El Born is a district I would usually only come to for shopping, but there are a couple of good eateries here, the first of which is an institution in Barcelona.
Cal Pep (Advanced A), 8 Placa de las Olles, opens 7.30pm, Tel. 93 310 7961, www.calpep.com
In a nutshell Cal Pep looks and operates like a typical tapas bar but it sells, high end Spanish dishes, both classic and modern. It’s prime tourist territory but it’s still an experience worth having. It’s also my best buddy Luke’s favourite place in town so it had to be done.
I planned to beat the queue by getting there as soon as it opened at 7.30 but misjudged it and didn’t get there till 8.15, by which time all twenty bar stools were full with another twenty people queuing for them.
The waiters ease the thirty minute wait by plying the line with glasses of wine.
I ended up being seated between two other solo diners; an affable Irish wine merchant who I could have chatted to all night, and a Canadian corporate lawyer who I wanted to throttle sixty seconds after meeting him. Ah well, their wines were both equally good. A Rioja, a Ribera and a Verdejo, all very nice thank you.
My poor man’s choice of white was called Sumarroca ‘Blanc de Blancs’ a term usually used for champagne made with 100% Chardonnay grapes but here it’s a local still wine, made from four different grapes (B+).
I began with some Pa de Coca feeling sorry for the poor guy whose only job all night is to toast the bread. It’s a Catalan classic with tomato juice and raw garlic rubbed on (A).
I know Tallarines usually means noodles but I have it in my head that they are also a Catalan name for these baby clams. Anyway, they were wonderful (A).
Next some Calamar Fregit or fried squid. It’s ok (B) but I’d rather have it grilled plainly with olive oil as the Italians do.
Navajas, razor clams, are always a favourite with me (A)
Truita Trempera is an original Cal Pep recipe; an omelette smeared with allioli, not a typical combination which is maybe why they call it a ‘tricky’ tortilla.
The Tartar de Tonyina was fantastic (A), but I’ve had even better at El Faro in Cadiz which is probably where this came from in the first place.
Not sure what the cake was called but I’m sure it was great!
Finally I finished with a brandy from Jerez, a reserva by Fernando de Castilla, a new name for me.
The total bill came to a hefty €81.50 but I had been extremely greedy!
This next place is much cheaper though…
La Paradeta (Intermediate B), 7 Carrer Commercial (next to the old Born covered market), Metro Jaime 1 or Arc de Triomf
This is a great place for lovers of seafood who are on a tight budget. It’s best to get there about fifteen minutes before it opens at 8pm to avoidqueuing for ages outside.
Once inside you can begin to choose from the fishmonger-style displays of mussels, oysters, razor shells, prawns, crab and lobster. The prices displayed are by the kilo and you order what you want by weight.
As you move along the bar you next have to specify the cooking method (grilled, steamed or a la marinara) and the sauce (romesco, allioli etc) and finally order your drink at the last station along the counter.
Then you have to wait at your table till your number is called which doesn’t usually take long. The final step is to clear your own table at the end, refectory style.
My mussels in tomato sauce were delicious, the grilled prawns were pretty good too but the squid was a bit too oily for my taste. Ok, so the seafood isn’t the very best but it’s still a cheap and fun eating experience.
Make sure you go early though! Or be prepared to wait a for a long time…