Archive for the Catalonia Category

Mouldering in Mollerusa

Posted in Catalonia, Mollerussa with tags , on March 18, 2015 by gannet39

There’s very little I can tell you about Mollerusa, I was only there for 2 nights and it chucked it down most of the time. I don’t think I missed that much, it appears just to be a small grim rural Catalan town, although I’m sure it must have redeeming features that I couldn’t experience. Even Wikipedia has very little to say. On the plus side, everyone I met was very friendly and nice and did their best to make me welcome.

I stayed at the Hotel Jardi hoteljardi.com which is right by the station. The room, in a separate block opposite the hotel proper, was a comfortable apartment suite with Wi-Fi, two tellys, a kitchen and a big balcony where you could sit outside. Not that I did much of that with the weather being the way it was.

Joan the English-speaking hotel manager (owner?) is a very friendly and helpful chap who informed me apologetically that the restaurants in town only opened at the weekends, which wasn’t much use to me seeing as I was shipping out first thing Friday.

This put paid to my researched first-choice restaurant, El Gat Negre, just round the corner at 8 Carrer Navarra. Joan said it was a good place but only open for lunch, as was his second choice La Illusio. He did suggest a couple more places you could get to by car such as La Petit Xiroi and Castell del Remei (who can organise wine-tastings) but otherwise there wasn’t much doing in terms of local food.

So, given my work hours, I was left with no choice but to eat at La Tagliatella (22 Avenguida Generalitat), the local branch of a ubiquitous Italianate chain that I’d been avoiding for years all over Spain, but here conveniently located right next to where I was staying. I ate there twice which suggests that while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t too bad either.

The building it’s in is the nicest one I saw in town from the outside. Inside, the atmosphere is quite pleasant with quirky antiques (rowing boats, puppets, brass instruments, shop front mirrors, and motifs of a big Pucinella feeding spaghetti into the gaping mouth of a little Pucinella. The service was friendly and attentive too.

Planning on a healthy girth-shrinking meal to combat the excesses of the previous few days, I ordered the goat’s cheese salad, which was fine (B) and generous in size, but not particularly low on the calories, with two large rounds of deep-fried goat’s cheese and a generous soaking of honey vinaigrette on the salad leaves. The tomatoes where glazed with a syrup that gave them the same texture as toffee apples, an interesting take, but not exactly helping my Kcal count.

The salad came with three fingers of Focaccia, the olive-topped one being the best (B), the mushroom non-descript (C+), and the cherry tomato version still fridge cold (D). The half bottle of Bru de Verdu red was pretty poor too (C).

Having no other choice, except to eat at the hotel (edible but very basic food going on what was for breakfast) or have a kebab, I went back to La Tagliatella the very next night. This time I opted for the Pizza Rustica, a big thin-crust with tuna, black olives, tomatoes and mushrooms covering alternate quarters. I’m more of a Margarita man but bizarrely this wasn’t an option on the menu which held no other attraction for me whatsoever.

I also know a good pizza when I see one having been spoiled in Naples (see my pizza post) and this wasn’t one (C). The edges should be slightly burnt but still doughy (this one shattered like crisp bread) while still being runny and slightly undercooked in the middle (unlike the slab of mediocre uniformity I received).

So if you crave simplicity, this is not a place to come. Choice is their selling point with the menu allowing customers to select from an impressive range of pasta shapes, salad dressings etc. It fulfilled a prupose in Mollerussa but as a food lover, it’s somewhere I’ll continue to avoid in the future.

I’m sure this town is a different place in summer, or at the weekend when everyone comes in from the villages to let their hair down. It’s bigger than I thought it’d be but there are no sights to see at all as far as I’m aware (hence the lack of photos), unless you have an appreciation for the nicely pollarded trees in the tiny Placa Major, which was the only thing of interest the teacher I was working with could point out to me.

In terms of eye candy, the best thing is the three hour train ride to and from Barcelona which takes you through some lovely countryside with green fields and hills, occasionally topped by craggy mountains, some still snow-capped and a brilliant white.

Here’s my Google map for what it’s worth. I hope you fare better than me if you go to Mollerusa. If you do, please share any info you get.

Barcelona – Eixample – in awe of the Quadrat d’Or

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Eixample, Quadrat d'Or, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2015 by gannet39

This post is mainly about architecture. For restaurant reviews in the area please see my posts on Diagonal, the area at the top of Paseig de Gracia, or continuing a bit further north, Gràcia. My Google map of the city is here.

The Quadrat d’Or, or ‘golden quarter’ is the part of the Eixample neighbourhood between Carrer Aribau in the west and Passeig de Sant Joan to the east, with Paseig de Gracia at its epicentre.

The construction of the Eixample, meaning ‘extension’, employed the ideas of radical urban planner Ildefons Cerdà. It was financed by the city’s richest families who competed with each other to build the most aesthetically pleasing residences in the local architectural style that was in fashion at the time; Catalan Modernisme.

This is why there are so many of the famous Modernista buildings   centered around the top of Passeig de Gràcia by famous local architects, in particular the big three, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Antonio Gaudi.
Perhaps the most famous, and my favourite, is Casa Batlló at 43 Passeig de Gràcia, built in 1877 but redesigned by Gaudi thirty years later. It’s also known locally as Casa dels Ossos or the ‘House of Bones’ due to it’s skeletal pillars. Personally it makes me think of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house.

La Batlio
I didn’t manage to capture the beautiful roof in this pic but please click on it anyway to fully appreciate the details (along with all the other photos).

Right next door, with it’s greatly contrasting German Gothic influences, is the less surreal but still very wonderful Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (41 Passeig de Gràcia).

Casa Amatller
It has one of my favourite windows ever. Loving the gargoyles.

Amatller balcony

Along with Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner at 35 Passeig de Gràcia (on the corner with Carrer del Consell de Cent), these buildings are the most important on the Illa de la Discòrdia or ‘Block of Discord’, so called because of their very varied styles of construction.
Also popular with the tourists is the Gaudi-designed Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera or ‘the Quarry’) on the corner of Paseig de Gracia and Carrer de Provenca. The undulating walls are intended to look like waves on the sea and the ironwork on the balconies like seaweed.

La Pedrera
Going further up the hill and crossing Avenguda Diagonal you will see the lesser known Casa Comalat by Modernista architect Salvador Valeri i Pupurull at 442 Avenguda Diagonal.
This residential building is unusual for having two facades.

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The front on Avenguda Diagonal is quite symmetrical and made of stone (sorry I have no decent pic, these are all from the rear).

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Whereas the back facade on Calle Corsega is curved and meant to look like the stern of a Spanish galleon.

Spain2a 092
The influence of Gaudi can clearly be seen throughout.

Spain2a 095

Continuing up the hill, you will find the neo-Gothic Casa Fuster at 132 Paseig de Gràcia which was Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s last building in Barcelona, completed in 1911.

Spain2a 089Montaner’s take on Modernisme was much more understated than Gaudi’s but his buildings are still amazing. Casa Fuster is now a hotel but it still retains its charm.

This post is a work in progress! More next time I’m in town…

Barcelona – Eixample – the delights of Diagonal

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Diagonal, Eixample, Quadrat d'Or, Spain with tags , , on March 16, 2015 by gannet39

Avenguda Diagonal is of course a very long road but in this post I’m referring to the four blocks in the Eixample around Diagonal Metro Station at the top of Paseig de Gracia, where it meets Avenguda Diagonal.

Spain2a 096There are many delights in this small area. To begin with there’s the beautiful but less known Modernista house Casa Comalat at 442 Avenguda Diagonal.

And of course one block down the hill there’s the more famous Gaudi-designed Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera or ‘the Quarry’) on the corner of Paseig de Gracia and Carrer de Provenca.

I’ve put photos of these buildings in a separate, more architecture-focussed post on the Quadrat d’Or, which is the heart of the Eixample neighbourhood.

Right next door to Casa Mila at 96 Paseig de Gracia is Vinçon, my most favourite design superstore in the world!

Bar Mut (Advanced A), 192 Carrer de Pau Claris, Tel. 93 217 4338, www.barmut.com

Spain2a 122This is one of the poshest tapas bar in town, up there with the more longstanding Cal Pep (see my El Born post).

Spain2a 103I had the good fortune to go with my compadres Mark and Natalia whose friend David Elfstrand (now head chef at Malamen on Carrer Blai) was working in the kitchen when we went and got us a discount.

Spain2a 112I was too busy enjoying myself to score the dishes but it was all top notch stuff (A/B+). Dishes included grilled prawns, steamed clams, a boletus omelette.

Spain2a 113Can’t quite remember what this dish was (a concoction of squid with noodles and egg yolk perhaps?) but it was good.

I remember the fig and melted cheese salad as being particularly amazing.

Spain2a 119Also great were the mixed fish fry and a very ugly looking grilled monkfish strewn with baby clams!

Spain2a 133Mark used his extensive knowledge of local wine to get us a top notch bottle of Priorat white.

Spain2a 115A good bottle of Verdejo and a couple of desserts were also involved.

I think we spent about €80 each but it was well worth it!

Mutis Club (Advanced A?), on the corner of Avenguda Diagonal and  Carrer de Pau Claris, Tel. 932 174 338

Spain2a 129Immediately above, and belonging to Bar Mut, this tiny secret club has won an award for being Best Bar in Europe and has attracted such famous customers as Robert de Niro, Russell Crowe and Woody Allen.

Spain2a 128In keeping with their speakeasy philosophy, you won’t find the address online or in any other the media but basically, if you turn left out of Bar Mut and go round the corner onto Avenguda Diagonal, you will see the door immediately on your left.

Spain2a 125There’s usually a bouncer when it’s open but I have no idea how hard it is to get in as we had a peek in the day time when it was closed.

Spain2a 131The entertainment I think is live music, mainly jazz, and stand up comedy. Probably best to reserve. Must go next time in town!

From 2008 and 2010:

El Japones (B+), 2 Passatge de La Concepcio, (a side street opposite Vinçon and La Pedrera on Paseig de Gracia).

My national manager first brought me here in 2008. It’s a fairly expensive modern-Japanese place, comparable to Wagamama  with its modern décor and long bench tables, but the food is better in my opinion. I also like it because the dishes arrive together and they do sushi too, unlike Wagamama (one of my least liked establishments).

The menu is a series of tick boxes which you complete and give to the server. It messes the system up a bit but you can still order dish by dish as and when you want it, just as the Japanese would. I went through three tick box menus in all.

We had good tempura and miso soup but the sushi platter was the winner. They also do gyoza dumplings, fried rice and fried noodles (no soups), okonomiyaki (similar to and as bad as Japanese pizza, I’m not a fan).

I went again in 2010 with money saving in mind and filled up on €3.50 dishes such as a big bowl of white rice accompanied by Neguima Yakitori (pieces of chicken and green onion on a skewer with yakiniku sauce) which weren’t too far off the real thing (B-).

I had this alongside Tsukune Yaki which transpired to be oversalted balls of pork in a gloopy sauce, pretty horrible (D). Filling up with cheap stuff first meant I could savour the Sushi Variado, (€20), fourteen pieces of pretty good nigiri and maki sushi (B-).

The draught (de barril) beers were €2.50 each. It’s a good place for a change from Spanish food and service is fast and friendly. Much better than the other pseudo-Japanese places in the area. Expect queues at peak times.

Went back in 2014 but decided I couldn’t afford it! Hopefully there’ll be a better exchange rate next time…

Barcelona ~ Jaume

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Jaume, Spain on November 16, 2012 by gannet39

NOW CLOSED Bunga Raya (Intermediate A), 7 C/Assaonadors (in the Born area, off C/Princesa, Metro Jaume 1, or 30 mins brisk walk down C/Pau Claris & Via Laietana). GEM ALERT!

This is the best-value for money meal I had in Barca. The 15 euro tasting menu came with 10 dishes, a pudding and a drink, and it was really delicious. Dishes include coconut rice, beef rendang, fried peanuts with coconut, spicey pineapple, marinaded beansprouts, chicken and beef satay, chicken curry, squid rings and something undefinable but very hot. I was starving but couldn’t finish it all which isn’t like me! It all comes on the same plate so if you want to share with a veggie ask them to keep the meat separate. Only seats 24 but you should be ok in the week.

Barcelona – greed in Gràcia

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Gracia, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by gannet39

When I’m in Barcelona my employer puts me up at the Hotel Catalonia La Pedrera (formerly Catalonia Corsega). It has nice enough rooms but a rather mediocre breakfast. On the plus side, it’s well placed on Calle Corsega, which is the border between the touristy Paseig de Gracia and the residential neighbourhood (and former town) of Gracia. No prizes for guessing which area I prefer to spend my evenings in.

Gràcia is a proudly Catalan district with a big hippy community and a famous summer carnival, Festa Major, held in August. Carrer Verdi and Carrer Torrijos are the main pedestrian streets, and are heaving with locals every night. It’s a real residential area, unlike touristville down the hill.

Here’s my Google map for the whole of Barcelona. It shows most of the places below and many more.

In terms of entertainment there is a theatre called Teatre LLiure at 47 Carrer Montseny. There are also two foreign language cinemas owned by the same company at 32 Carrer Verdi and 49 Carrer Torrijos which show un-dubbed foreign films. Here’s their website.

Spain2a 077You’ll find the local market, Mercat de l’Abeceria, at 186 Travessera de Gràcia. Lots of fresh produce for hotel picnics here. There’s also three bars and an Iranian grocer. In June they have a tapas evening inside the market.

There are heaps of tiny tapas places, ethnic restaurants and cool little bars all over the barrio. There’s always lots of change in the restaurant scene every time I come here so please don’t take this travelogue as a definitive guide.

Below are the gems I’ve found so far, and some to avoid!  For more upmarket food near the hotel you may want to check my post on nearby Diagonal.

These reviews are from 2014:

La Panxa del Bisbe (High Intermediate A), 37 Calle de Rabassa, Tel. 93 213 7049, www.lapanxadelbisbe.com, opens at 8.30pm.

As it has an entry in Where Chef’s Eat and very favourable reviews on the net, I decided to try the Bishop’s Belly for ‘gourmet cuisine at knock down prices’.

It’s probably better to reserve or arrive exactly at 8.30 in order to be sure, perhaps after a drink in nearby Placa Rovira i Trias. If you didn’t reserve and don’t get in, you have San Kil just around the corner as a good plan B (see below).

English is spoken apparently but I managed to get the gist of the Catalan menu without too much help.

The freshly made Bunyols de Bacala amb Romesco (salt-cod croquettes) were beautifully fluffy, and some of the best I’ve ever tried (A).

Spain2a 072Next ths unphotogenic Picanya de Bou Gallec amb Fils de Patatas I Bearnesa (rump steak with skinny chips and Bernaise sauce) which in terms of flavour was great (B+), but if I have to be critical, the steak was a little cold and the fries made a little soggy by the sauce. But you should definitely still order it! B+ is still B+.

I loved (A) the two glasses of Coto de Hayas red from the Campo de Borjas DO (a garnacha, syrah blend) that I had with the beef. Definitely one to track down if you can. The nice server gave me ‘super copas’ in order to finish off the bottle. It was just €2.20 a glass.

Spain2a 073For dessert I was advised that ‘sticky toffee es la bomba!’. As a major STP fan this was like a red rag to a bull and I had to give it a go, although it was served with icecream rather than my preferred caramel sauce. It was good (B), but I know pubs in Derbyshire that do it better. A glass of decent Moscatel (B) went well with it.

Although the bill was hard to decipher, the total cost, €38.60, was great value for money in my opinion. I could hardly fault anything here and, if I had the chance, would love to come back several times and slowly work through their menu, especially the Japanese influenced dishes which I didn’t get to try.

I’d definitely like to try the Menu del Dia too, maybe after a trip to Park Guell, which is not too far away.

San Kil (Intermediate A), 22 Carrer Legalitet (about 20 mins walk up Passeig Sant Joan, 4th left off Carrer Escorial). GEM ALERT!

I love this place and always come here whenever I’m in town. I can´t get Korean food in Sheffield so I always pig out in a major way here. The bill once came to €34 but there was enough food for two people! The Spanish menu doesn´t really describe the food adequately so just tell them you want the following classic dishes:

Spain2a 082Start with panch’an, 4 little bowls with bean sprouts, potatatoes, spiced cabbage and Kimchi (chinese leaves fermented with chilli, the national dish of Korea).

Move on to pulgogi (or bulgogi) which is sizzling beef that can be wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves smeared with miso bean paste. Yum!

Spain2a 084Finally, try bibimbap (a meal in itself) which is rice, shredded carrots, peppers, onions, bean sprouts, beef (easily left out) and a couple of things I have no name for, seaweed maybe? Its topped with a fried egg and the waiter will mix it all together for you with as much chilli paste as you can handle. Bottles of Estrella 2.90. A plain and simple place but completely authentic.

Quimet (Low Intermediate A). 23 Carrer de Vic

Spain2a 074My friend Mark brought me to this little neighbourhood tapas bar. He’s a real foodie and has lived in Barca for a few years so he knows his stuff.

Spain2a 076The food is great here and it has a very warm cosy atmosphere which means that it’s packed all the time. It’s best to get in as early as poss if you want to sit down.

Spain2a 097Seafood seems to be the thing. Traditional dishes are presented in quite modern ways, on pieces of slate with smears of sauce.

I can vouch for the mixed fish fry and the Galician style octopus but the oysters were my favourite.

Spain2a 075Can’t remember what this dessert was but it looks nice!

Can’t remember what the bill was either but I’m sure it was pretty reasonable.

Not to be confused with Quimet i Quimet, the famous tapas bar in Poble Sec (see this Guardian article).

To follow on you could go to Roure, also mentioned in the article, which is just a short block away at 7 Carrer de Luis Antúnez.

Himali (Intermediate B+). 60-68 Carrer Mila i Fontanals, closed Monday

A Nepalese place that I go to when I’m feeling homesick (curry is now the national food of Britain) or trying to save money. You can get plato combinados (curry, rice and bread) for around €9. It’s simple but good fare (B).

Café Salambo (Intermediate A), 51 Carrer Torrejos, www.cafesalambo.com

A nice theatre café with free Wi-Fi and a pool room upstairs.

Bar Canigo (Elementary A-),  2 Calle Verdi, near Placa Revolucio

You can get a cheap Magno brandy for €2.50 here which is as cheap as it gets.

Placa del Sol is another nice square with several cheap but decent bars where you can eat and drink outside.

These reviews are from 2008-2010:

Cantina Machito (Intermediate B), 47 Carrer Torrijos (next to the Verdi Park cinema, Tel. 93 2173414)

I’m not usually keen on Mexican food unless I make it myself but this place is ok for a change. The Orden de Tacos starter is good though you may want to ask for extra jalapenos. They also have a good range of beers. Expect to be paying about €25 for a starter, main and 2 beers. Maybe reserve to avoid the cinema crowd at peak times. Avoid the seats by the door in the winter!

Carrer Verdi used to be good but now seems to be dominated by competing kebab restaurants displaying dodgy photos of their food on the street, a definite no-no!.

Avoid these next two places:

Zeinab (Elementary C/D), 31 Carrer Verdi

The portions are big but the food is not particularly nice. The humos was ok if a bit steep at €7, and the pita bread was stale. I couldn’t eat my Cuscus Carne and my companion not more than half of his Shawarma Pollo.

As ever in these situations the saving grace was the Rioja. Ok, we ate for €30 each but it still wasn’t worth the money.

Spain2a 079

Iuagari (Elementary C), 11 Carrer  Verdi

A Syrian restaurant that’s a bit cheaper than the Lebanese place. I had the plato combinado for €10.40. The meat was a bit tastless but just about edible (C) unlike the place above.

As a general rule of thumb I’d say Gràcia is better for international cuisine whereas the old town districts are better for more traditional Catalan food.

Spain2a 091Although most of the barrio is residentrial low rise, There is some posh architecture around.

Spain2a 089This nice Modernista building is Casa Fuster at 132 Paseig de Gràcia. See my Quadrat d’Or post for more photos

Spain2a 081And there’s this nice tiled public drinking fountain on Travessera de Gràcia.

Please click on these photos to see them properly.

Barcelona ~ Barrio Gotic

Posted in Barcelona, Barrio Gotic, Catalonia, Spain on October 20, 2012 by gannet39

Down in the old town…

Hostel El Pintor (Advanced B), Carrer Sant Honorat, Tel. 93 301 40 65

Went to this place my friend Santi on reception (and the Michelin guide) recommended for Sunday lunch and being a strange Englishman arrived before everyone else at 2.

My hunger was intense so I ordered what was effectively two huge mains. After the obligatory Pa amb Tomaquet, the first was the Fiduea au Bouillon de Poissou a L’Ailloli, a silver paellaera dish of feathery short noodles with chunks of monkfish cooked in a fish stock made even more delicious by stirring in the garlic mayonnaise.

It didn’t last 5 minutes. I had thought I would need to save space for the Porcelet Roti a la Maniere “Pintor” but the two hunks of little piggy with roast potatoes swimming in oil didn’t last long either.

These went down with half bottles of Vina Sol (dry white from Penedes) and Marquis de Arienzo Crianza (Rioja), both excellent.

To finish the Pudding de Pomme aux Raisins Secs de Malaga et Glace de Creme de Lait Sucre was great, as were the two shots of Orujo des Hierbes I had with it. Good coffee with a jug of warm milk to cap it off.

It was a very nice Sunday treat but I know I can get a better roast in Derbyshire with all the trimmings for much less than the €70 I paid here.

Also the rather dark interior (more atmospheric in the evening?) and the efficient but rather aloof staff didn’t make me want to return.

Barcelona – seafood and eat it in San Pere

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, San Pere, Spain on October 20, 2012 by gannet39

San Pere is an up-and-coming district with a truly eclectic mix of cultures, and is far less dangerous than it used to be according to Jaz, the British landlord at Mosquito (at 46 C/Carders, a stone’s throw from Mundial below) who has run his bar this neighbourhood for the last ten years. ‘Even the locals told me I was mad but here I am still and it’s been fine’. His bar specialises in the new breed of Catalan real ales, mainly in bottles but he has at least one  beer on draught. A nice spot for a pre-meal drink.

Mundial Bar, (Intermediate A), 1 Placa de Sant Augusti Vell, Tel. 93 3199 056. GEM ALERT!

This marisqueria is a must for foodies, a classic Barcelonan seafood tapas bar for which I’m more than happy to chance the winding streets of a less salubrious part of town. Rather than standing around looking at a bewildering map, I found it better to arrive early (I’d reserved for 9pm which is when it opens) and just wander in the general direction till I found it, which didn’t prove too difficult.

Once inside I was placed in the front room near the kitchen entrance, a good spot to watch all the action. You can sit further inside where the atmosphere is more intimate but I specified the front in my reservation. There is a long bar you can sit at but the marble top tables along the wall are perhaps most comfortable. The only decorative items are lots of photos of boxers in glass frames.

Many of the staff look like pugilists but are actually all very friendly characters. If you can, get Xavi Larrosa as your waiter, the tall shaved headed chap with earrings, and go with his suggestions. I was gutted when he wouldn’t let me have the mixed seafood grill (Parillaida) as it was far too much for one and cost €58. I thought I was man enough for the job but eventually went with his advice to order smaller.

In the end two fresh oysters (two portions for €5) were followed by eight grilled razor clams (€11.50) all amazing (A) and a very nice dry white ‘Cristari’ (Vall de Bablomar ’08) from the Costers del Segre DO south of Tarragona (B+).

The following dish of grilled prawns, with olive oil, garlic, parsley and sea salt, were perhaps the best I’ve ever had in Spain (move over Toni’s in Zaragoza), They were so good I had to suck out the head casings, just as my Norwegian grandfather taught me, for an even more intense flavour experience.

The next off-menu dish of crispy Aubergine slices dipped in honey and deep fried and served with fresh goats cheese was a revelation (A+), I must make this at home.

The grilled Alemejas (clams), which should be eaten by pulling the shell through your teeth so you get all the juices, were incredible too (A+).

By now I had befriended my Italian neighbours on the next table and had swapped some of my tender octopus sprinkled with paprika, which was great (A) but too much, and tomato bread for a few of their mussels, all excellent.

I wanted to cry though when they didn’t mop up all the juices left from the mussels and watched in despair as a disbelieving waiter took the dish away.

I’d long ago decided to surrender all the money in my pocket to this establishment but sadly it was stomach capacity that proved to be the restraining factor so I finished with a slice of tasty cheesecake from the impressive dessert tray and washed it down with three small glasses of a great local Moscatel Anejo called De Muller.

I spent €77 on sheer bliss, and Xavi let me have the shots of dessert wine on him.  An essential experience, definitely go.

Written Spring 2010

Barcelona – El Born, again

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, El Born, Spain on October 20, 2012 by gannet39

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.

2014-04-04 22.21.08 2014-04-04 22.23.06 2014-04-04 22.20.27I 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.

2014-04-04 20.55.59My 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).

2014-04-04 21.01.15I 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).

2014-04-04 20.57.17Next 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.

2014-04-04 21.12.19Navajas, razor clams, are always a favourite with me (A)

2014-04-04 21.21.18Truita 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.

2014-04-04 21.34.47The 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.

2014-04-04 21.59.22Not sure what the cake was called but I’m sure it was great!

2014-04-04 22.12.36Finally 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…

 

Barcelona – Urchins in the Eixample

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Eixample, Spain on June 4, 2012 by gannet39

The Eixample, meaning ‘extension’ in Catalan, filled in the space between Barcelona’s Ciutat Velha (old town) and the once separate towns of Gracia to the north, Sants to the west and St Andreu to the east.

Consequently it contains many of the city’s Modernisme architectural masterpieces which I have put in separate posts on the Quadrat d’Or and Diagonal.

La Camarga (Advanced A) 117 Calle Aribau, Tel, 933 236 655., www.lacamarga.com

Was taken here by my friend Dixy and his girlfriend Natalia. Dixy has impeccable taste in food and wine and has written many articles about the food scene in Barcelona, so I trust his judgement completely.

UrchinsMy favourite dish here was our shared starter of Garotes Gratinades, sea urchins baked in the oven with cheese served in their shells and the creamy sauce eaten with a teaspoon (A+).

ArtichokesAfter that the Amanida de Carxofes artichoke salad found it hard to compete and for me they tasted bland by comparison (C). It would probably have been better to have them first.

NataliaDixBlack PudFor our mains Natalia had Calamars Farcits, squid in a tasty sauce (A).

CalamaresTunaMorcilla RavioliDixy had Tronc de Tonyina  (tuna baked with young garlic) which was also excellent (A) and I had the Raviolis D’Anec, deep fried black pudding ravioli which were good (B) but not quite what I was hoping for.

Penedes TempranilloWith this a fine bottle of Albet i Noya Tempranillo  (B+) from the Penedes DOC.

Best oneTarta TatinDixy made the best choice again for dessert with a dish called Neules LLavores and Natalia couldn’t fail with her Coulant de Xocolata (A).

Chocolate PudMy choice of Tarta Tatin was good (B+) if unexciting.

The perfect accompaniment was a few glasses of Pedro Ximenez /HI me neth/ which was a grape variety rather than a bodega as I learned off Dixy.

Don ZoiloIt’s a very sweet dessert sherry made from raisins, this one made by Don Zoillo. I first had it in combination with Cabarales, a blue cheese from Asturias in the north of Spain, which was a mind blowing taste combination, but it goes very well with sweets too.

This is quite a posh place but the service was friendly. The decor is bright and modern and the food is great. Thanks Dixy x

Barcelona – Olivetas and Anarchists in El Raval

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, El Raval, Spain with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by gannet39

El Raval has a long tradition of radical, especially Anarchist, opposition to the powers that be. It’s a fascinating history and you can take a Civil War history walk if you’re interested.

Things didn’t seemed to have changed much in May 2012 as I walked through Place de Catalunya on my way to El Raval to meet my old companiero Dixy who lives there.

The square was full of  students and radicals who were protesting against government austerity measures. These ‘Indignados’ are a big source of inspiration for Occupy, their UK equivalent.

Street festival in the last centuryI met Dixy at his local; Casa Almirall (Calle Joaquin Costa 33), a 152-year-old bar which has a simple but pleasant wooden interior with Modernista touches, such as a cast iron statue of the muse for the 1888 World Fair.

OlivetasWe were drinking outside on the street though as it was much cooler. Although the city government has forbidden this, the owners didn’t seem to mind, but then this is the Raval.

The house special is the Oliveta, a glass of red vermouth, topped up with soda and garnished with a green olive on a toothpick; a top little aperitif (A).

Admirable tapasThey made us some nice canapés too; a selection of Manchego, Chorizo, Jamon and some kind of sliced Botifarra and Egg concoction, all very nice (A/B).

A couple of years earlier in 2010 I went to…

Meson David (Intermediate B+), 63 Carrer Carretes, Tel. 93 441 5934

A local institution, since 1908, specialising in Galician food, especially roast pork on the bone, cured hams and octopus. However in 2015 Dixy told me that standards have slipped in recent years sadly and it’s not what it was.

My first visit was a slight disappointment due to my poor choice of the Merluza Plancha o Romana, deep fried hake (C) which was very bland(though the grilled tomato with a garlic and  breadcrumb topping that came with it was brilliant) (A).

However my second course of Botifarra con Moncheta, a big pork sausage with creamy stewed cannelloni beans, was much better (B). The second time I came, the Sopa de Pescado (B) was am intensely flavoured intro but the Roast Pork (A) with chips (B-) and ever present grilled tomato won the day.

The only thing that lets this place down is the wine. The dirt cheap house red Meson David, decanted from the barrel into bottles, is drinkable (C) but I couldn’t finish the bottle of Ribeiro tinto I had the next time as it seemed to get worse rather than better as some rough wines do! A big gang of locals were drinking rose so I will try that next time.

For dessert, the first time I went I had the Surtido des Tartas, the tart assortment, including ‘Santiago’ almond flavour (B), ‘Musico’ with dried fruit (C) but had narrowed it down to the Manzana apple tart (A) by the second visit. All desserts come with a shot glass of Jerez.

The orujo de hierbas was some of the best I have ever had, they get it in by the flagon so there is no label to read. Nice staff, most dishes in single figures, hope it picks up.

Bouzu (Intermediate B+), 26 Ronda San Antoni, bouzu.es

Spain2a 106In 2014 Dixy and his lady Natalia brought me to this inexpensive Japanese ‘tapas’ bar in the west of the Raval disctrict..

It’s authentic in the sense that the staff are Japanese but some of the food, like this seared tuna garnished with rocket (B+), has been tailored for local tastes. Nothing wrong with that, I quite like the fusion with Mediterranean ingredients.

Spain2a 107We also enjoyed these Uramaki and prawn tempura. The ‘inside-out roll’ is again not traditional but an innovation resulting from the creation of the California Roll.  Still delicious though (B+).

Spain2a 104We also had Atsukan, hot sake served in a little jug and my ruin on many nights out in Tokyo. I really enjoy reliving these flavour memories when they are done well, as they are here. Recommended.

Also in 2010 I went to…

Elisabets (Low Intermediate B), Carrer d’Elisabets, Tel. 93 317 5826

Another local institution since 1962, this is a great place for a cheap (€11.25) three course lunch if you are in the Placa Catalunya area.

The menu has seven options for each course but don’t necessarily go with my choices, I was just trying things out!

Habas de Catalunya are broad beans and cubes of bacon fat in a brown murky soup which looked worst than it tasted (B-), I scoffed the lot!

Next came Atun con Sanfaina, seared tuna with ratatouille, which was good too (B). To finish Cuajada Casera con Miel, curd and honey, was a nice plain and simple dessert to finish (B).

The decor is basic with lots of wood and a collection of old radios in the rear booth. Service was gruff but essentially friendly. Lunch starts at 1, and it’s busy by 2.

Bismilla Kebabish (Elementary B+), Calle Joaquin Costa 22

Spain2a 101I can’t decide about this place. I had an amazing kebab here in 2012 (A+), partly because of their naan bread which is baked on the premises, but when I went back in 2014 it just wasn’t the same (B-).

On the other hand it might be that the lamb kebabs are much tastier than the chicken ones, or even a mix of the two as I had on my last visit. Obviously another test is needed!

Lunch in Tarragona

Posted in Tarragona with tags , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

If you turn right out of the station and take the old steps up you will come to Rambla Nova and the famous ‘Balcón del Mediterráneo’ (Balcony of the Mediterranean), a natural rocky outcrop at the end of the rambla overlooking the sea. One end of the balcony also has views of the amphitheatre. There are plenty of bars with street terraces here too.

Sadly the following local institution is now closed (a victim of the crisis) but I hope that whatever opens up in its place will continue its tradition of top quality cuisine.

Leman Cafe  (Intermediate A), 27 Rambla Nova

I had an hour to kill before work so I went to the famous Leman Cafe. The interior is comfortable and retro-modern, from the late sixties I think and the service is very pleasant.You can sit outside on the street terrace, either in the shade or out.

I had an excellent coffee and a delicious apple tart for €4. The ice creams are apparently very good too.

The restaurant is known for seafood so I went back for lunch and had a three-course Menu-del-Dia for €19 which was a seafood salad, grilled Emperador (swordfish) with a delicious potato gratin, finishing with a fruit salad, all excellent (A). According to my companion the duck was also wonderful.

Swordfish at Cafe Leman

Complimentary custard cake with our coffees finished things off perfectly. Great food at reasonable prices. My local friend was so impressed I’d introduced him to such a great place that he picked up the tab!

Bill, the companion I mention above and a resident of Tarragona for twenty years, recommends a great fish restaurant called La Puda which is in the port area near the fish market. Other places down there must be good too.

Written April 2010

Caldes de Montbui

Posted in Caldes de Montbui, Catalonia, Spain with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Catalonia, Spain, April 2010

Caldes de Montbui is a sleepy spa town of Roman origin just over an hour’s bus ride from Barcelona. It won’t feature in any guides or websites, the name even drew blank expressions from Barcelonans. I arrived on a lovely sunny spring day, to the sound of tweeting birds broken only by sound of the odd car. If you’re staying at the Hotel Balneari Termes Victoria in the Nucli Antic, it’s probably best take a cab from the bus station as it can be hard to negotiate the winding cobbled streets of the old centre. The hotel rooms have private balconies, and the ones to the rear have lovely views of the wooded hillsides and the stream below. There is free wi-fi in the rooms and international channels on TV. There are thermal baths in the hotel but sadly I never got round to trying them.

I went for lunch straight away at El Pa Torrat (Elementary B) at 5 C/Bellit (immediate first right off C/Vic, off the square), a simple family-run restaurant/pizzeria/llesquiria which the crude town map from reception indicated to be the nearest. Three generations move at varying speeds around the place, the oldest monitoring the blaring state-of-the-art Samsung above the bar and the youngest scampering around looking for missing sports kit. The eager youngish chap who served me is an interesting example of the perils of teaching yourself a language. He has a couple of situational self-study books under the counter that he dips into but doesn’t listen carefully and gets the wrong end of the stick every time. After some negotiation I managed to procure the very reasonable Menu del Dia for €9.50. A plain tuna salad was followed by a dish of tasty cubes of pork sautéed in paprika and spices with French fries and Pressec amb Almivar (tinned peaches) to finish. The best part was the very pleasant half litre of house rose.

After a snooze and a few press ups I felt the need for…

Mirko Carturan, Cuiner (B, Advanced Grade 10), 75 Pi i Marigall (the main street), Tel: 93 865 4160
Initially my heart sank when I walked in to this place having had a recent bad experience with a similarly modernist restaurant. However my initial disquiet over the glass-walled kitchen, uncomfortably looking banquettes and being the only customer on a Monday night was soon dispelled by the huge collection of food books running the length of the room, including some by my favourite food novelist, Anthony Bourdain, actually on the table. The fast-talking bubbly waitress took my language inabilities in her stride and made me feel at home straight away. The menu is modern Spanish with a strong Italian influence. After a complementary tapa of fried /sonshu:/ (baby hake), I went for the classic Catalonian dish of Canalones (always stuffed with veal and covered with melted manchego), both wonderful. I thought I’d take a risk on the Manita de Cerdo Rebazado con Cigales thinking this would be the right place to try pig’s feet but was surprised by their arrival as two meatballs topped by langoustines (cigales is a Spanish wine variety as well as the plural for crayfish in Catalan) surrounded by a powerful brown jus. I’m not usually a fan of seafood/meat hybrids but on the palate the combination tasted a lot better than I thought it would. My only complaint was the lack of vegetables which didn’t seem to feature in the menu. Given the similarly bemusing absence of a wine list, I went with the server’s excellent choice of a Rioja Classico; Marques de Vittoria (Crianza ’05). I passed on dessert and went instead with a fine Orujo des Hierbas (Port a Mino, 35%), poured high in a grappa glass, the bill came to €50 including a 10% tip. In a nutshell, flavoursome haute cuisine well made but perhaps not justifiable every day of the week.

Robert de Nola Restaurant (Advanced Grade 11, A) 48-50 Passeig dei Remei, Tel. 93 865 40 47. GEM ALERT!

This is a great place, flavoursome food beautifully presented and tremendous value-for-money. The restaurant itself is modern and very dimly lit with black slate floors and dark wood ceilings. Add carved wooden screens, tasteful modern art on the walls and a low soundtrack of soft jazz and you have a very relaxing dining experience. The proprietor Josep Riu will modestly protest he’s not a great speaker of English but in fact he talks about food very well and with great passion. If he’s available get personal service from him as he will be tell you about several things that aren’t on the Catalan menu. After some complimentary croquettes and delicious tiny olives I got Basonets de Bacalla amb Mel (batons of cod deep fried and dipped in honey, Canalo de Foie amb Amanida de Meduixots (pastry containing duck liver and salad with a balsamic reduction), Calcots Arrebossats (green onions deep fried in batter) amb Romesco (a sauce of almonds, hazelnuts, nyora pimento, tomatoes, oil and a in this case a little orange juice) and Carxofs Farcides amb Bolets amd Cansalada (artichoke heart with topped cod soufflé and melted manchego), which scored A/B /B/B). The fish course was Corball amb Amanida de Meduxiots (hake with a cheese sauce and something akin to an artichoke guacamole (B+) and the meat was Meloses de Vedella (two chunks of boneless veal slow-cooked in a casserole with tiny mushrooms in a strong brown gravy) which was fabulous (A), flaking tender meat with an intense flavour. The perfect accompaniment to the latter was a full bodied red called Pederats 2005 from the Priorat DOC near Tarragona, a fantastic (A+) bottle of wine for only €17. To finish some crunchy sandwiches of a chocolate covered relative to spinach (but bigger) which were ok (B) and the sublime Mil Fulls amb Crema de Llimona i Sorbet de Mandarina (wild strawberries in a creamy citrus sorbet) (A). My request for a digestivo resulted in five bottles arriving at the table all of which were complementary! Vi de Tavarp (spelling?) a red dessert wine, Garnatxa Vi de Postre (amber fortified dessert wine), Flor del Remei (?) an iced green herbal (but not overpowering) liquer which Caldes is known for, Anis del Mono de Naranja, a red aniseed liqueur similar to Pacharan with ice but nicer and Marc de Can a local grappa (spellings may be dodgy, like Robert’s handwriting!) which scored B/A/B/A/A respectively. I was also given some Carquinyolis, small coffee biscuits that seem a direct relation of amaretti and again a local delicacy). And all this for only €56! The best place in town, hang the cost and look no further. For me, a job-affirming experience.

So how could I not go back the next day! Had already ordered half my meal from the pleasant young waiter when Josep showed up to better inform my choices. To start I had the wonderful Formatge de Cabra amb Poma i Confitura (hot goat’s cheese on slices of apple with a tomato preserve to dip into) on the same plate as a fantastic salad of mixed leaves, strawberry, apple, mandarin, pomegranate, toasted hazel and pine nuts and decorated with balsamic and tiny pieces of dry ham (all A). Sadly the two following fish dishes Sopa de Peix (monkfish and rice) and Romescada de Peix (monkfish, mussel, clams, shrimp and sliced potatoes in thin romesco) were strangely lacking in flavour (C) but these were my choices not Josep’s. The white semi-sec ‘Labalis’ (Castille de Maetierra) from Valles de Sadacia made up for things however (B+). Although the dessert cava ‘Privat’ from Alella was nothing special (C) it went well with the plate of assorted desserts, the highlights of which were a delicious semi-freddo topped with almond toffee and a cheesecake (both A) decorated with black and red gooseberries. Along with a plate of complementary chocolates I was also given coffee (C) and honey (B) versions of orujo but decided I preferred the original. Once again a steal at €57. Lesson relearned, if you have a good server, go with their suggestions.

N.B. According to Joesp, Robert di Nola was probably a medieval noble or chef who wrote one of the earliest Catalan cookbooks.

Placa San Angel (right out of the hotel, left at the church) has a couple of okish cafes where you can sit outside on a sunny day.

La Rosa de Caldes (High Elementary, B/C), 87 C/Pi i Margall (on the main street near the bus station, one block down from Carturan above).

This was the best value-for-money Menu del Dia I could find, 4 courses with a drink for €9.25 for which I got a garden salad, well-made fideua with cuttlefish and crabstick (yuck!), small Walls-type sausages in samfaina (ratatouille), a piece of fresh fruit and a half litre of cold red wine. Nothing special but all perfectly edible/drinkable. Went again the next day and had the ‘fish of the day’ which turned out to be deep fried calamari rings which I’m not keen on. When I queried their choice of language they apologised and kindly offered another dish but I was already full anyway from the preceding seafood paella. The interior includes a cafe bar, flashing fruit machines, a big TV and rather a lot of smoke from the kitchen. Fine for a cheap basic lunch and a convenient location opposite the bus station.

If you go through the gateway next to Can Ruis on C/. Pont you can go over the small bridge over the gorge and into a small park. If you walk through this you get to the municipal sports centre which has a nice modern 25m indoor swimming pool. You can swim anytime between 6.30am till 10pm for €4.50. Remember your cap.

For a pleasant run or walk go straight past Robert de Nola Restaurant above till you get to the pretty church and Restaurant El Remei (you can sit outside here to eat). Follow the path between them which becomes a sandy track as it goes under the road and winds through allotments and small fields. You could probably get a 30 minute return run in without meeting any traffic. If you go left at the church instead and followed signs to the campsite, the roads are still very quiet.

Swimming in Barcelona

Posted in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain with tags , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Nothing beats a sunny day at a beach bar with a group of friends down at Barceloneta, followed by dinner sitting outside at Salamanca (great for suckling pig and seafood), or one of the many other restaurants on the front. Not sure if I’d actually like to swim there though.

The best place to get a proper swim in is up at the Olympic pools in Montjuic. Take the metro (red line 1 or green line 2) to Espanya and follow exit signs for the Fiera (this is also where all the big expos are held). Whichever exit you come out of, you will see two tall square brown towers through which you will see the imposing Palace of Montjuic (now the Catalonian national art gallery) on top of the hil at the end of a long approach. The pools, and the Olympic stadium, are up behind the palace. It’s a very pleasant walk, especially if the fountains are on, and the views from the top of the palace steps are stunning.

There are two Olympic size pools, one indoors, one out. The 50m outdoor pool can be bit chilly in April but if it’s a sunny day you will soon warm up. There are lots of sun loungers poolside but they may be full if you leave it late in the day during the summer. Usually though this is a very peaceful place to swim and relax, perhaps some of my favourite swimming baths ever, and I’ve been to a few. Indoors is obviously better in colder weather, the 25m long lanes have never been crowded when I’ve been. You also get a strong sense of history from the ’92 Games when you come here, check the photo exhibition in the entrance area. It currently costs €9.65, which is expensive, but it’s a great place to while away a sunny Sunday with a book and a dip.

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