The two best tapas places in Barcelona and other fun stuff to do in town

Our two favourite tapas places during our weekend trip to Barcelona 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, and Quimet y Quimet, just off Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec.

We were surprised that, being a Pulperia, Bar Celta only had three variations of octopus that day, two of which we ordered: the usual Pulpo a la Gallega, octopus Galician style, cut into thin slices with lots of paprika and oil on top, and baby octopus in broth with vast amounts of garlic and parsley. 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 price tag.

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 when we visited. The atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly. 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 and how it could perhaps be a way for the chef to compensate for other things not quite as huge, the other being about recommendations on what else to order. It turned out that we were actually full after sharing just these two tapas, even though the Pimientos de Padron, the gambas, and frankly nearly all the rest looked delicious. We were told to avoid the patatas bravas, and looking at them, we’re sure the advice was good.

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 70s showing the founders, a nice couple in their late twenties. Through an opening in the wall you can see into the kitchen behind the bar and watch the cook go about his business.

quimet y quimet

Our other favourite tapas bar, Quimet y Quimet, is tiny and you’ll need to show some persistence, if you want to make it through the queue to the bar before closing time. But everyone is very friendly, some of the guests are clearly regulars, even though the vast majority on the day we visited were tourists, most of them from Spain or other Spanish-speaking countries. The bar staff joke around 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 good advice, because that left us room to enjoy tapas at a few other amazing bars that night.

It was nearly midnight when we started to make our way back towards the hotel in the Ramblas and stopped by Picasso’s, Hemingway’s, and Dali’s old haunt, Bar Marsella, for an absinthe. The liqueur is 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 tourist guides say that the place has not been altered since the days of Picasso & Co., what they mean is that it has not been maintained. The bar nearly falls apart with colour peeling off the ceiling and everything looking past its best-before date, but that only adds to the charm and the atmosphere.

bar marsella

The following morning we took a 4-hour cooking course with Foodie Experience, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It started with a visit to La Boqueria, the main market, just off the Ramblas, where we bought the ingredients. Then the group walked to the cooking school. We were a group of 12 and we prepared a proper three-course meal together under close supervision by the resident chef. The menu: 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.

Looking for more Barcelona inspiration? Check out our posts about our day trip to nearby Montserrat and the Penedes wine region and our review of Uma restaurant. For reviews of other travel and activities, try our posts on rock-climbing in Porto, our trip to the Sahara, and our ride with Thames Rockets.

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