Below is a small but excellent selection of restaurants in Barcelona
Passeig Marítim 30
Slightly let down by some front-of-house chaos that means a long wait even with a booking, Agua is otherwise one of the freshest, most relaxed places to eat in Barcelona, with a large terrace smack on the beach and an animated sunny interior. The menu rarely changes, but regulars never tire of the competently executed monkfish tail with sofregit, the risotto with partridge, and fresh pasta with juicy prawns. Tasty puddings include marron glacé mousse and sour apple sorbet.
A fantasticway to explore what this Michelin-starred restaurant has to offer is to sample the gourmet menu, which offers four savoury courses, including complex dishes that play with Spanish classics – for instance, liquid pa amb tomàquet with fuet sausage, wild rice with crayfish, strips of tuna on a bed of foamed mustard – and a couple of desserts. An excellent wine cellar adds to the experience.
An excellently executed space with a thoughtfully positioned mirror allows diners to watch the chefs at work. A jumble of sautéed wild mushrooms, and rocket salad with crispy pear are tasty, while sea bass with crab bisque is a smooth follow-up. Puddings sound better than they taste, though: apple crumble is actually a patty of apple, banana and crushed almonds, and the pumpkin cake with peppermint ice-cream is just bizarre. Hit or miss, then, but mostly hit.
Downstairs, low comfy sofas fill up with amorous couples while upstairs all is sleek and light, with brushed steel, dark leather and a Klimtesque mural. A rack of newspapers and plenty of sunlight make it popular for coffee or snacks all day; as well as tapas there are pasta dishes, bocadillos and cheesecake, but beware the 20% surcharge for pavement tables.
Café de l’Opera
La Rambla 74
Cast-iron pillars, etched mirrors and bucolic murals create an air of fading grandeur now incongruous among the fast-food joints and souvenir shops. A reasonable selection of tapas is served by attentive bow-tied waiters. Given the atmosphere (and the quality of the competition), there’
s no better place for a coffee on Las Ramblas.
C/Reina Cristina 7
It’s impossible to talk, get your order heard or move your elbows, yet the ‘Champagne Bar’, as it’s invariably known, has a global following. Its smoky confines are always mobbed with Catalans, English teachers and adventurous tourists making the most of dirt-cheap house Cava and sausage bocadillos (you can’t buy a bottle without a couple). Try the Roquefort with Paté – weird but nice!
Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant? Is it a nightclub? Who knows? Apart from a little fusion confusion (Thai curry with nachos; cajun chicken with mash; curried sausage with baked apple, and all manner of things with yucca chips), the food’s not half bad for the price, but the service could be a little better.
Els Quatre Gats
C/Montsió 3 bis
This Modernista classic, which was frequented by Picasso and various other luminaries of the period, nowadays caters mainly to tourists. The inevitable consequences include higher prices, average food and, worst of all, the in-house musicians. The place is still beautiful in its design, however, so avoid the worst excesses of touristification and come at lunchtime for a reasonably priced and respectably varied menú. And that way you spare yourself ‘Bésame Mucho’.
Hotel Cram, C/Aragó 214
Housed in the 1980s-style steely grey decor of the Hotel Cram, Carles Gaig’s cooking never fails to thrill, from the crayfish tempura amuse-gueule, served with a dip of creamed leek salted with a piece of pancetta, through to a shot-glass holding layers of tangy lemon syrup, crema catalana mousse, caramel ice-cream and topped with burnt sugar (to be eaten by plunging the spoon all the way down). All this pleasure comes at a price, however.
Once home to Catalan playwright, Frederic ‘Pitarra’ Soler, and his watchmaking uncle, this smart, bright traditional restaurant is still a shrine to the art of horology. Classic dishes include partridge casserole, pheasant in a creamy cava sauce and langoustines with wild mushrooms, but the desserts are not quite so accomplished.
Spacious and utterly elegant, Schilling is no longer as fashionable as it once was, although the supercilious waiters seem not to have realised. Nonetheless, it’s an unbeatable place for meeting up, and the window seats remain unchallenged as the city’s number one spot for budding travel writers to scribble in their journals. One cool place!
Passeig d’Isabel II 14
The eponymous seven doors open on to as many dining salons, all kitted out in elegant 19th-century decor. Regional dishes are served in enormous portions and include a stewy fish zarzuela with half a lobster, and a different paella daily (shellfish, for example, or with rabbit and snails). Reservations are only available for certain tables (two to three days in advance is recommended); without one, get there early or expect a long wait outside. I once ate there with my wife and we sat at the table where the great John Wayne once sat and dined!
C/Major de Sarrià 134
As if the leafy garden, dappled with sunlight, weren’t reason enough to come here, the waiters are charming and the chefs are quite skilled. Starters are a light and healthy bunch, with crisp salads and baby vegetables, but main dishes are more traditionally Catalan. Oxtail is stuffed with cured duck with shallot jam, or there are more straightforward choices of pork with mustard sauce, hake, sea bass, bonito or, bizarrely, ostrich. Try their own-made pistachio ice-cream to finish- lovely!