Some of Spain’s top chefs are behind the new wave of gourmet bars in the Catalan capital of Barcelona, where top-quality tapas cost just a few euros a plate
The basic idea behind Spain's new gastro bars is to make traditional Spanish and Catalan dishes – such as patatas bravas, garlic prawns or meatballs – using the best possible ingredients. It’s a simple yet highly successful concept and this sort of bar, where the emphasis is firmly on top-quality, locally sourced produce, is now popping up in cities all over the country.
Michelin-starred Carles Abellán, who previously cooked at El Bulli and is now overseeing the new W Hotel on the waterfront, is behind Tapaç24 (Carrer Diputaciò 269; 93 4880977; www.carlesabellan.com), a more informal version of his renowned Comerç24 restaurant. Near Plaça Catalunya, Tapaç24 is open all day from 8 am to midnight, and it's a great place for lunch if you’re shopping on Passeig de Gràcia. Like Inopia, it gets very busy at peak times, but get there before 2 pm for lunch and before 8 pm for dinner and you should be okay.
One of the specialities here is the ubiquitous toasted ham and cheese sandwich, known in Catalunya as a bikini for some reason, which Abellán has upgraded using Iberian ham, mozzarella and black truffles. It is on the pricey side, at €8, but worth sharing one between two. Don’t let the sometimes pushy waiters bully you into ordering expensive specials. Stick to the more reasonable - and yummy - egg and chips, lentil and chorizo stew and coca de recapte, which is the Catalan version of pizza. Also excellent are the bombas (a Barcelona speciality), which are round potato croquettes with a fiery kick that will blow your socks off. You can keep the bill down to around €20- €25 a head if you don’t go mad.
Carles Abellán has also taken over one of Barcelona’s oldest bars, Velódromo, and there has been a queue for tables ever since it opened its doors (Muntaner 213, 93 4306022). The elegant venue in the Eixample area dates back to the 1930s and is very much a part of the Catalan capital’s cultural heritage. Although it has been revamped, none of the original Art Deco features has been lost. With its mahogony handrails, bench seats in pale pistachio leather and a long steel bar with glistening beer pumps, Velódromo is now a breakfast café, tapas bar, restaurant… whatever you want it to be, at any time of day.
In the early evening, chic Catalans hang out there after leaving work. Follow their example and start by ordering a Moritz beer, then get going with your tapas order – maybe some cuttlefish or sizzling prawns, some Catalan butifarra sausages and whatever the fish of the day is on the blackboard. Prices range from €3 to €15 a dish, so watch what you order.
Alta Taberna Paco Meralgo
A few blocks uptown, which means smarter and less touristy, is the Alta Taberna Paco Meralgo (Carrer Muntaner 171; 93 4309027; www.pacomeralgo.com), which is a soothing minimalist space with brick walls and blond wood tables. Try the fantastic tempura vegetables, some prawns from Palamós on the Costa Brava and maybe some clams or cockles. The shellfish is particularly good here. I have experienced both friendly and surly service, and they can get a bit manic in the evenings. For once, however, you can book, even though all you’re getting is a stool and a place at the bar or at one of the high tables. I usually ask for the bar, as then you can get a good look at all the different dishes on offer. The tapas range from €2 to around €15 a plate, so again this can work out quite reasonably if you keep an eye on the prices.
Where to stay
Foodies will love the Eurostars Ramblas Boquería, as it’s right next to the Boquería market on the famous Ramblas boulevard in downtown Barcelona. Located in an elegant 19th-century building, it has 30 rooms with a sharp contemporary design and views of either the market or the Ramblas. Rates start at around €120 for a double room including breakfast.
Nearby, in the cool Raval neighbourhood, Gat Xino is an upmarket hostal, with a crisp green, black and white colour scheme, funky roof terrace and well-designed rooms with desks and plasma televisions. Doubles start at €75 including breakfast.
Over in the Born area, which is packed with tapas bars and boutiques, chic&basic Born is design-heaven in an 18th-century mansion. Rooms are gleaming white but you choose the mood by setting the lighting to whatever level and colour takes your fancy. If you’re feeling peckish, you can help yourself to breakfast, snacks and refreshments at any time, at no extra charge. Rates vary according to the size of the room, but are usually between €90 and €180.
The funky Room Mate group has recently opened its first hotel in Barcelona. Handily situated in the Eixample area, the Emma is surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants, and is near Gaudí’s La Pedrera building. Rooms feature the curvy lines and vibrant colours that are the signature style of designer Tomás Alía, with really comfortable beds and free wifi. Rooms go from about €90, with free breakfast until noon.