Quimet i Quimet
Lined from floor to ceiling with wines and spirits from across the globe, this lively bodega is justly famed for its unique and exquisite montaditos modelled from wicked combinations of salmon with truffled honey, tuna dotted with caviar and balsamic syrup, and plates of pungent cheeses served with transparent fruit jelly, glazed chestnuts and pickles arranged like artworks. And, there’s mojama (salt-cured, air-dried tuna), canned seafood and croquetas. Can’t make up your mind? Ask the maestro behind the bar to assemble you a plate. Intense flavours create an unforgettable experience. Don’t expect fried fish, or fried anything. Blonde, brown and black beers on tap. They serve their own-label Belgian beer, excellent wines and cavas. Standing room only.
• Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes 25, +34 93 442 3142. Open Mon-Fri noon-4pm, 7pm-10.30pm, Sat noon-4pm, closed August
La Cova Fumada
This old hole in the wall serves simple dishes bursting with flavour. It’s a small, busy, friendly place – you may have to prop yourselves at the bar before sharing a table with a couple of locals, like dining in a large family kitchen. They’re famed for their bombas (meat-filled mashed-potato balls rolled in breadcrumbs) served with a choice of three sauces, graded by spiciness – salsa del diablo being the hottest. And then there’s the bread – try the pa amb all i oli – huge slices of grilled bread slathered with fresh, homemade garlic mayonnaise. Simple, but it works. Try the marinaded sardines, the fried artichokes, squid and the bacallà (salt cod) with a tomato salad.
• Carrer Baluard 56, +34 93 221 4061. Open Mon-Wed 9am-3pm, Thurs, Fri 9am-3pm, 6pm-8.15pm, Sat 9am-1pm, closed August
In the evening this jealously-guarded Catalan classic, its walls bedecked with FC Barcelona basketball shirts and photos, is often packed with loud and cheery gangs of friends meeting for a few bites before hitting the town. During the day it caters to an older clientele and has more the air of a canteen. Tony, the avuncular owner, and his veteran staff are well-used to serving picky locals every variation of traditional tapas, such as esqueixada (salt-cod, tomato and onion salad),escalivada (chargrilled aubergines, peppers and onions) and fuet and llonganissa(cured sausage). It is also one of the best places for paella – but it’s only served Thursday lunchtimes (€12). Moritz, and Moritz’s malted Epidor beer, is served on draft.
• Carrer de Luís Antúnez 7, +34 93 218 7387. Open Mon-Sat 7am to 1am
Saturday, 4.20pm, the lunchtime rush has died down. Most local customers are taking coffee and licores. “Paella for Pablo,” the call goes out. And, at 4.23pm Pablo has his paella, done the way he wants it – with a whole butifarra (sausage) on the side. This very popular, well-organised, local standby, its pavement tables set to catch the best of the afternoon sunshine, is always busy. For good reason – they serve a reliably good range of tapas including pescadito frito (whitebait)gambas rebozadas (prawns in a light batter), mussels, sausages and the whole kaboodle. Vegetarians will be pleased to note that they serve a wonderful vegetable paella with goat’s cheese. The terrace is a good spot in the evening.
• Carrer de Girona 162, +34 93 458 4817. Open Mon-Sat 7.30am-1am
Given that it’s such a short stroll from the Sagrada Família church, and the quality of the food, I’m always surprised there aren’t more tourists here. Reasonably priced and with very friendly service, it has a terrace usually filled with families, but there’s plenty of room inside. You’ll find a chilled family atmosphere. Try their delicious homemade croquetas, probably the best in the city: mushroom, foie gras, chicken, cheese and vegetable. Extensive range of very fresh tapas, including stuffed eggs, jacket potatoes filled with tuna and topped with cheese, baby clams, navajas (razor clams), salpicón de marisco (seafood salad), chocos(strips of squid in oil and parsley), sausages and cold meats.
• Carrer de Nàpols 291, +34 93 457 6510, tossabcn.com. Open Mon-Fri 7am-11pm, Sat 7am-5pm
You’ll find dozens of Basque bars across the city. For quality, variety and overall value, this place is probably the best. Generous portions of meats, cheeses, fish, seafood and tapenades piled on to chunks of bread speared with a toothpick – hence the name pintxo, which means spike. Order a drink and grab a plate from the bar. The young, friendly staff will explain how things work. Every now and then one of the staff will offer you a hot pintxo – perhaps a date wrapped in bacon. Enjoy. Ensure you keep all the toothpicks as these will be counted at the end of your session. Each pintxo costs €1.55. Good selection of wines, including txakoli, ciders and Almogàver beer on tap.
• Carrer de Casanova 157, +34 93 439 5107, maitea.es. Open Mon-Sat 11am-midnight
You may be taken aback when you encounter this tiny local bar. Don’t write it off. Chill, sit at a pavement table and let your tastebuds decide the verdict. There’s a definite, though subtle, edge to the food. Roberto, from La Rioja, and his wife, Ynes, from Peru, serve the best albóndigas (meatballs) I’ve ever tasted, along withpapas arrugadas (smashed potatoes with coriander cream), aubergine mousse dotted with sesame seeds served with cracked toast, empanadas, venison paté, and sheep’s and goat’s cheeses. Roberto is proud of his wines – you’ll get an excellent Rioja reserva for €12. No pretension whatsoever, just good, tasty bites, very friendly service – and Jimi Hendrix.
• Carrer de Tamarit 154, +34 649 750072. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-4pm, 6.30pm-midnight, Sun 11.30am-4pm
El Rincón del Cava
On a tight budget? Be careful. There’s a well-known bar in the Eixample which charges clueless tourists €72 for six prawns. No danger of that here, at the heart of Poble Sec, where most tapas cost less than €3. Start here and take the edge off your appetite before grazing across town. Incredibly, they serve half-priced portions, allowing you to sample before feasting on prawns, calamares, mussels, chorizo, stuffed peppers, cheeses and all the usual suspects, and washing it down with a pint of beer for just €2.50, or a bottle of cava rosado (pink fizz) for just €3.95, or cava brut (the good stuff) for only €6.30. No music, just laughter and TV.
• Carrer de Blasco de Garay 53, +34 93 441 7031, rincondelcava.es. Open Mon-Fri 9am-midnight, Sat 9am-3pm, 7pm-1am
Bullfighting is just about over in Catalonia. The current season will be the very last. Then, finally, this quirky throwback will become more of a museum than it already is, with its very traditional offerings served in faded 1960s splendour. Hidden along a side street, this cheap and cheerful spot is replete with old photos, posters, bulls’ heads and Cordobes hats on the peeling walls of connected dining rooms. Tapas, including rabo de toro (bull’s tail, but usually actually oxtail, stew) and full meals served with carafes of house red and sangría. Just off the Ramblas. Very family friendly. Open Sunday evenings. Don’t forget your sombrero. ¡Olé!
• Carrer d’en Xuclà 3-5, Raval/Ramblas, +34 93 318 2325. Open Mon-Wed, Sun 6pm-midnight, Thurs-Sat 6pm-1am
Students? Yep, lots of them. Workers? A few. And, what’s with the radios, sitting on shelves, mute? Animated discussion about language, perception and politics? Yep. A lively, and often loud, well-loved institution offering reasonably priced tapas, sandwiches and pizzas all day long. A bit too ordinary? Well, try the patatas rabiatas – a filling plate of fried potato chunks served with piquant bolognese sauce, a meal on its own. Try the morcilla amb confitada de cebollas (blood sausage with braised onions), deceptively sweet. Try the choricitos (tiny, red-hot sausages), or the pimientos de Padrón (scotch bonnet peppers). Jugs of beer are €3.50. Central, cheap and cheerful.
• Carrer d’Elisabets 2-4, +34 93 317 5826. Open Mon-Thurs, Sat 8am-11pm, Friday 8am-2am, closed three weeks in August
Article by Bill Sinclair