Sunday, June 29, 2008


Introducing my first guest blogger, Little Sis, on the gastronomic pleasures to be found in Barcelona.

"Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Barcelona. Aside from the opportunity to watch some fantastic football, enjoy the sun and see some of Gaudì’s fascinating - and mad - buildings, my dad and I also got to sample some of the gastronomic delights of the Catalan capital.

We arrived hungry and disorientated after a 4 a.m. start, badly needing solid, reliable comfort food. Luckily, we soon found an innocuous-looking underground tapas bar called ‘La Bodegueta’ which quickly served up some of the simplest, and best, food I’d ever had. We shared plates of chorizo, cheese and the eponymous tortilla, and also enjoyed one of Catalonia’s signature dishes, crusty tomato bread. I particularly liked the tortilla, which I ended up eating at every possible opportunity after that - this was probably the best example we had. The cheese plate was also interesting, especially a variety which had been stored in oil and had a tangy, moist-but-not-oily taste. All in all, it made for an excellent start to our trip.

That night we ate at ‘Tragarapid’, a fast-food (fast-food in the Catalan style, which basically means cheap and informal) restaurant in the Tragaluz group, who have restaurants all around the city. We also lunched at the flagship ‘Tragaluz’ restaurant and a third member of the group, ‘Bestial’ on other days. ‘Tragarapid’, although vastly preferable to fast-food outlets here, wasn’t particularly memorable until we got to the dessert. I had an unremarkable rigatoni with tomato sauce and parmesan, while dad had fried chicken. However, the dessert was one of the single best things we ate on the trip - a basil and lime sorbet. The sharpness of the lime perfectly complemented the richness and slight oily taste of the basil; this dish was a revelation. ‘Tragaluz’ itself was more impressive, though that was possibly helped by the fact that dad brought along a Catalan friend who seemed to know every member of staff. We shared a portion of deep-fried aubergine to start (apparently, the Catalans share the tendency to deep-fry everything in sight with the Scots, though they haven’t yet got to Mars bars) which was much better than it sounds. We both had a simple, but perfectly made, starter of rigatoni drizzled with pesto and then I had a main course of seared veal. For dessert, a mango coulis cut through the richness of my chocolate brownie; this made for a wonderful conclusion to a great meal. The third restaurant, ‘Bestial’, was one of two restaurants from the group on the seafront (the other is ‘Agua’) and was definitely the weakest of the three. We started with seafood antipasti, which wasn’t bad but also wasn’t anything special. For the main course, dad’s mushroom risotto was reasonable while I accidentally ordered foie gras ravioli in a port wine sauce. Given that it was a hot afternoon, this was far too rich and cloying to have on he menu and neither of us could eat it. Although the caramel and cinnamon ice-creams we had for dessert were good, they didn’t really compensate for a disappointing meal. As this was one of the most expensive restaurants we went too, I can’t recommend it - the food never lived up to the stunning setting.

In a spirit of adventure, we booked a dinner at ‘Loidi’, a new venture by the three-time Michelin-starred Basque chef Martín Berasategui. A four-course set menu for €33.65 per person was thankfully quite a bit short of Michelin prices and both of us enjoyed an excellent meal. A tasting menu for €45 was also available for those that were so inclined. We were offered glasses of cava as soon as we entered, although possibly that was because we were the only people there - as a general rule it’s not a good idea to go out for dinner at 8 p.m. in Barcelona. I started with a rice and chicken casserole, while dad had an intriguing leek and egg soup - the egg was actually poached before being cooked in the soup. Both dishes made for a good start to the meal. For the fish course, dad had a helping of monkfish and clams, while I had a double helping of rabbit - I don’t like most fish. The rabbit was rich and juicy and my only problem that I wasn’t quite hungry enough to do it justice. I continued with the rabbit into the third course while dad had a lamb ragù. This was perfectly cooked; the lamb falling off the bone in a deeply rich sauce. The meat was perfectly complemented by the bottle of Finca viladellops we shared. The high standard continued into the desserts where I had an interesting coffee and Bailey’s spongecake topped with a crème brûlée-style crust. Dad had an apple tart with a sharp-tasting apple ice-cream. He finished with a ‘cortado’ - an expresso with a shot of milk - the traditional way to finish a meal in Catalonia. On the whole, we thought that ‘Loidi’ was well worth the visit.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a trip to the Boquería, arguably the best market in the world. For a foodie, the only question is how many days you spend there. It’s a riot of colour and scent, a real feast for the senses. It’s here that you can get ‘cinco bellota’ ham, made from pigs that have been fed only on acorns. As it’s expensive, there’s a sliding scale based on how many acorns the pig has been fed. Even the smell of this ham is intoxicating, and I find myself savouring the tiniest amount of it. There are stalls dedicated to every type of chili and spices and sections full of fruit, vegetables and fish. A few of the stalls also act as cafés where you can sample ham, cheeses and myriad varieties of chorizo. This place is mesmerising, and any foodie who goes to Barcelona will find themselves in heaven.

‘Cacao Sampaka’ is a place of pilgrimage for every member of our family. There are branches throughout Spain and they serve the greatest hot chocolate known to mankind. I’m not exaggerating. ‘Azteca’ is drink made of 80% cacao infused with spices and tastes much like solid chocolate that has been liquidised and mixed with cream. It’s so rich that it starts solidifying as soon as you take your spoon out. I dream about this stuff. There’s also a variety of pastries available, although they’re mainly a sideline to the chocolate. We had feather-light melindros which were excellent for dipping, and perfectly buttery - but not over-rich - brioche. Dad also had a yoghurt and lemon smoothie which was apparently nice, but still ended up unnecessarily diluting the chocolate (in my opinion). It’s also a shop, so you can take some of the chocolate home with you - and, believe me, you will.

Although that’s a round-up of the most notable places we ate, Barcelona is full of good food. The Camp Nou serves up fresh, sturdy hot dogs at half-time with particularly good ciabatta-style bread. On our way home from the Parc Guëll (one of Gaudì’s) we dropped into the ‘Store Café’ where we had lovely, fresh drinks - I had lemon with ice, while dad had a strawberry and lime smoothie. Fresh bocadillos (sandwiches) are readily available and are almost invariably filled with excellent quality ingredients. The only misgiving we had was about the hotel breakfast - it was €18 per person for a mediocre meal, while we had hot chocolate and pastries the next day for a fiver in a small café. It’s something to watch out for if you go there as it’s easy to eat well for little money once you avoid the tourist traps. If you get the chance to go there - and eat there - savour it!"

1 comment:

Rachel@fairycakeheaven said...

wow sounds fantastic, makes me want to go back to Barcelona again