visit, we might have empathised a little more. However, it was hidden from the customers - apart from, of course, the fact that the producers were sat behind us throughout the meal, with earpieces in, demanding shots of Albert Adria through the lobster tank.

Yes, really.

I don't wish to impart upon you the feeling you've already been to Tickets, especially because I wouldn't really wish my experience of Tickets on anyone, so I've gone easy on the photos and light on the description. I'm sure if you go, your dinner will be more fun than mine, and the food is undeniably skilled and tasty; though, if on entering, you spot anyone with a battery in their back pocket, let the curtains fall and exit stage left.

Avinguda del Paraŀlel 164, 
08015 Barcelona, Spain

Bookings via the website here.

Saturday, 6 October 2012



Time for another moment from the Barca back-catalogue.

As soon as I visited Igueldo's website and saw the picture of their tartare of beef with beer yoghurt, I was sold. Not the most outre fare, granted, but the draw of a good tartare is irresistible. And the Spanish love them - tuna, salmon, mackerel, tomato, you'll find one on most menus. 

So off we wandered to Eixample and once again entered a restaurant where the staff outnumbered the customers by at least three to one. Surprising in a way, since, as you can see from the above photo, that this is one of the finer dining rooms in a swanky neighbourhood. Then again, we were probably a little early for dinner: it was nearly 10pm.

The tasting menu was too well-priced to pass up despite it being our third in a row. A little unusually, the head chef came to take our order, though I imagine this will prevent any communication breakdowns with front-of-house. After chatting to Paco Guzman later in the week it does seem like chefs are beginning to break out of the kitchen and trying to interact more with diners. Or, they're just that bored in Barcelona in August!

Wine ordered, we waited for our amuse-bouche, while being lulled into a romantic mood by the soft lighting and even softer music. This was definitely the most intimate dining experience, bar the fact that we were sitting with a view into the kitchen, watching some inactive chefs slouch around. I don't mean this as a criticism - there were only three diners when we entered so I wasn't expecting to see a flurry of activity.

To whet the appetite, a miniature hot-dog with a sweet wholegrain mustard sauce. A delicious morsel but not amongst the most exciting amuse-bouches I've had. But like petit-fours and desserts, this is the time to have fun and it was nothing if not that.

Next the beef tartare (below). Well balanced, well seasoned, and just about the best tartare I've ever tasted. And I've had a lot. The beer yoghurt added interesting yeasty and sour notes which cut through the richness of the tartare nicely.

Beef tartare with beer yoghurt

Next up was the most unpleasant dish we were to eat all holiday: Iberico ham and foie gras ravioli. It looked extremely unappetising, hence the lack of photographic evidence; the mouthfeel was simultaneously pasty and slimey; the taste was overly rich due to a the butter sauce with which it was topped. It may have worked should the chef have noted that the best things come in small doses, but he plonked two large ravioli on the plate, with no thought for presentation. A disaster of a dish that left us both feeling a little ill.

Thank god for hake and clams. Perfectly cooked fish with delicious clams all coated with a chilli and garlic sauce, sat on a bed of wonderfully seasoned, thinly sliced potatoes. We were confused - the chef did understand simplicity. The slate was wiped clean.

Hake and clams
...only to find a pile of braised oxtail underneath. Served with a vanilla and sweet potato puree and wrapped in a savoy cabbage leaf, it was superbly flavourful but was too much considering the amount we'd eaten already. For a tasting menu, these were some of the most generous portions we'd ever seen. Good for your wallet; bad for your stomach.


Finally, something to snap us out of the ensuing food-coma: a lemon sorbet. The granita on my tongue felt like long-awaited rain on parched earth. This came perched atop lemon mousse, which was rich and refreshing in equal measures. However, it was hindered by the lemon vodka sitting in the bottom of the glass which created bitter sensations on my palette.

Lemon sorbet

I could have happily paid up and left feeling far too full, but there was still one more course. A somewhat British inspired cheese souffle, served with raspberry ice cream. The souffle was underdone, the ice-cream delicious.

Cheese souffle with raspberry ice-cream
At the time I would have said it was a great meal but with time I look upon it less fondly. It was only the tartare that made a lasting impression on me. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but perhaps it also shows that a fantastic dining experience isn't always about having the best meal of your life: the ambience of the restaurant was romantic and soothing, and the service quietly fantastic. It was a peaceful and cool break from the hustle of the busy city and an enjoyable evening.

There's a small part of me that also wonders whether myself & Anna would have looked on the restaurant more fondly if the head chef hadn't recommended a diabolical bar called el Boca Chica; style over substance if ever I saw it, where we only managed one drink after wanting to shoot the wannabe 'Desperate Housewives of New Jersey' sitting next to us.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Degustación de Barcelona

Where to start?

A week in Barcelona is never enough time... yet there's still so much to say.

Anna & I found such an affinity with the Spanish way of life, especially that of Barcelona, that it's quite a culture shock returning to Manchester. It's a pipe-dream to imagine that the English attitude towards eating, drinking and socializing could undergo an overhaul of the kind that would bring us more in line with the Spanish mentality. It's also a pipe dream to imagine we would have any money left should we live in a country which offers tasting menus (Menú degustación) at every other restaurant.

Anyway, that's enough of my unpatriotic misgivings, I suspect.

Having gone straight back into work from holiday, we haven't had time to write up reviews of all the places we visited, so the idea here is to give a taster (or a degustación!) of things to come.

Full reviews of the restaurants to come but highlights include...

-Being the sole table on a Friday night in Paco Guzman's 'Santa', the sister restaurant to Santa Maria, and having a fairly frank discussion with the chef/owner about the state of the food scene in Barcelona

-Discovering an ale-centric bar just around the corner from our apartment in Sant Pere and talking to one of the new breed of Spanish brewers (I say talking, I mean smiling and nodding, as he spoke no English, and us little Spanish)

-Sardine with spiced butter, fennel pollen and lemon at Gresca

-Squid with a deconstructed Romesco sauce at Bar Del Pla

-Morcilla with sauteed chickpeas at Casa Delfin

-Beef tartare and beer yoghurt at Igueldo

-The eccentric and laid-back staff at Organic (somewhat reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in I Heart Huckabees)

-Watching Spanish hipsters dancing to British indie music in Sidecar

Watch this space! (It is a bank holiday, after all...)