Gastro bars in Barcelona

by Annie.Bennett

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.

Tapaç24

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.

Velódromo

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.
 

Annie.Bennett

I specialise in writing about Spain for national papers and magazines, including the Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle and National Geographic. This gives me a great excuse to mooch around the country, talking to everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to old codgers in mountain villages.

I have been living in Madrid on and off for the last 25 years, since I went there to improve my Spanish after finishing my modern languages degree. Soon I was teaching English, translating for art magazines and galleries and researching for television programmes. That was only meant to last a year or two, but I had made so many great friends, quite a few of whom were instrumental in the cultural explosion underway at the time, that it would have been daft to leave. Almost without noticing, I started writing about what was happening in Madrid.

I am passionate about Spanish food and wine, and love trying the local specialities wherever I go. In Madrid, I eat out nearly every day in a quest to track down the best restaurants and tapas bars. My UK base is on the Gower coast in South Wales.

My Madrid

Where I always grab a coffee: Pepe Botella in Malasaña (Calle San Andrés 12), with its marble tables and red velvet banquettes, is the perfect place to read El País with a café con leche.

My favourite stroll: I love walking through Los Austrias, the medieval part of the city, for the combination of history, tradition and contemporary life. I always see something I’d never noticed before.

Fiction for inspiration: Benito Pérez Galdós was a sort of Spanish version of Dickens or Balzac. A lot of his novels are based in Madrid - including Fortunata and Jacinta, Miau and Misericordia – and many of the locations still exist, relatively unscathed.

Where to be seen: Le Cabrera for cool cocktails after shopping in the chic Las Salesas area (Calle Barbara de Braganza 2, www.lecabrera.com).

The most breathtaking view: You can see right across the city trom the roof of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Calle Alcalá 42, www.círculobellasartes.es).

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Madrid is incredibly noisy, but the Retiro Park is perfect for picnics, quiet reading at outdoor cafés, rowing on the lake or just strolling around.

Shopaholics beware!: The outlet shoe shops on Calle Augusto Figueroa in Chueca are difficult to resist.

City soundtrack: Fito & Fitipaldis seem to be blasting out in every bar. 

Don’t leave without...Having a vermut at the Mercado de San Miguel before lunch. It’s the best way to get a handle on what the city is all about (Plaza de San Miguel, www.mercadodesanmiguel.es).