Archive for the Catalonia Category

Valencia – Eixample – Gran Via

Posted in Eixample, Spain, Valencia, Valenciana Comunidad with tags , on October 4, 2015 by gannet39

Gran Via is the subdistrict of the Eixample that lies to the south of Gran Via del Marques de Turia. There are heaps of restaurants around here, particularly along Carrer del Comte d’Altea.

Mercatbar (High Intermediate B), 27 Carrer de Joaquin Costa, www.mercatbar.es

This is the flagship tapas bar of Quique Dacosta, a famous local chef who was the talk of the town when I was there. The idea is to reinvent traditional classics in a modern style. Visually and conceptually the food is wonderful but sadly the flavours just weren’t there for me. A chef I met told me that the food is prepared in a central kitchen and then sent out to the restaurants in the chain (including Vuelva Catalina and El Poblet) where it’s heated up, which can’t be good for how it tastes when it finally reaches your plate.

The famous Souffle de Patata y Yema de Huevo, appears to be an egg ‘yolk’ in little mouth sized parcel. I now know that restaurants in Spain are not allowed to sell dishes made with fresh eggs and instead they use reconstituted powder to simulate egg dishes, which might explain how it’s possible to make this seemingly complex tapa. It was an interesting concept but not much more (B).

The Langostinos Crujientes Fritos were okay (B) but the Romescu sauce it served with was pretty horrible (D). I was intrigued by the Cubalibre de Foie Gras con Escarcha de Limon, or foie coated with a kind of coca cola jelly and lemon sorbet, It was an interesting combo that worked pretty well (B+) but there was too much of it. The potato crisps were fine (B) but the local wine left a bit to be desired (C).

To finish the Milojas Clasico de Crema Pastelera Caramelizada (millefoille) were good (B) and I loved the homemade no label muscatel (A+).
I was served by a very nice lady who if anything was a bit too attentive. The décor is modern and bright with a TV showing how their dishes are made, which makes for addictive viewing. It’s an experience so go by all means but Camarena’s places are better. Arrive early or reserve.

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Casa Vela (Intermediate A), Carrer D’Isabel la Catolica, www.restaurantecasavela.com, Closed Sundays

A small but high quality tapas bar and deli, since 1908. They can seat about twenty at tables in the back. I came at lunchtime for a mixed tuna salad which I couldn’t fault (A). Big wine selection available.

Valencia – Eixample – El Pla del Remei

Posted in Eixample, El Pla del Remei, Spain, Valenciana Comunidad with tags on October 4, 2015 by gannet39

The Eixample and Extramurs are residential areas organised on a grid system which lie respectively to the south and west of the medieval old town and its winding streets. Eixample is known as ‘the rich widening’ as opposed to Extramurs which is ‘the poor widening’.

The Eixample is the area to the east of the train station, running along either side of Gran Via de los Germaines and its extension Gran Via del Marques de Turia. It has three sub-districts, Gran Via, El Pla del Remei and Ruzafa.

In El Pla del Remei, the subdistrict north of Gran Via, you can find the stunningly beautiful Mercado de Colon on Calle Jorge de Juan. It was designed by Francisco Mora Berenguer who studied at the Barcelona School of Architecture and you can see the influences of Catalan architects such as Gaudi and Montaner in the structure.

It’s no longer a fully functioning market but was restored in 2003 to house a cafe, a Camarena restaurant in the basement (now closed) and a few small businesses.

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.

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The influence of Gaudi can clearly be seen throughout.

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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.

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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.

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