Barcelona's fishing district, Barceloneta, is the place for paella and heaped plates of shellfish. Here are some of the best restaurants in the area
A good paella is a many-splendoured dish. Named after the wide, shallow pan (paellera, in turn from the Latin patella, frying pan) in which it is cooked, it comes in myriad variations: best-known outside Spain is the paella a la marinera, with prawns, squid and clams, but the classic is actually the paella valenciana, which contains only meat (rabbit and chicken), vegetables and, occasionally, snails.
In arroz a banda, the fish is prepared separately and served on the side with potatoes, while the rice is cooked in the fish broth. Two versions beloved of barcelonins are arroz negro (arrós negre in Catalan), an unctuous jet-black dish cooked with squid ink, and fideuà, where the rice has been replaced with fine, chopped noodles.
Barceloneta, the deeply traditional maritime district, is where most of the authentic, family-run paella and seafood restaurants are found, and on Sundays, particularly, you’ll see huge, cacophonous family get-togethers. Booking is generally a good idea, particularly for lunch (Spaniards avoid eating rice at night), and bear in mind that most fish restaurants will be closed on a Monday.
Where to eat
With a huge terrace and an impressive eight dining rooms, Salamanca (Carrer de Almirall Cervera 34, 93 221 50 33. www.gruposilvestre.com) manages to retain a cosy feel. Its terracotta-coloured walls are hung with, quite literally, hundreds of photos of regulars, celebrities and friends, and the atmosphere is never less than lively. As well as seafood there are hearty meat dishes including baked kid and suckling pig, and a towering ‘mixed grill’ of chicken, rabbit, entrecote, lamb chops and sausage.
A little further upmarket is the nautically chic Can Solé (Carrer de Sant Carles 4, 93 221 50 12, www.cansole.cat). The house speciality is ‘arroz caldoso’, a soupy paella which here comes with a choice of lobster, scallops, clams or espardeña – the sea cucumber, a highly prized, and priced, local delicacy. The bouillabaisse takes a little time to prepare, but is well worth the wait. Bag a table downstairs to watch the show in the open kitchen.
Can Majó (Carrer de Almirall Aixada 23, 93 221 54 55, www.canmajo.es) goes easy on the maritime trappings, with a slick pale blue and white interior and a fenced-in terrace across the road, overlooking the sea. Its suquet (a sticky, aromatic Catalan stew of monkfish, clams and potatoes) is second to none, but other hit dishes include cod, sea bass or dorada (gilt-head bream) baked in salt.
The kilometre-long boulevard Passeig Joan de Borbó is one long strip of restaurants, and home to some of the most egregious crimes against paella (as a rule it’s best to avoid those places with laminated photos of the food, and waiters touting for business on the pavement), but Suquet de l’Almirall (Passeig Joan de Borbó 65, 93 221 62 33, www.suquetdelalmirall.com) is an honourable exception. Its bright, colourful dining room has housed many of the great and the good, some of whom have left doodles and notes, now framed on the walls.
In times of recession, every neighbourhood needs its fall-back, and La Bombeta (Carrer de la Maquinista 3, 93 319 94 45) is Barceloneta’s. Cheap, bright and incessantly busy, it serves tapas to a mixture of elderly locals and curious tourists. Plates of hot and crispy squid rings, prawns and mussels are meant to be shared, and there are plenty of classic tapas for non fish-eaters – spicy patatas bravas, kidneys in sherry and tortilla among them.
Kaiku (Plaça del Mar 1, 93 221 90 82) is proof positive that you can’t judge a book by its cover or a restaurant by its entrance. Its scruffy-looking frontage hides some of the most creative cooking in the district, with starters that might include a carpaccio of wild mushrooms with crispy fried leek and pine-nut oil, or main course such as cod confit with cinnamon oil and cream of prawns. Get there early for a table on the terrace.
Where to stay
There are few hotels on Barcelona’s seafront, but the new W Hotel (Plaça de la Rosa dels Vents) makes up for it with its mighty presence, towering above the breakwater like a giant sail. Rooms range from stylish to luxurious and all have dizzying views of the sea.
The Hotel Arts Barcelona (Carrer de la Marina) has been around a lot longer, taking in celebrities, honeymooners and anyone who can’t live without a view of the sea. Its facilites are top-notch (one of its restaurants recently won a Michelin star) and its service is legendarily good.
A little more workaday, but within the financial means of the mere mortal, Best Western Hotel 54 Barceloneta (Passeig Joan de Borbó) has as its crowning glory a rooftop terrace that looks over the yachts moored on the Port Vell.