Despite the U.K. deciding to adopt a Mediterranean climate for the duration of the summer, a few weeks ago we decided it was time to head south for our second trip to the continent this year. For four days, we took our gourmet game to Barcelona, the city of wide, imperious avenues, upscale brands, crooked little backstreets, surreal architecture, football and beaches. A trip to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia presented a building the like of which neither of us had ever seen before: vast, irregular, part gothic, part Walt Disney, clusters of bizarre towers sprouting towards the sky. It’s hard to know what to think of it. The cathedral attracts more than 3mn visitors a year, but was described by George Orwell as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”
But you can’t eat La Sagrada Familia, and so it is not a fitting subject for this blog. So on to the restaurants!
Address: Calle Maquinista, 17, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Rating: 6 /10
A decent seafood restaurant situated down in the Barceloneta district. With the Mediterranean ocean gently lapping at the beach only 200 yards from their kitchen, Can Ramonet serves some very fresh fish, prawns and clams. We ordered a seafood paella, which only came in 2-person portions, which was irritating, because my partner in culinary crime, despite loving both seafood and rice when served separately, refuses to eat even a single morsel when the two are blended in a frying pan. I was therefore left with a vast mound of dark, ocean flavoured rice, full of mussels, clams and squid, and four long prawns perched on top, their black beady eyes glaring malevolently at me. This paella was tasty, but needless to say there was far too much for me to handle.
We also had a plate of ham, some plump, light-as-a-feather croquettes, and some pan con tomate that was so soggy it felt like it too had spent the morning bobbing around in the Mediterranean, before being fished out and given five minutes under a hair dryer. Stop at this restaurant if you’re walking past it, but don’t travel across the city to eat there.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 58, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings: walk in
Rating: 2 /10
A monstrous restaurant on the broad Passeig de Gràcia, a street famous for its high-end fashion shops, and indeed it would have been more pleasant to eat a crocodile skin handbag or a sharp stiletto than anything served up in this dismal spot. The food consisted of ready-made tapas that sat on a glass counter in front of the diners, and we were treated to the unappetising spectacle of flies buzzing around what we were about to eat, the only saving grace being that most of the flies did a few laps of the dishes and then flew off uninterested, probably heading towards the toilets in search of something less disgusting. Despite the food being already prepared, it took twenty minutes to cross the two yards that separated it from our table. There are glaciers that move much faster than that. Meanwhile, a waiter behind the bar managed to break the orange juice presser, and then flounce off in a strop, and so we didn’t even get our drinks (although they were included in the first edition of the bill). When the food did arrive, it was tasteless and stale. We paid the bill and then went straight around the corner into a McDonalds, which tasted like the Fat Duck in comparison.
Restaurant 7 Portes
Address: Passeig d’Isabel II, 14, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Rating: 7.5 /10
Our favourite restaurant in Barcelona, where I ate a phenomenal bowl of squid ink paella, which was as black as a lump of coal, and thumping with flavour. I blended it on my plate with a delightfully garlicky aioli sauce, and each mouthful was full bodied, salty, dark and tangy, a mysterious quality to the flavour. I washed it down with five glasses of red wine, so by the time I finished my meal my lips and tongue looked like I’d swallowed a gallon of oil.
My partner in culinary crime, one of the world’s great experts in raw fish, enjoyed her tuna tartare, which came with avocado, freshly chopped tomatoes, and a hint of lemon. We also ate some glistening ham, and some crusty, slightly harsh pan con tomate. This is one of Barcelona’s oldest restaurants and has a slightly faded, decaying charm. Definitely worth a visit.
Address: Carrer de Ginebra, 13, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings: walk in
Rating: 7 /10
Cracking little tapas bar just off Port Vell, near the beach. The portions were gargantuan, the prices modest. My only complaint is that our waiter didn’t talk us down from ordering six different tapas dishes. My idea of tapas is a small little plate of food that you can polish off in five bites, but that isn’t the scale worked to at Bar jai-ca, or many of the restaurants we went to in Barcelona.
We gorged ourselves to the point of ruin on fresh, eating zesty little fried tiny squid, a big plate of ruby red Spanish ham, a bowl of padron peppers, salted and fried. A wonderfully simple Greek salad, the tart little bits of feta cheese, healthy, well-juiced tomatoes and simple vinaigrette, was perfect for a summer’s day. I barely touched the tomato bread, taking one bite and immediately seeing that it was, as so many times during our trip, the weakest thing on the menu. There is certainly scope for a quality bakery to be established in Barcelona. By the time our plate of manchego cheese arrived, the waiters had to drag a wooden stool over to accommodate it. If you visit the beach, drop in here for lunch.
Address: Passatge de Marimon, 9, 08021 Barcelona, Spain
Rating: 7 /10
This was our foray into the Michelin-starred world of Spanish restaurants, with Hisop the owner of a star since 2010. We both ordered the 7-course tasting menu. Some of the dishes were very nice, but in general it felt like Hisop was going through the motions of modern Michelin-starredness, with the unusual flavour combinations, the intriguing presentation, the allusions to classic dishes, but with each dish falling slightly short of that mark. There was a verve and a magic missing from the kitchen. Their smoked eggplant with comte cheese and squid sat wet and stodgy on our plates, almost a bit embarrassed of itself.
The final dish, a piquillo red pepper stuffed with white chocolate and vanilla, was inedible, and even good manners couldn’t get me through more than one bite of it. My takeaway from the dish was not: “oh what a fascinating combination, why haven’t I seen that before?”, but rather, “piquillo peppers must never, ever, ever be allowed in the same room at the same time with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. On pain of death.”
On the flip-side, a bowl of cold green tomato soup, like a gazpacho, was sharp and delicious, with a triplet of rich, succulent chunks of veal bobbing happily in the middle of it. Some steak with artichokes was nice, whilst a selection of cheeses were laid out from strongest to weakest, a little edible dairy tour of Europe. A decent restaurant (and not too expensive by Michelin standards), but not a highlight to build a trip around.
Headed to Tuscany in the not too distant future, so watch out for that!