We spend a long weekend in culinary hotspot Barcelona.
Barcelona is probably one Europe’s most underrated cities. As the proud capital of Catalunya, Barcelona combines Spain’s cultural depth, Northern Europe’s progressive thinking and a dynamic Mediterranean vibe. A casual stroll through the city’s seemingly endless array of pedestrian zones will confer upon any visitor a simple truth – Barcelona offers visitors a window into what it truly means to love living life.
But in nothing is its zest for life more evident than in its culinary offerings – a city made famous for its molecular gastronomy perhaps, but with so much more to offer. Whether it’s cutting-edge culinary theatre, or honest, simple food, Barca has something for every taste. While you could spend days, if not weeks, eating your way through the city, here is my guide to a gastronomical three-day weekend in Barcelona.
9 AM: El Quim De La Boqueria: Forget any semblance of formal dining etiquette when walking up to El Quim de la Boqueria’s storied bar counter. Chef Quim Márquez Durán has only 18 stools in his modest establishment but they tend to be occupied by people who really care about what they eat. Located right in the heart of Barcelona’s timeless Boqueria market, Quim’s bustling 22-year-old restaurant serves up a typical Catalan breakfast, tapas, as well as lunch to hungry shoppers and market vendors alike. While dining, you can spot several celebrity chefs enjoying breakfast, indulging in freshly delivered produce direct from Catalunya’s abundant agricultural and farming heartland.
Open Monday-Saturday, 7am onwards. www.elquimdelaboqueria.com
11 AM: Casa Gispert: This store is indeed an authentic gem. From the decades-old, in-house wood-fired oven, to the scent of freshly roasted nuts greeting you at the entrance, entering Casa Gispert is like taking a step back in time to visit your great-aunt’s rustic countryside cottage. Casa Gispert is not only a store but also a factory, given that all its products are roasted within its walls. You can not only buy raw or freshly roasted nuts but also a wide spectrum of artisanal food products. Whether it’s nuts covered in sugar or soaked in honey, dried fruits, oils and vinegars, sundried tomato, jams, herb bundles, nougats, chocolates, teas and coffees, Casa Gispert offers something for even the most demanding of foodies.
12 PM: Cafes el Magnifico: Opened by the Sans family in 1919, Cafés El Magnífico in Argenteria is a treasure trove of single-origin coffees from virtually every corner of the world – Ethiopia, Kenya and Java to Nicaragua, Colombia and India. From its base in the Borne district, El Magnífico toasts small batches of beans and grinds them to order for maximum freshness. It also stocks a range of espresso pots, cafetières and coffee filters. Something of an institution in the city, Cafés El Magnífico visits each plantation personally to ensure that all of its coffees are chosen not only for their quality, but also for their fair trade credentials.
1PM: Passadis Del Pep:Tucked away in a nondescript residential building in Pla de Palau, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is an unlikely star in Barcelona’s culinary line-up, staying true to its no-menu policy for 30 years. An integral factor in the Passadis experience is the level of trust a diner must invest in the establishment, for developing an impromptu and personalised menu. A typical meal at Passadis would include portions of the finest locally sourced shellfish, prepared simply but with a distinct personality, followed by a selection of freshly caught grilled fish, coupled with a succulent chickpea stew with meat and artichokes. Basque peppers, seasoned with oil and sprinkled with salt, aren’t far behind, nor are the sensational baby squid sautéed with garlic shavings. You may even be lucky enough to find catalan escargots simmering right in front of you. In many ways, it is sheer culinary pot luck in terms of what the team at Passadis deem worthy enough to plate for you. www.passadis.com.
4 PM: Bubo:One cannot visit Barcelona without ‘playing’ in the amazing boutique Bubo, located in Carrer Caputxes. From truffles with vanilla, curry with white chocolate, macarons in the shape of hamburgers – Bubo has managed to fuse art with sweets to result in good-to-look-at-and-even-better-to-taste desserts. The selection at Bubo is never repeated and the new creations that are constantly pumped out from their workshop depends both on seasonal availability of locally grown herbs and spices, and what is in demand. The retail shop is next door to its own café where you can enjoy a creative light bite – and of course experiment with what you have just purchased! www.bubo.es
7 PM: Tickets:This is a tapas restaurant that is in a league of its own, if only for the simple reason that it is owned by the Adrià brothers, of elBulli fame. At its helm is the ever so talented Albert Adrià, elBulli’s former head pastry chef, as well as part of its core team for over 20 years alongside his brother Ferran Adrià. Making a reservation at this restaurant is not easy – it is typically booked solid for at least three months, but it is absolutely worth the wait. I would recommend the ‘surprise’ menu that will have you on the edge of your seat taking pictures non-stop – think liquid olives which are carefully laid onto a fish-shaped spoon, mini air-bags stuffed with Manchego cheese, liquid ravioli, pastry horns filled with crema Catalana, and my absolute favorite, cotton candy trees in a pot with chocolate soil. From the molecular gastronomy, to the almost Gaudi-esque presentation, to the custom designed ‘tools’ through which to experience the tapas, Tickets is in many ways the unofficial successor to elBulli’s trailblazing culinary path. www.ticketsbar.es
10 AM: Brunch & Cake: As coffee and breakfast lovers, the management at Brunch & Cake have just one philosophy – everything is 100 per cent hand-made and local. With a motto like ‘In grandmothers we trust’, this charmingly buzzing breakfast locale offers hearty, healthy comfort food. Located at the end of picturesque Enric Granados – just a 15 minute walk away from the main city center – one of Barcelona’s most seriously underrated zones, Brunch & Cake offers a relaxed introduction into Barcelona’s breakfast culture, with a menu of both savoury and sweet dishes – such as truffle eggs with homemade toast with avocado and mushrooms, ricotta with honey on thick warm crunchy fresh bread topped with fresh blueberries, and freshly brewed organic coffee. Enric Granados 19, no reservations are accepted.
1 PM: SANS & SANS:Located in the spiritual hub that is El Borne’s magnificent Santa Maria del Mar Church, Sans & Sans Fine Tea Merchants offers what is arguably the most diverse selection of loose leaf teas in Spain. Since its opening, three generations of the Sans family have gained a reputation for being the finest purveyors of tea in all of Barcelona, everything from delicate Japanese Sencha and quintessentially English Earl Grey, to in-house cocktails of aromatic tea infusions of fruits, herbs and spices. Sans & Sans even offers its own exclusive ranges, including a selection of jasmine blends and its Silver Collection of white teas, all individually chosen from the finest tea gardens across the world. Refresh yourself from a post-brunch slump with some of their fine teas, before stocking up on tea accessories like pots, cups, filters and tea caddies; the knowledgeable staff members are always on hand to advise you on the perfect way to store and prepare your brew of choice. www.sansisansbarcelona.com
3 PM: Vila Viniteca: Recognised as one of Barcelona’s finest gourmet shops and noted as an un-missable stop in several culinary tourist guides, Vila Viniteca in Agullers is an absolute must visit. A meticulously curated offering of conserves, oil and freshly rolled pasta are just some of the store’s offerings, aside from handcrafted cheese churned at the hands of Spain’s finest cheesemakers, and the most intriguing selection of cold cuts from several distinguished artisanal producers. While you could while hours away in Vila’s aisles, my tip is to assemble a picnic basket and head to Park Guell to experience the sun setting over Barcelona! www.vilaviniteca.es
5 PM: Picnic at Park Guell:Visiting this park is akin to entering Antonio Gaudi’s creatively complex mind! Park Guell is one of the most impressive public parks in the world, originally intended to be a residential park for sixty family homes. Gaudi planned and directed the construction of the park from 1900 to 1914, but the project fell through and the park became city property in 1923.Though never fully completed, it still remains one of Gaudi's most colorful and playful works. There are few things that say indulgent summer holiday as much as a lazy picnic in the park, so unpack your treasures from Vila Viniteca on a bench and enjoy the afternoon – it is indeed a simultaneous feast for both your stomach and your eyes. www.parkguell.es
10 AM: Hofmann Culinary School: A trip to this culinary school will make any legitimate foodie want to delay their flight back home! Since launching her school in 1982, Michelin star chef Mey Hofmann’s intention has always been to open culinary doors for all those wanting to learn more about creative cooking and the world of gastronomy. Be it the sight of an exquisite red pepper, or the scintillating scent of butter melting on a pan, the Hofmann school offers an unforgettable sensory experience. You can sign up for a day course where you enjoy an exquisite Hofmann breakfast to start with, followed by a tour of one of the amazing Barcelona market. You then cook with what you buy having designed your own menu – Hofmann gives you ideas and you decide. At the end of the workshop you can enjoy what you have cooked for lunch. Gastronomy Day courses are offered for group bookings, € prices start from €1,200, www.hofmann-bcn.com
7 PM: Koy Shunka: Recommended to me by chefs Albert and Ferran Adria themselves, Koy Shunka serves up a superb menu that brings together the legitimate – and not the California Roll variety – flavours of Japan. A major part of the Koy Shunka experience is the Spartan design in which the kitchen is brought to the forefront of the dining experience. There is no music and very little distraction from the culinary stage that enables diners to witness their meal being constructed right before their very eyes, with the focus firmly on the chef’s meticulous approach to preparing simple yet exquisite Japanese cuisine – ranging from an extensive array of sushi, sashimi and a variety of carefully sourced grilled meats, to belly tuna tartar, Galician seaweed salads, and twists on the classic sea cucumber. The enchanting Hideki Matsuhisa patrols all aspects of the restaurant with the passion and excitement of a freshly minted graduate, and in fact, it is his singular passion that has led to Koy Shunka becoming a regular destination for those really in the know when it comes to Barcelona’s culinary trail. www.koyshunka.com
Faraw Sawaf is the founder of Dubai-based food website, Cooking with a Manicure.