Dining in Barcelona

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!

Can Ramonet 

Address:  Calle Maquinista, 17, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 6 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 10.32.49A 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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 10.33.00We 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.

 

Txapela

Address:  Passeig de Gràcia, 58, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  walk in
Day:  Monday
Meal:  Brunch
Price: ££
Rating: 2 /10

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 20.45.40A 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
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Friday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.02Our 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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.09My 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.

 

Bar jai-ca

Address:  Carrer de Ginebra, 13, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  walk in
Day:  Sunday
Meal:  Lunch
Price: ££
Rating: 7 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.34.28Cracking 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.

Hisop Restaurant

Address:  Passatge de Marimon, 9, 08021 Barcelona, Spain
Bookings:  booked
Day:  Saturday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 7 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.35This 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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.47The 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.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 16.35.15On 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!


Dining in Crete

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This past week my partner in culinary crime and I were on the sunny island of Crete, and as usual in the aftermath of a trip abroad, we are bringing you the culinary highlights and lowlights of our adventures across the seas.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.54.22Some general comments on Cretan cooking: portion sizes are astronomically large, with starters the size of main courses, and main courses the size of small buffets. The food is also dense and very heavy. It is not advisable to attempt to swim in the aftermath of a Cretan lunch or dinner.

The size of the portions is made more problematic by the fact that the restaurant proprietors seem genuinely upset by the sight of any food left on your plate, and the chef in family run restaurants will sometimes roll out of the kitchen and enquire why the 10th potato on the plate hasn’t been finished.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.55.00At the end of every meal we were brought small cakes “on the house”, as well as a small flask of ouzo and two shot glasses. I warmed to this tradition, and by the end of the trip was looking forward to knocking back my shot. But on to the restaurants.

Taverna Petra, Kissamos – 3

We were recommended this restaurant by the Lonely Planet Guide. People stopped buying the Lonely Planet guides back in the 1990s when the internet made them redundant, and ghastly, holiday-sabotaging recommendations like this one will not win them back any readers. We pulled into this restaurant after we had finished trekking down into the breath-taking Balos Lagoon, and had worked up a considerable appetite in the process. No degree of hunger however, could make what they served up appealing. I ordered a pork gyros with chips, which was like a bad kebab but without the bread. The meat was tough and fatty, the chips cold and stodgy.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.55.08My partner in culinary crime ordered a lamb kebab with cream, with the meat burnt more severely than some of the British tourists we’d spotted smouldering on the local beaches. She ate so little of her meal that it was actually embarrassing to face the friendly waitress, and so she cut off some large chunks of the kebab and surreptitiously slipped them to a stray dog who was marauding around the legs of our outdoor table. The tough little bastard – no doubt used to eating out of bins – swallowed both pieces, but did so without any real relish. I could swear that he gave us a slightly hurt look as he lay back down in the sun to digest. Avoid this restaurant, no matter how hungry you are.

Akrogiali, Chania – 4

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.25.38We were recommended this restaurant by the Daily Telegraph, who commended it as serving the best seafood in Chania. I can only assume that whichever food critic the Telegraph dispatches to Crete has had a successful and complete amputation of his taste buds, because no one with a working mouth could possibly recommend this place in good faith. They served us a bowl of mushrooms that were prehistoric in their texture, as old and leathery as a well-worn flip-flop. My partner in culinary crime ordered a swordfish which was bland and dry. I was served a bowl of calamari. The waiter described them as, “fresh.” I don’t know if there’s an equivalent of the Trade Descriptions Act in Crete, but if there is, I would certainly be due some legal redress. They may have been fresh some time last year, but not in May 2018. Avoid this place, regardless of the Telegraph’s burblings.

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The Well of the Turk, Chania – 6

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.26.06Set in the old Turkish district of Chania, the Well of the Turk served up good food, and was a welcome break from the tourist trap restaurants that littered the seafront in Platanias. I had an Armenian pizza, known as Lahmajoun, a thin piece of dough with minced lamb, onions, tomatoes and parsley laid loosely across the top of it. It was light and tasty, the lamb warm and salted, the onions adding crunch to the dish. My partner in culinary crime had a well grilled shish kebab, the chicken well bronzed, but still succulent. We finished off with a murderously delicious cake, appropriately named Death by Chocolate. It was dark and sweet, with fruity undertones shot through it. It would certainly be a pleasant way to go.

The restaurant is delightfully situated, with a small, leafy garden for al fresco dining, and the place is surrounded by historic buildings and narrow, winding, cobbled streets. It is the probably the best place in Chania for a meal.

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To Pigadi, Rethymno – 6.5

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.24.46The pick of the restaurants in Rethymno. Again, beautifully situated on a small side street, with a gated garden full of creeping vines, frescos on the rustic walls, and a little water fountain acting as background music. I had a zesty, succulent tuna, which was wonderfully light, and set off beautifully by a subtle lemon sauce. My partner in culinary crime ordered a lamb cooked in a ceramic pot, which was literally bubbling with flavour when it landed on the table, a crisp top of pastry concealing a cauldron of lamb, potatoes, artichokes in a thick stew. It was tasty, heavy food. This is certainly a good spot for a sunset dining experience, the picturesque streets a romantic backdrop to well-made food.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 20.25.11And thus, it comes to an end, another culinary expedition complete. I certainly wouldn’t place Crete anywhere near the top of my list of places to go for food, but, like pigs hunting for truffles, we did manage to sift out some decent spots. If you do go, avoid restaurants in heavily touristic areas like the plague, order light, and enjoy your ouzo responsibly!

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