Words: Alex Whyte

Barcelona is perhaps my favourite city to eat and drink. Flanked by hills and the sea – its cobbled lanes are set with unrivalled architecture, palm trees and street-life – those buildings are filled with some of the world’s great art, and wonderful rooms in which to eat and drink. It would take weeks, even months, to scratch the surface of the city’s culinary world, but with just 24 hours to spare, I’d do my best to see the places below.

A day in Barcelona should always begin at La Boqueria. Set on the frantic rush that is Las Ramblas, this open air food market has been supplying Catalan locals with fresh produce since 1840 and shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon. Do as the locals do and make a beeline for Bar Pinotxo or El Quim, two longstanding bars that serve hearty breakfasts of the kind that those of us in the UK can only dream of. El Quim’s huevos con chiporones, a plate of fried eggs and baby squid pan-fried in their own ink ,chilli, garlic and sea salt and served with a nice cold beer may be the best breakfast on earth.

La Cova Fumada remains my favourite spot for lunch. Though just ten minutes walk from Las Ramblas, this working class, residential neighbourhood can often seem a world away. La Cova Fumada, or ‘Bar Bomba’ as it is known to locals, is the sort of joint we all dream of finding when eating abroad. It is credited as having invented that most famous of Catalan tapa, la bomba, which is essentially a ball of potato and meat, breaded, fried and topped with alioli and bravas sauce. The room, staff, menu and prices seem not to have budged in an eternity.

Service with a smile at the Pinotxo Bar. Image courtesy of Alex Whyte.

The floor is littered with scrunched napkins, saw-dust and marble tables. While creaky wooden fans circle above and posters of FC Barcelona’s favourite sons don the walls, a couple of grannies are tucked away in the kitchen, day after day: they own the plancha. One does not eat here in search of subtlety, the formula is fairly simple. Good ingredients, a hot plancha and staggering amounts of olive oil, sea salt, garlic and parsley. As well as la bomba, depending on the season you might find fried artichokes, grilled sardines, line-caught squid grilled whole, chickpeas with black pudding or salt cod with olives. There will definitely be huge slices of toast plastered with an assertive alioli and a salad of tomatoes, onions and olives that offers some respite. Drink plenty of beer, pay your (tiny) bill and stroll 50 metres or so down the sea to wash off all that oil.

Most would take a siesta around this time, but for those who are only in town for a couple of days and would rather not miss a beat, stroll back to El Born to Bar Brutal. A lovely little spot opened a couple of years back by locals who wished to champion the Catalunya’s artisan winemakers, this wonderful wine shop and bar is rather unique in staying open during the siesta hours – and the helpful staff will be more than happy to steer you in the direction of some great bottles from local growers: Mendall, Els Jelipins or Terroir al Limat. Each to be drunk at the bar with some excellent Cantabrian anchovies or taken back to the terrace of your apartment.

La Cova Fumada, or ‘Bar Bomba’ as it is known to locals, is the sort of joint we all dream of finding when eating abroad

Another great wine bar, La Anima del Vi, is conveniently located around 30 seconds away. The first shop in the city to focus exclusively on natural wines, it offers a small but excellent selection by-the-glass. The owner knows his stuff and you’ll find plenty of rare and inexpensive bottles from across France from the likes of Patrick Bouju and Eric Pfifferling of L’Anglore.

I’d attempt to exercise restraint at these bars to make it to the early evening, when the sun begins to dip, the breeze settles and young Catalans hit tiny bodegas all over town to engage in the daily ritual of vermut. Vermouth, that dark, bittersweet, aromatised wine is one of those drinks that seems to aid digestion and whet the appetite at the same time. In Barcelona it is usually served with a couple of large cubes of ice, a slice of orange and an olive; and you must have something salty to eat with it. My favourite place for vermouth is Morro Fi, where snacks run the gamut from olives, boquorones and anchovies, to mojama and almonds, tinned mussels in a fiery sauce, guindilla peppers and those perfect Spanish crisps, fried in olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and served with a nice vinegary hot sauce.

It is as good as it sounds, but you’ll have to drag yourself away from Morro Fi and walk a few blocks to Albert Adria (he of El Bulli fame)’s new place, Bodega 1900. The Bodega sits across the road from his more famous restaurant, Tickets; it offers the same attention to detail but with no reservations is much easier to get in, provided you arrive early.

La Cova Fumada – or 'Bar Bomba' to the locals. Image courtesy of Alex Whyte.

Ignore the somewhat cookie cutter look and bizarre, ghastly drinks list (sponsorships see Moet and Coca Cola take centre stage) for some of the most clear and precise cooking in town. While one should definitely test the waters of molecular gastronomy with a round of the excellent El Bulli olives, what follows is all about sourcing wonderful products and doing as little as possible to let them shine. You’ll eat the best anchovies you’ve ever had, perhaps a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota, a few tins of pristine shellfish that they preserve in house, a wonderful tomato salad, the best pan con tomate and a slab of Presa Iberica de Bellota seared over coals, properly rested and served with nothing more than a little olive oil and sea salt, which makes you wonder why anyone would serve good meat with anything else.

For a nightcap, I’d jump in a taxi and head to the vibrant, rambling Raval district for some absinthe at is Bar Marsella, which has been serving up glasses of this turbid, herbal, energising drink for many years in one of the most lovely rooms in town. Be sure to leave after one.

Barcelona Addresses

El Quim & Pinotxo Bar
Las Ramblas 89, Barcelona
Monday –Saturday 8am-8pm

La Cova Fumada
Calle Baluard 56
9am-3pm Monday-Wednesday, 9am-3pm & 6pm-8:15pm Thursday & Friday, 9am-1pm Saturday, Closed Sundays

Bar Brutal
Carre de la Princesa 14
10am-1am Daily

L’Anima del Vi
Viagatans 8
5pm-Midnight, Monday-Saturday

Morro Fi
Consell de Cent 171
6pm-11pm Monday-Thursday, 12pm-4pm & 6pm-11pm Friday & Saturday, 12pm-4pm Sunday

Bodega 1900
Tamarit 91
Monday-Saturday 1-8pm

Bar Marsella
65 Sant Pau
9pm-3am daily

Alex Whyte is the co-owner of Tutto Wines, a specialist importer of artisan wines from Italy

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