Our two favourite tapas places during our recent first March Bank Holiday weekend trip there two weeks ago were Bar Celta Pulperia in the Gothic Quarter’s Carrer de la Mercè, where octopus is the meal of the day every day.
We were surprised that, being a Pulperia, they only had three variations of octopus that day, one being the usual Pulpo a la Gallega, octopus Galician style, cut into thin slices with lots of paprika and oil on top, another being baby octopus in broth with lots of garlic and parsley, both dishes we ordered, and both dishes we loved. The price of €14 for the Pulpo a la Gallega was unexpectedly high, but the quality of the ingredients, the expertise of the cook who prepared it, and the sheer size of the meal completely justified the expense.
We also liked the fact that the bar attracts a large number of locals, including blue and white collar workers, even though about half the guests were tourists. The atmosphere is very cosy and friendly, and we got involved in two quick chats with locals, one being about the enormous size (12cm thick, 40cm diameter) of the Tortilla Espanola the chef had prepared for the day, the other being about recommendations to us what else to order (we were actually full after sharing the two tapas, even though the Pimientos de Padron, the gambas, and frankly all the rest looked delicious. There are several trays on the bar that show the whole octopuses before they get sliced up.
On the wall hangs a black-and-white photo from the early 70ies showing the founders, a nice couple. Through an opening in the wall you can see into the kitchen behind the bar and watch the cook go about his business. We were told by a local to avoid the patatas bravas, and looking at them, we’re sure the advice was good.
Our other favourite tapas bar is Quimet y Quimet, just off Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec, one of the best areas in Barcelona for tapas and much cheaper than in the more touristy parts. The place is tiny and you can’t be shy if you want to make it to the bar before closing time, but everyone is very friendly, some of the guests are clearly regulars, even though the vast majority that day must have been tourists. The bar staff joke around with their clients and are very quick and professional.
We had the signature dish, salmon and honey, our favourite dish: pickled razor clams, garlic prawns (incredibly firm and tasty, despite being served without any glamour or signs of herbs or even only bits of garlic), and sour pork cheek with potato chips. When ordering, we were ready to go for another two or three dishes, just because queuing for another twenty minutes seemed unattractive, but the lady serving us stopped us and said, see how you like these and order more later if you like them. This was a very good idea, because that left us room to enjoy tapas at a few other places that night, and there would not have been enough space to put more plates anyway.
After trying out a good few of the Carrer de Blai tapas places, we made our way back to the hotel in the Ramblas and stopped at Picasso’s, Hemingway’s, Dali’s old haunt, Bar Marsella, for an Absinthe that was so strong, they give you a bottle of water with a hole pinched into the lid, so that you can dilute the toxic distillate. When they say the place has not been altered since the days of Picasso, what they mean is that it has not been maintained. The place nearly falls apart with colour peeling off the ceiling and everything looking past its best-before date, but that adds to the charm and the atmosphere.
The following morning we took a 4-hour cooking course. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It started with a visit to La Boqueria, the main market, just off the Ramblas, where we bought the ingredients, then we went to the cooking school, also located at the Ramblas. We were a group of 12 and we prepared a proper three-course meal together, with the instruction of and under close supervision from our chef: butternut pear onion soup with a few bits of hazelnuts, edible flowers, and blue cheese on top, seafood paella for mains, and Crema Catalana for dessert. Cleaning the mussels was probably the hardest part, but in the end everyone was very pleased with the outcome: a very delicious meal cooked by our very selves.