Somewhere, Cafe, Sant Cugat del Vallès

Somewhere CafeMy Jordanian father once told me a story; we were visiting Vienna when I was a toddler and we were refused service at a restaurant because of me. Because I was a child. “But there is a dog in here!” he protested (Remember I said he is Jordanian, so letting in a dog and not a child is kind of carazy!). “Yes, dogs are allowed. Children are not.” Discussion closed.  Although children at mealtimes can still be a contentious issue in Northern Europe, in Southern Europe and Spain in particular it’s no big deal.  Where are your children supposed to be if not with you?  And no, you are not expected to wait until they are 18 before going out to eat.  Which means there isn’t really this niche of “children friendly” restaurants.  All people, of all sizes and ages are welcome in all restaurants.

SomewhereEvery now and then though, there is a place that makes special accommodations for little people.  Like Somewhere Cafe in San Cugat.  They’ve gone ahead and made a small corridor full of windows and stacked with colouring print outs and tubs of crayons.  From the moment I walked in with all my three, that’s where they remained.  Poking their faces through the windows when they needed to be fed before getting back to the business of colouring in. Read more of this post

Les Tres a la Cuina, Seasonal Fresh Food, Gracia

Les Tres La Cuina, GraciaThis is what I think: people of Barcelona eat out an incredible amount.  With 3 hours for siesta being observed by all but the biggest most visible shops, they have the time.  They do it with other people, big – small, young – old; I am always marvelling at the human mikado that can be lunch.  They are a gregarious bunch and I see them all at different points of their lives, living it, that moment – being present.  It’s pretty fantastic.

There are a lot of places to eat at, a jumble like my children’s overturned toy boxes.  Choice – sure but where to begin?  And how to avoid the trap that is specific to Barcelona – a well designed shop with a fumbling kitchen or else missing the grungy hole with spectacular food? Oh and what if I don’t want jamón?Les Tres a la CuinaIt’s a feat to untangle this scene but every now and then I hit gold and think: “Yes, I’m getting somewhere!”  Les Tres a la Cuina is one such place.  In one of my favourite neighborhoods, Gracia, it’s a small shop.  Some bar stools around a high communal table at the entrance and bench seating closer to the kitchen. Read more of this post

Pakta, Nikkei Cuisine, Poble Sec

PaktaMy two favourite Japanese restaurants in London are Dinings and Yashin (in that order).  Both are generous with the citrus and easy on the soy.   I know that the executive chef at Dinings (Masaki Sugisaki ) worked at Nobu and that Nobu Matsuhisa was heavily influenced by Nikkei cuisine (a symbiosis of Japanese and Peruvian food).  So it is with very high expectations that I walk into Pakta on a sunny Saturday afternoon.    That and it’s taken me over a month (as usual) to get a table at this Adria brothers spot (no it’s not your imagination, they do seem to own every restaurant worth going to in Barcelona).  
The starterThere are two prix fix menus to choose from: the Fujiyama (€90 VAT included) and the Machu Picchu (€120 VAT included).  We opt for the latter and begin with the Honzen Ryori.  Which is an elaborately arranged tray of 5 small dishes the like of ‘Avocado tofu with sea urchin, yuzu and wasabi’ and ‘sweet corn cream with caviar’.  There are different spoons for different dishes and an order in which the 5 dishes should be eaten.  There are so many instructions to follow that our server uses a baton to point to the dishes as she explains what’s what, what’s first and with what – oh and don’t eat the tuft of leaves which is just a tuft of leaves. Read more of this post

Ramen-Ya Hiro, Ramen, La Dreta de L’Eixample

IMG_5399There I am, in Berlin, going on and on about how I love little portions of food (tapas, mezze) and I finally get to a place where that’s what it’s all about and I find myself wanting a big bowl of something.  Ramen will do quite nicely thank you, especially if it’s going to stand up to Cocolo in Berlin & Koya in LondonRamen-Ya Hiro As with most places I favor, Ramen-Ya Hiro is tiny and takes no reservations; which inevitably leads to lining up for a table. Which (also like most places I favor) is small, and cramped, with help yourself cutlery or in this case chopsticks.  The eclectic music blares – it must be what the kitchen likes to listen.  It’s an open kitchen with two bandannad chefs welding ladles like they are flag semaphores, dishing out steaming bowls of broth. Read more of this post

Bodega 1900, Vermouth Bar by Albert Adrià, Sant Antoni

Bodega 1900Albert Adrià must have a very happy bank manager. Most of his venues are in the Sant Antoni district where the majority of the shops are shuttered with once hopeful (now weathered) ‘for rent’ signs.  Right across from Bodega 1900 is the popular Tickets bar and 41º.  Which is convenient as during my meal there, chefs arrive ferrying gastronorms of marinated tuna from the bigger kitchens across the street.

It’s a charming little space.  And by little, I mean tiny.  A front room and a back room.  The front room being an uneven split in favour of Bodega 1900- between Bodega1900 staff and customers.  To wit: Bodega is allocated a cold station running the length of one wall underneath swinging Joselito hams and salamis, an ordering station where waiters congregate to tap in orders (they don’t have individual hand-held units) and there is a man with a clipboard (really?) waiting to greet at the front door.  Customers get a scattering of petite round tables, pushed into corners and up against poles or some bar stools against a sliver of a bar.  In the bustling back room, customers have slightly more space which they share with a bar and a warm kitchen.   

Tomato Salad, Vermouth, Mackerel at Bodega1900The idea at Bodega 1900, is to have a little something to go with your Vermouth, beer or cava (little because after your Vermouth and snack, you would be expected to continue on to lunch as is tradition).  The somethings turn out to be extremely simple.  A tomato salad for €5.90 where I am served a skinned tomato, that comes in deceptive rough and ready chunks.  I say deceptive because the care that goes into the slicing and individually salting and peppering each wedge borders on the absurd.  The identical slices of smoked mackerel receive a similar treatment, being laid out in parallel lines, a flake of salt bestowed upon each tender slice with a final flourish of a few drops of oil (possibly Oro Bailen) dispensed from a pipette.

I order one dish from the days menu, sweet peas with mushrooms and morcilla.  The peas are so immature and succulent they reminded me of the vacuum packed  suckling pigs that lined the chiller cabinets all through the Christmas period. Read more of this post

Caravelle, Coffee and Food, Raval

CaravelleIs it the lack of Australians or the lack of hipsters in Barcelona that can explain away the absence of 3rd wave coffee? Because samples from both these groups are present in Caravelle, the second best place to get a coffee in Barcelona after Cafe El Magnifico. They use a La Marzocco machine and source their coffee from a small roastery called Right Side (girls – I think you should click on their link just to get an eyeful of coffee-taster/roaster-in-lilac-shirt.)  Their flat white is the real deal while their version of a cappuccino is made with rather more milk then I like (same like the flat white in fact but with only one shot of espresso) and comes with a sprinkling of cocoa powder.  

Coffee at Caravelle Read more of this post

La Pastisseria, Classic Pastry, Eixample

La PastisseriaLook at this cake vitrine.  It’s gorgeous right? And those pastries, look at the shine on them. It’s the best rated restaurant in Barcelona on Tripadvisor: 65 reviews of 5 out of 5 stars.  Impressive.  All those reviewers can’t be wrong?

Well that depends on what you go for.  If you are taken in by bells and whistles – this place is for you.  Similarly, if you think the pulled sugar sculptures in Kings of Pastry were awesome and you would display most of them in your living room, well then, this is also for you.  If on the other hand you (as I) are more enamoured by the dogged loaf cake, be it a slice of Madeira cake embellished with a few glacé cherries or a slice of Matcha green tea cake with some chocolate chips running through it – then you might find La Pastisseria isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. Read more of this post

Koy Shunka, Fine Japanese, El Barri Gòtic

Koy ShunkaWhen I ate at Commerc 24, there was a young woman eating alone and taking pictures of her food. A few days later, I came across her on the internet and the internet being the odd tool that it is, we arranged to have lunch first at Federal and then later at Koy Shunka.

She is Vietnamese.  20 years old to my 38, with a budget for lunch that surpasses mine (I wanted the €77 Koy menu while she insisted on the €110 (G)astro one because it included sea urchin)  and an appetite that would make Thackeray blanch. And she eats everything, weird things too – or challenging ones. She polished up the 4 tablespoons of sea urchin interspersed among her tuna and shaved truffle. And didn’t hesitate when I offered her mine.

Goose barnacleWhile I stared glumly at a plate of assorted molluscs, crowned with a single goose barnacle – she began to happily slurp on hers.  Described by Charlie Skelton as smelling “strong as Poseidon’s armpit, but heavenly, like a mermaid’s burp.  ”  Well I don’t know about that?  It was sweet enough but I found it ugly to behold, with its wrinkled neck and beyond disconcerting when its toenail like shell clattered on the plate. Read more of this post

Brunch & Cake, Eixample

IMG_5234My first impression of Barcelona was that there were so many cafes, delis, bars and restaurants that you would have to be a fool to consider entering the local food and beverage market. But now that the dust has settled on my move and (most of) the boxes have been unpacked, I am retracting that sentence.  The bars with neat rows of tapas are endless, the paellas, the plates of fideua are everywhere.  Good coffee?  Non-existent (seriously, I have identified 6 shops in Barcelona that use La Marzocco coffee machines (their official distributor for Spain is a company called Coffee People and they list all their clients).  Breakfast places? The ones that do an epic layout a la what I was used to in Berlin, not so much.Brunch and CakeSo I am not at all surprised by the cluster of people I always see outside Brunch and Cake (who are one of the 6 to have a Marzocco).  Their breakfasts are American style and then some.  A perilous tower of pancakes.  A wedge of cake, thick as a dictionary.  The so-called bagel turns out to be the size of my (Smart car’s) steering wheel.  There is also a leaning towards the strange combinations that are widely accepted in the US.  My poached eggs on waffles for instance comes on sweet waffles, with hollandaise sauce – it’s really too weird for me.  And I have always struggled with overly large portions of food, finding myself feeling bloated and defeated before I have even started eating. Read more of this post

Tickets, Adrià Brothers Tapas, Eixample

Tickets Bar, BarcelonaIn 1997, El Bulli, got it’s 3rd Michelin star. In 2002, it was named restaurant of the year. Back then, lead times to super-restaurant-stardom were still a matter of years, rather than months.  (Check out Alma: Best New Restaurant in America 2013.  Now, no sooner is the accolade laid on then the book comes out, all marinating time has been discarded.  I find the lack of build up unsatisfying, like eating before you are hungry.)

There was plenty of build up with El Bulli.  I watched Cooking in Progress (a film which proved that exciting food to eat is the exact opposite to make) and read Lisa Abend’s Sorcerer’s Apprentices.  But by then El Bulli had already announced its impending closure, dashing my hopes of experiencing a meal there.  But the silver lining is that Tickets opened soon after.  It’s not El Bulli but there are El Bulli dishes, you don’t have to drive up a windy road to get there and it’s much easier (but still very hard) to get a table.

Nordic voyage with vinegar 'snow'It turns dining on its head.  When I search for the adjectives with which to describe the experience, ‘delicious’ seems besides the point.  Instead “silly”, “unexpected”, “deceptive”, “fun”, “irreverent”, “textures” are more fitting.  Instead of a fork and knife being laid out in anticipation of the meal, I get tweezers.  While at Comerc 24 I marvelled at the use of large rocks as serving plates, here it’s all gravel and pebbles.  (I wonder, does the gravel get washed after every plate is returned to the kitchen or is it recycled?  How does one wash gravel?  Do they lay them out on miles of tea towels to let them air dry?) Smoky sardinesThe space is fitted out like a circus.  Aspects of it; like the plasma screens  running documentaries featuring Ferran Adrià and flanked by scores of Maneki-nekos waving their gold paws, are cringe worthy.  It could very easily not work, I would go further and say it should not work. Read more of this post

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