Crema Catalana might well be Barcelona’s most famous contribution to the world’s menus, but there is much more variety to the food you’re likely to find when visiting this city trapped between the mar i muntanya – the sea and the mountains.
Catalan cuisine, which is known to have been flourishing as far back as the thirteenth century, is a beguiling melange of the best ingredients that the Mediterranean and the grazing slopes of the mountains can offer. This means that it is quite common to come across combinations such as lobster and chicken – often served in a hazelnut sauce; meatballs and cuttlefish; chicken and crayfish; and the simply scintillating rabbit and rum. The Barcelona locals like their sauces too – especially allioli (garlic and olive oil), sofregit (tomatoes, garlic and onions) and samfaina (chilli pepper and aubergines).
In Spring, you’ll find wonderfully tasty wild asparagus is plentiful, and lots of calçots (large spring onions); in the autumn there’s nothing better than freshly picked rovellons (mushrooms) and in winter, you’ll enjoy a hearty escudella d’olla – one of the best stews you could wish to find anywhere.
The very fact that Barcelona is a port has meant that visitors here can always guarantee that they will be able to find superb fresh fish but it has had the added bonus that it has meant that people from all over the world have been washed ashore here. For this reason, the authentic international restaurants in the city are on a par with any in Europe. As you wander round the city, you’ll find places to eat representing just about all the world’s continents – but, much more importantly – you’ll find that these restaurants, in the vast majority of cases, such good quality food. Barcelona’s reputation as a gastronomic delight is well deserved.
There are, as would be expected, many famous restaurants in the city – Botafumeiro in Gran de Gracia for its fish, the Patagonia Beef and Wine Restaurant on Gran Vía Cortes Catalanes for its top quality Argentinian beef and El Cangejo Loco on Moll de Gregal for its style and views – and its opportunity to ‘celebrity spot’. For me, though, one of the pleasures of this wonderful city is wandering around back streets an finding unpretentious little places that serve up home-made Catalan cuisine that you can dream about over the winter months until you’re able to visit again.
And just as Barcelona is a city of fine restaurants, it is also a place simply chock full of wonderful bars. Spain, needless to say, is a country where the bar is an integral part of social life and Barcelona is no different in that respect. Whether you are popping in for your early morning coffee (and perhaps something a little stronger with it), sitting for an afternoon drink in the shade, or preparing for a night on the town, then there will be countless bars to cater for you. Many, especially from Thursday nights onward, don’t get into their stride until after midnight but just head to the Gothic Quarter, Gràcia, Barceloneta, Las Ramblas or just about anywhere else in this exhilarating city and you’ll find great bars. My favourites happen to be the London Bar and Els Quatre Gats – bars in which the very essence of modernism seems to fill the air; L,Ascensor – where you’ll find the finest cocktails in the world; and Bosc de les Fades, which looks as if it was designed by Tim Burton.