The Reign of Spain

Berlin is unpredictably cool, Amsterdam is laid-back arty. But Barcelona’s smoking-hot restaurant scene makes it Europe’s most talked about city right now.

If Barcelona wasn’t always famed for its food, it certainly is now. In some respects, it has the edge over Madrid as the best-provided gastronomic city in Spain. The capital has mountains, but Barcelona has mountains and the Mediterranean, and fruit and fresh fish, plus a traditional cuisine with personality and soul. And ‘Barça’ also makes a brave effort to march in step with the latest food fashions in London and New York, from pop-ups to supper clubs. Here, as elsewhere, the days of the expensive restaurant as an item of cultural importance are over. The good stuff is now happening at a different register: amazing fast food, bistro cooking, beachside dining with a twist. From bread to beer, there’s a new emphasis on craft values and ever higher quality. Even simple fare can be worth the Metro journey. And if Barcelona has one thing clear, it’s the importance of big flavour above every other consideration. It’s all about the food. And also the drink. Not to mention the lip-smacking nibbles.

The Size Revolution
Next-Generation Bistros

The French word as applied to Barcelona is really a catch-all term for a tendency towards smallish places where the crowd is lively and the food is real and honest. Cañete Barra y mantel, Jose María Parrado’s restaurant in the Raval, is a Catalan eating-house crossed with an Andalucian tapas bar serving beef Wellington and local classics such as meatballs with cuttlefish. A few streets away on the Rambla del Raval lies Suculent, with traditional Catalan and Spanish dishes. At Sagàs Pagesos, Cuiners & Co they use ingredients produced in the Pyrenees by the Rovira family: don’t miss the fantastic roast porchetta.

Artichoke with celeriac, cured pork cheek and black truffle at Suculent

The Avante-Garde Wizard
Paco Pérez

Over lunchtime the dining room at Enoteca – all white laced with blue accents – is flooded with Mediterranean light. The simple charm of the room might suggest something more straightforward than Paco Pérez’s highly charged cooking which, although it hardly stints on the fine ingredients (black truffle; foie gras; sea-urchin roe), never seems pompous. His Catalan roots are evident in a superb version of peas a la catalana, the sweetest peas briefly sautéed with pancetta rustic butifarra sausage and baby octopus, and a canelón of chicken and prawn that resonates with tradition and flavour. As Paco notes, ‘The soul of this cooking is in my hometown Llançà: the sea, the mountain and the countryside.’

The dining room at Enoteca

Creamy rice with lobster and pork ribs at Enoteca

The Game-Changing Chef
Albert Adrià

The Adriàs are two brothers from a working-class family who grew up in the rough-and-tumble suburbs of Llobregat and, by dint of genetics and an extraordinary capacity for hard work, ended up at the top of their tree. Ferran is the supreme inventor, the originator, the global name. But huge respect is also due to Albert, Barcelona’s most successful restaurateur and one of the world’s most influential pastry chefs. Of Albert’s portfolio of half a dozen Barcelona locales, there are four stand-outs: 41 Degrees, Bodega 1900, Tickets and Pakta, which specialises in Peruvian-Japanese fusion and last year won its first Michelin star. Dinner here is an eye-opening, palate-widening experience. 

The dessert room at Tickets

Tickets

The Terroir Champion
Nandu Jubany

Under chef Fermi Puig, Petit Comitè was already a reliable repository for classics such as esqueixada (salt-cod salad) and fricandó (beef-and-mushroom stew). But new head chef Nandu Jubany has pushed it up several notches in sheer ambition. The restaurant looks sleeker than ever; the vaguely Japanese touches in the design have been suppressed, and there’s now a street-level bar serving Nandu’s own take on tapas. His loyalty to Catalan cooking is evident. ‘There is no ginger, no spices, no coriander, otherwise it would become a restaurant like all the others,’ he smiles. Petit Comitè’s five-course seasonal menu is a tour of the terroir with stops at ofal, surf and turf, and local treatments of rice and vegetables. 

The interior of Petit Comitè

The New Wave
Beach Clubs

To a Spaniard the word chiringuito brings to mind a comforting image of a shack-like beach bar where the menu runs to grilled fish, paella and cold white wine. Now the chiringuito has smartened up. Barraca, within sight and smell of the sea, lies half way between the Hotel Arts and the W (where Pez Vela, a kind of super-smart beach bar, is too). The kitchen steers a course between classic fare such as the Delta paella with artichokes, cuttlefish, sausages and mussels. Chef José Maria Parrado is a very clever man. What he’s done at Martínez is to bring the chiringuito feel, plus a beachy repertoire of classic rice dishes and acorn-fed ham, to a fashionable locale overlooking the harbour. 

A reflection of the beach

The chiringuito’s shack-style terrace

Clams with tomato, chilli and basil at Pez Vela

The Latest Obsession
Bakeries

Bread is big in Barça and bakers such as Daniel Jordà of Forn La Trinitat is featured in the glossies, while Anna Bellsolà of Baluard talks about ‘giving bread the importance it deserves’. She opened her bakery at a time when few gave a fig for real bread. Six years later, there are queues around the block for her loaves. As in the bakery, so in the pastry shop, and a new generation of pastry chefs, including Christian Escribá and Oriol Balaguer, whose new ice-cream parlour La Xocolatería has chocoholics slavering, is scaling the heights. Not to mention young Josep Maria Rodriguez’s minimalist cakes at La Pastisseria.

A fig tart at Baluard

The Italian Maestros
Max and Stefano Colombo

If it hadn’t occurred to you to eat Italian food in Barcelona, Xemei might persuade you otherwise. In its decade of business this idiosyncratic restaurant has carved out a niche for itself among the city’s best-loved eating places. Xemei was recently joined by Can Cisa Bar Brutal, their newest wine-bar in the old town. This is real cucina veneziana. A dish of squid stewed in red wine and mint (served with gnocchi) suggests that the cooking of Catalunya and the Veneto may not be as distant from each other as you’d think.

Can Cisa Bar Brutal

Beetroot salad at Can Cisa Bar Brutal

Charcoal-grilled prawns at Pakta

Featured image Tickets’ snackeria

Text Paul Richardson; Photographs David Loftus