Barcelona bucket list of comfort eats
On the spectrum of food, Barcelona will go down in the history of high cuisine thanks to universally-known chef, Ferran Adria, propelling Barcelona at the forefront of of gastronomic revolution. However, Barcelona goes back much further. As the capital of Catalunya, it was an important centre for Catalan medieval cuisine in the Middle Ages. Due to its strategic location as an important goods port in the Mediterranean, Barcelona had always been cosmopolitan and open. It was the city of counts bringing together the counts of Barcelona and the monarchs of Aragon, hence it is a mixture of all these cuisines that influenced it to be what it is today. The result, a rich traditional heritage.
I did some research of where we should go eat and understand in depth the role of soups in this region to gather inspirations but 5 days was really not enough to eat through the list I made up. Moreover, some of these places were difficult to find, too far apart and some were really crowded and not suitable for kids. For us, we tried our best to find the places recommended, but at the end of the day, we just enjoyed walking around, lingering in a delicatessen shop with products fit for the most demanding gourmets, enjoy many drinks before settling down for a meal in a restaurant. Walking around a neighbourhood, gave us the opportunity to visit the grocery stores, the bakeries, the local art scene and that non descript statue in the park. Not the most productive if all we wanted was to eat our way around the best places in Barcelona. But it gave us the opportunity to stumble upon many great finds too that turned out to be memorable experiences for us. Here, I would take the opportunity to highlight some of the food places we visited which are worthy of a second visit.
Mercat de La Boqueria (La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain)
The Mercat de Sant Josep commonly known as the La Boqueria, is perhaps Barcelona’s foremost tourist landmark situated along the stretch of La Rambla. Manuel Vazquez Montalban defined La Boqueria as the “Cathedral of Senses”. The current market was built in 1840 in its current location although the earliest mention of the market was in 1217. Today, it is a bustling market filled with tourists from day to night. There is probably nothing you cannot get here, from freshly squeezed juices, to light bite of tapas, a cone of freshly shaved jamon, a sit down freshly cooked to order seafood meal by the bar, to the cornucopia of well displayed fruits, vegetables, hams, meat and spices. Some would say this is a tourist trap, but it is definitely highly recommended for a visit as it does showcase the best produce from around Barcelona. It is enough just to be aroused by the smells, flavours and noises when one visits.
Pinotxo (pronounced as Pinocchio) (La Rambla, 91, 08002 Barcelona)
Near the front entrance of La Boqueria market is Bar Pinotxo. It is the most famous of all the eateries inside the marketplace and has since become an institution serving traditional Catalan cuisine for more than 50 years. It only has a bar counter and 14 seats and most of the time, it is constantly buzzing and there is rarely an empty seat during its operation hours from 6am to 3pm.
There’s no printed menu here. Everything is prepared depending on what’s fresh and seasonal. Juanita spoke little English but we we were still able to communicate asking us was there anything we did not eat and was quick to give us a recommendation. At times, we just pointed at what other people were having.
Tast a la Rambla (La Rambla section called Rambla de Santa Mònica from Centre d’Art Santa Monica to Columbus Monument)
We were just strolling along Barcelona’s famous Rambla Street and stumbled upon all these food kiosks that seemed to be manned by some real pro looking men in white. We were souper stoked when we realised that this was Tast a la Rambla, a gastronomic explosion of the best restaurants and gastrobars coming together whether it was traditional cuisine or new world Spain modern interpretation. This is a yearly event in June and we were real fortunate to be in Barcelona to experience it. It is similar to Singapore’s Savour, which showcases restaurant food by top chefs in Barcelona in tapas size portions at reduced prices. The only difference is this is not an exclusive event that one needs to buy tickets to get in. We just had to buy tasting tickets that entitled us to choose 4 tapas dishes for 16 euros. This year there were altogether 47 stalls with at least 15 of them were with Michelin stars. How cool is that? It saved us the trouble to locate all of them separately!
The weather was great and they had all these lawn chairs and low tables for us to sit and enjoy our food. We bought 16 euros worth of tickets and I thought it was quite a steal considering if we were to go have tapas at a bar, it would have costed us 2 to 4 euros per tapa anyway. It will be odd to travel to each of this restaurant separately and only eat one dish. This was indeed convenient for us to explore and try their foods.
Cuines Santa Caterina (Mercado de Santa Caterina, Avinguda de Francesc Cambó, 16, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)
Cuines Santa Caterina is located in the Santa Caterina’s market – renovated by top architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue. Cuines means kitchens in Catalan. Cuines with a S because this restaurant offers foods from 4 different types of kitchens: Of the World (Asian), Mediterranean, Charcoal Oven (Italian) and Vegetarian. Their motto is market food to share.
We chanced upon this restaurant while walking in the Barri Gothic area. I recognised it as I have seen this restaurant’s interior being featured in design magazines. This place seems very popular with locals and tourists alike.
We were told by the wait staff that the people sitting outside were having tapas menu. The inside seating was strictly for restaurant food and no cross ordering allowed. There were some unhappy guests but I understand why this was so. The price difference between tapas and a dish was almost double for most and some even triple. It just would not make economic sense to have the average spend at 10 euros per pax.
We opted to sit in the restaurant . We loved the interior decoration which reminded me of Scandinavian interior design by its simplicity of the materials made of wood, stone. There were even ficus trees planted in between rows of communal tables and an entire wall composed of shelves stacked with bottles of wine, olive oil, vinegars and flours.
Food wise, we loved it. The way the menu was designed. It is being sectioned into categories such as vegetables, fish/shellfish, pasta, rice dishes to name a few. On the other axis, it is being sectioned according to the different cuisines offered. You can choose a wild salmon tartar, a cantonese fried rice followed by a creme catalana for dessert. They do have a huge selection of food items including thai chicken curry, california rolls and mushroom stuffed ravioli.
This place also has a reputation of rude and unfriendly staff from reviews on TripAdvisor. Coming from the same industry, I do empathise. In my opinion, the place is just too busy. The highly productive staff were very efficient in taking orders, serving the food, clearing the tables and seating guests. With the kind of volume, there just wasn’t much time to engage in small talk or be extra attentive to customers waving their hands for something. Generally, customers would perceive such behaviour as rude and snobbish. One thing we do notice is that tipping is not a norm and typically most places don’t even levy service charge. So perhaps this may be a precursor of the less than ideal service standards in Spain. Generally the prices were reasonable and the quality of food was good.
We went back a second time for an early lunch on a Sunday afternoon, but this time for the tapas menu. Prices ranged from 4.5 euros to about 10 euros. Menu items included the usual suspects like patatas bravas, anchoas and the not so commonly seen shrimp tempura, and thai chicken curry with prawns. This is actually quite smart, repeating items from their restaurant menu and selling them at tapas portion size. The place was significantly less crowded and what a beautiful sunny day to sit outdoors. We were warned however to take good care of our belongings as there had been too many incidences of snatch theft.
Pasteleria La Colmena (Placa de l’Angel 12, 08002 Barcelona, Spain)
While walking in the Barri Gothic area, we stumbled upon La Colmena Pasteleria and was immediately taken by its quaint shopfront. We saw plenty of people walking out with these beautifully piped meringue looking desserts and decided to check it out. Google informed us that this was one of the oldest patisserie in Barcelona dating back to 1864. Time seemed to have stood still and everything looked pretty old school giving it an air of antiquity. I could imagine in its hey days, families stopping by in their Sunday best, after mass service at the nearby cathedrals to give their kids a sweet treat, a reward for being obedient children during the week.
Churrería El Trébol (Carrer de Còrsega, 341,08037 Barcelona, Spain)
Many would say how could one visit Spain and not eat churros. Churros is a fried dough pastry something like a Spanish version of doughnut or our local Singapore dough fritters, often served with a cup of thick hot chocolate to dip the goodness in. I have never really been very much of a fan as most of the ones I have eaten were either rock hard or just too doughy.
We stumbled across this place after a long walk from Parc Guell to La Pepita. (*by now most of you would have noticed that we have a knack of stumbling on great places to eat! LOL! This is what happens when we just keep walking and walking. Great way to explore any city) Unfortunately, it was Sunday and they were closed. Kids were getting tired and hungry. Papa kept telling the kiddos we were reaching and it ended up to be a 1.5 hours walk. We saw these lovely thick churros in the display and we just could not resist. They were really good. I must say the best I ever had! The churros were thick and crunchy, crispy and at the same time it had the softest interior. They were lightly coated in sugar and cinnamon upon request. These were best eaten dipped into their signature hot chocolate. It was so good, that we went back to get some more a couple of days later.
The place was non-descript and small, with just a small counter filled with churros, a long bar table with high stools and a small kitchen at the back. Little would I know that this place is actually Barcelona’s oldest churreria launched in 1950. They have various kinds of churros from custard filled ones to chocolate coated ones. For us, the traditional ones are still the best! The owner, Cecilia Martínez, started making and selling churros with her husband in the 40s, before they opened the doors to Xurreria El Trebol a couple of years later. Today it’s Martínez’ children and grandchildren handling the business.
Fabrica Moritz Barcelona (Ronda de Sant Antoni, 41, 08011, Barcelona)
Moritz is an iconic Catalan beer brand founded in Barcelona by French immigrant Louis Moritz Trautmann in 1856. Moritz beer was initially brewed in a small factory in the Raval area of Barcelona’s old city. In 1864, they moved to a larger brewery at Ronda de Sant Antoni in the Eixample district, where they brewed the popular beer for just over 100 years. However, Moritz closed the factory in 1966 and moved production outside Barcelona to Parets del Vallès. The business continued to grow steadily but in the 70‘s oil crisis seriously affected various sectors of the economy and Moritz owners decide to sell their part of the shareholders and the company closed in 1978.
Moritz beer re-emerged in 2004 when the fifth and sixth generation of the Moritz family resurrected the brand which is now brewed under license in Zaragoza. The old factory building on Ronda de Sant Antoni stayed in the hands of the family. It underwent a 30 million euro renovation by celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel to house the Moritz beer museum, the microbrewery, restaurant and novelty gift store. They wanted to position themselves as the “Beer of Barcelona” and oust the already known and accepted by all citizens Estrella Damm. Loving the David and Goliath spirit here! Go Moritz! Today, there isn’t any doubt, after 10 years of this relaunch, the Moritz beer is a closely linked and rooted brand in the city of Barcelona.
Nomad Coffee Productions (Passatge de Sert, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)
We had our fair share of cafe con leche in Spain for our caffeine fix, but call us snobs, but we were missing our well made cafe latte from full bodied Brazilian and Colombian with cherry, floral and chocolate notes. We stumbled upon this coffee shop when we were exploring the El-Born area. There is such a thing as Third Wave coffee in Spain! Cøffee Lab & Shop opens Monday to Friday from 9:30 to 3:30 where we met two times champion, Jordi making all kinds of magic using a DC/PRO that glows, AeroPress, V60 with Hario Buono pouring kettle. The beans are carefully selected and roasted here. They don’t have much desserts except for two different varieties of cake. I had the Colombian which had cherry notes, at 3 euros per latte. I should have opted for a double shot when he asked me. One shot was pretty weak for the size of the cup they were using. We were there in the afternoon, and there was some sort of coffee appreciation being conducted.
Casa Lolea (Sant Pere Mes Alt, 49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)
Just round the corner from Nomad Productions, is a must pit stop! We stumbled upon Casa Lolea, ( * for lack of a better word .. we stumbled.. again.. LOL, as I was proofreading this, I could really count the number of times I used stumbled in this post alone!) a small little cafe restaurant with a retro decor. What caught our attention were the beautiful polka dot bottles of sangria and the story of how they make their sangria on little folded cards written in English. We were pretty full after coffee and lunch, but we had to go in to experience the decor and of course the sangria! Sangria is a traditional and popular drink in Spain, with every bar and every household having their own recipe. However, the quality cannot be guaranteed as most bars would use whatever is available, or was going to expire or using cheap wines for mixing. I have tasted really bad ones before and nothing like Casa Lolea’s. Casa Lolea makes sangria using good wine and natural ingredients, and I have gotten information that Albert Adria was involved in helping to come up with recipe for the concoction, so this must be consistently good!
We loved it so much and decided to google and see whether anyone was selling this in Singapore. To our excitement, we found Vinos Exclusivos, the local distributor in Singapore. We contacted Ruben and we are souper stoked that he came on board to be one of the partners for our #tsstakemetospain campaign sponsoring some sangria for our lucky winners. Ruben, a Spaniard himself, told us how he too stumbled on the shop exactly like us. Highly recommended for those of us who love refreshing cocktails!
Bar del Pla (Carrer Montcada, 2, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)
Situated right near the Picasso Museum and surrounded by tapas bars in the Barri Gothic, this place is easily missed. However, I assure you, the food here is good and highly recommended. According to TripAdvisor, they serve plenty of very good dishes and the place can get crowded at night. We visited it about 5 pm, and there were just a few ladies having some drinks.
Jaume Pla, Jordi Palomino and chef Jordi Peris opened Bar del Pla in 2008. The partners, all seasoned professionals, wanted a place to hang out in, somewhere joyful, casual, easy to share with friends – a bar, but with a virtuosic kitchen, a well-stocked, wide-ranging cellar and accessible prices. The kitchen uses mostly local produce and works from a traditional foundation, relying less on the fryer and more on fresh preparations. The menu is familiar in content – bravas, anchovies, croquetas – but they do have unique dishes some clearly with Asian influence in taste. I think it is this spirit of reconceptualising and innovating on the old with imagination peppered with international influences, breathing new life into the same old tapas that makes Barcelona a breeding ground for experimental nouvelle cuisine and gastronomy.
La Pepita (Carrer de Còrsega, 343, 08037 Barcelona, Spain)
Sofía Boixet and Sergio Andreu started La Pepita in 2010 with not very much money but with plenty of help from friends and family. (Sounds oddly familiar! The Soup Spoon story!) He was an industrial designer with academic background but decided to give it all up when he recognised his true vocation was in culinary arts. After a spell at the cookery school run by one Michelin starred restaurant, Hoffmann, he moved to Paris with Sofia to work for two years in the kitchens of El Fogon, the restaurant run by the chef Alberto Herraiz, a well-regarded Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant. In 2010, the couple returned to Barcelona and opened La Pepita in the neighbourhood of Gracia.
At La Pepita, Sofía takes care of the front of the house, while Sergio fine-tunes the menu with creativity drawing inspirations from the latest innovations in the culinary sphere and fusing it with Catalan and Mediterranean traditions. Result: Culinary magic! Old world food infused with varied flavours that are modern, globally influenced but yet so warm and familiar at the same time. We enjoyed most of the dishes we ordered but some stood out more. I would definitely come back and try the rest of the food as it resonates with me what the couple is doing, good old tapas with a creative twist.
Pepita sandwiches are supposedly their speciality, inspired by the pork loin sandwich, pepito de lomo. They created a whole slew of varieties with fish, seafood, vegetables placed between two crunchy wafer thin slices of bread. We however did not order any of these sandwiches! We figured we would be too full to eat anything else. I saw some peeps eating it when we were there, and I regretted not ordering it ! A good excuse for me to go back next time!
We made a version of crema catalana based on the one from La Pepita. Recipe is up on the blog now! Real easy to make too!
This place will never be like the traditional tapas institutions like Quimet & Quimet, El Xampanyet and La Cova Fumada, but it has my respect for challenging traditions, giving their own interpretation of these dishes and infusing them with global flavours. I enjoyed most of what we ordered and I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Barcelona.
Bodega 1900 (Carrer de Tamarit, 91, 08015 Barcelona, Spain)
Bodega 1900 opened quietly back in September 2013 and the man behind it is non other that Albert Adria. This hole in the wall restaurant specializes in vermouth and tapas, two of his greatest passions. The name pays homage to the bodegas, small corner shops where one can grab a quick bite and a glass of vermouth, and the year of the building’s construction (1900). It is decorated to feel like a turn of the century tavern.
It mimics an old-school tapas bar (and calls itself a ‘vermutería ‘, though it only stocks Martini), draws inspiration from Adria’s childhood, when his father would take him to a neighbourhood bodega for the traditional pre-lunch drink and snack known as a “vermut”. With an Adrià at the helm in the kitchen, one can be assured that it would be somewhat innovative, while still staying true to the flavours that dominated in local food from the early 20th century: the smoked, the salted, the grilled and the pickled.
I read an online interview Albert gave, and the motivation for opening Bodega 1900 was to be able to close this pre dinner place at 8pm. A few years back during the El Bulli days, his wife Sylvia told him that their son was growing up quickly and he should try to be part of that process . He needed to slow things down instead of working 16 hours a day. This was something that resonates with me and I can fully understand as an entrepreneur and a parent of 2 young kids.
We managed to make a reservation for 5pm, Lol! Who eats at this time except tourists! The place was not crowded at all. What truly impressed us was how impeccable the service was. Originally, I was afraid they had a no kids policy, after all, this is common for most Michelin starred restaurants. The restaurant staff were very friendly and accommodating to the kids. A special shoutout to our waiter Alberto. We were not sure what to order, so he suggested that he would have something put together for us to enjoy, a few starters, something for the kids and they would bring food out until we say stop. He also asked us if there was anything we were allergic to or did not particularly fancy. It was a welcoming change to receive such wonderful thoughtful service. Each time, our food was served, Alberto was there to give an explanation of the dish, how to enjoy it which made the food and experience that little more special. Thus far, in Spain, the service level has been spurty, staff can be pretty harried and can come across as rude possibly due to our language barrier.
We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of food by Alberto. Everything was light and delicious with the use of top quality ingredients executed masterfully by Albert’s team.
And now to end our tapas style dinner with irresistible desserts! How could we forget Albert’s moniker “the pastry chef from elBulli”!
The bill came up to be slightly shy of 150 euros for drinks and food for 4. Not cheap but for the quality and the chance to experience the magic touch of Albert Adria in a fuss free manner, it was definitely worth it. Highly recommended to anyone intending to visit Barcelona.
I have read that Albert Adria sometimes works at the bodega during the day and would pop over to Tickets, opposite for dinner service. Never in my wildest dream, would I think we would actually see him at Bodega 1900. He popped into Bodega cladded in T shirt and jeans. I was souper stoked. I was a fan girl asking our waiter Alberto, whether I could take a picture with Albert but he thought it was best for me to ask him myself. But in the end, he told us he would try to ask, if he was still around the restaurant. When we finished our meal, he was nowhere to be found. I suppose at that moment, anyone could see the disappointment written all over my face! LOL!.
We took our leave and guess what, we saw him having a discussion with his staff in the space next to Bodega 1900. Normally, I would not intrude but I felt that if I did not ask, I may never get a chance to shake his hands and say hello. In a very apologetic manner, I knocked on the glass door and asked sheepishly whether I could have a picture taken with him. He smiled and said YES! That was a relief. He came out, shook our hands, even spoke to us a little bit asking where were we from and spoke about the weather in Barcelona. He was just so humble and nice! One of the wait staff across at Tickets, told me I was really lucky as he would not normally be around. Aww..
Still in Catalunya, we went on to our next leg of our trip to Corca and finally up to the Pyrenees in Andorra. Bye Barcelona! We enjoyed ourselves tremendously.