Catalonia


We spent a morning at the beach in Barcelona and packed up come lunchtime and starting thinking about what to eat. Nothing at the beach looked appealing, with most of the xiringuitos blasting out extremely loud music. I suddenly thought of a Japanese place I’d been wanting to try and as we hadn’t had Asian food in a while, we were both game.

We hopped on the Metro and went to Passeig de Gracia and from there walked to c/Rosello and c/d’Enric Granados – it’s strange how just walking a few blocks from Rambla de Catalunya causes all the tourists to disappear! It was pretty much tourist-free around Akashi Gallery. For yes, the place I wanted to try is not only a sushi bar and restaurant but also a photo gallery and travel consultants. The restaurant could have been lifted directly from Japan – quirky furniture, cool plants, a raised tatami section, and even a small garden in the back. And the menu is full of things I want to eat – lots of authentic Japanese savouries but with an element of fusion apparent in the dessert menu.

Blai and I both went for the Akashi set (yes, one of those menus del dia), which included a nice little selection of different things from their menu. There were other sets available: sushi, sashimi, donburi. First to come was the miso soup, served like a first course. I would have preferred for it to be served with the rest of the food but my hunger meant that I slurped this up in no time at all.

Miso Soup

After our bowls were cleared, the sets were then brought out. Salmon sashimi, chicken and okara patties and a salad topped with Japanese potato salad were first served…

Akashi Set

…accompanied by onigiri (with mushrooms mixed in with the rice) and tamagoyaki. There’s enough variety there to keep you occupied!

Onigiri and Tamagoyaki

The sets come with ice cream or coffee/tea. Naturally, we both went for ice cream. Ginger for me (with lots of lovely candied ginger embedded within)…

Ginger Ice Cream

…and green tea for Blai.

Green Tea Ice Cream

We couldn’t help ourselves – we then asked for their dessert menu and ordered another one! An original old-fashioned kakigori ice shaver was calling to me by the sushi bar and it was the perfect weather for it too. Blai chose the strawberry and condensed milk kakigori which came out all luridly red but was utterly delicious.

Strawberry and Condensed Milk Kakigori

I finished the meal with coffee though from what I saw, it looks like they serve some fantastic tea. I’ll have that next time.

Coffee

Of course, you’re not limited to the set menus at lunchtime. There’s an a la carte menu available at lunch and dinnertime too. It’s a shame though that the gallery closes between lunch and dinner – their desserts would be fabulous for tea time! Nutella dorayaki or matcha tiramisu anyone?

Akashi Gallery
Rossello, 197
08036 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

That brings my holiday by the Med 2014 series to a close. All photos from Marseille and Barcelona (and Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Banyoles) can be found in this Flickr album.

We travelled onwards to Barcelona from Marseille, stopping by in Montpellier on the way there. After a whole week of eating out, it felt great to dine on home cooking again, all thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law! And this continued untl a few days into our visit, when we all took a day trip to Banyoles, a beautiful little inland town in northern Catalonia with a huge lake that, legend has it, has a dragon (we didn’t see any – Blai, you owe me a dragon). There’s plenty of history in the town and that lake – that lake! It’s all quite beautiful.

The Lake of Banyoles

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It’s a lovely spot to visit if you can. There’s swimming in the lake and lots of nature to enjoy. However, after a long drive there, food was the first thing on our minds. I had done some googling the night before and Blai’s mother had reserved a table for us at Can Banyoles, a restaurant that was only about a five minute walk from the information centre at the lake.

Their lunch menu is only €12 per person (I’ve written about the menú del dia before) and you’ll see soon enough why this is quite the deal if you order well. For my first dish, I chose the local pear tomatoes with ham. These tomatoes were amazing – grown locally and with, yes, a pear shape, they were simple but fantastic. They were ripe and full of flavour and only needed a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pear Tomatoes with Ham

But Blai and his mother chose even better than I did – they ordered the rice cooked in a cassola. This took absolutely ages to arrive and when we demanded an explanation, we were told that this was cooked to order. What came out was a magnificent sight. That cassola was still bubbling as it was brought to our table.

Rice

The rice was portioned out for the two of them but the four of us could have easily shared all this. The rice had been cooked with some pork and peas and was infused with the flavour of seafood as well. It was delicious even if it was a bit on the soupy side. I helped myself to quite a bit as well – so so so good.

Rice

Second courses were good and hearty (seriously generous portions here) though not amazing. Blai’s botifarra with a garnish of grilled peppers and boiled green beans and potatoes was fine.

Botifarra and Garnish

Blai’s father’s curry was not too bad – quite a nice curry actually! The meat was tender and had a good spicing.

Curry

My calamari was well fried, not too greasy and generously portioned but became a bit dull halfway through. A garnish of some sort would have been nice.

Calamari

Desserts were very simple but it’s exactly what one wants after all that food. I went with juicy slices of watermelon…

Watermelon

…while Blai’s parents chose the crema catalana…

Crema

…and Blai went with a simple slice of torró ice cream.

Ice Cream

So yeah, really quite a bargain for €12, especially if you order that rice. Bookings are essential, even for lunch on a weekday – the place is popular with locals and visitors alike! I understand though that rice is only available on Wednesdays (from a conversation I overheard between a waitress and another customer). Go on a Wednesday!

Restaurant Can Xabanet
Plaça del Carme, 24
17820 Banyoles
Girona, Spain (Catalunya)

I didn’t expect to be in Barcelona on our last trip, thinking we’d be in the village up until it was time to fly out. It was Blai’s mother who suggested a night in the city and who am I to turn down a visit to Barcelona?!

It was a friend in Barcelona who originally introduced me to Forn Mistral, a bakery with two locations near Universitat metro station in central Barcelona. There’s one bakery on Ronda de Sant Antoni and another nearby with a large cafe attached where I’d previously tried a delicious toasted flauta with sobrassada and cheese…

Flauta with Sobressada and Cheese

…and a slice of an excellent Galician tuna empanada, both coupled with a big milky coffee.

Galician Tuna Empanada Slice

Their main specialities though are their croissants and their Mallorcan ensaïmades and it was this past trip when I finally got it together and bought one of their ensaïmades. These large round flaky lardy pastries come in a number of different sizes, from bite-sized canape to giant wagon wheel. They’re also available plain, filled with the traditional cabell d’àngel (a candied pumpkin filling), marzipan, chocolate or sobrassada (the last three are new fillings to me!).

Not one to do things by halves, I ended up buying a medium-sized specimen (it was quite large!) filled with cabell d’àngel and between Blai and myself, we carried it all the way home to London!

From Forn Mistral

Opened

Ensaimada

Yes, it was as good as it looks! Thin layers of flaky lardy pastry, the sweet stringy jam in the middle…..we demolished this in two days (only because we controlled ourselves – it could have gone in one!). Next time, I reckon we could get 2, one on top of the other, into the same box!

Do stop by if you’re in the city though – those toasted sandwiches really are gorgeous.

Forn Mistral
Ronda de Sant Antoni, 96
El Raval, Barcelona, 08001

and

Carrer de Torres i Amat 7 (for the cafe)

I can’t speak for the rest of Spain but the menú del dia (menu of the day) can be found at lunchtime, lunch being the main meal of the day, in most restaurants in Barcelona and Catalonia and usually comprises two courses (don’t think of it as a starter and main course but two separate dishes served one after the other), dessert, bread, and a drink (usually bottled water, beer or wine) and occasionally coffee. There’s a fixed price and usually a short menu from which to choose your two courses plus dessert. They will always cost less than ordering a la carte and they’re usually an affordable way of trying some of the more expensive restaurants. If you’re lucky, the menu will change often – La Pubilla is one of those places, offering a daily changing lunch menu based on what looks good that day at Gràcia’s Mercat de la Llibertat located across from the restaurant.

La Publilla’s menú del dia did include some delicious olives and fantastically crusty bread.

Olives Bread

We ensured that between the two of us, there would be no overlap in ordering. The Patates amanides amb vinegreta de bisbe negre (potato salad with bisbe negre vinaigrette) didn’t sound exciting to me (I pictured a thick and heavy mayonnaise based potato salad) but what arrived was light and insanely good. A boiled potato had been sliced up and topped with a dressing made of bisbe negre (a black sausage), tomatoes, pine nuts and spring onions. I’ve certainly not had a potato salad like this but I wish to have more.

Patates amanides amb vinegreta de bisbe negre

The Espaguetis amb tomàquet, anxova i nyores (spaghetti with tomato, anchovy and nyora peppers) was topped with a snowy covering of grated parmesan. A creamy pea and mint soup was another first course available that day.

Espaguetis amb tomàquet, anxova i nyores

From the three available second dishes, we first chose the Bacallà amb samfaina (salt cod with samfaina, a Catalan stewed vegetable mixture made up of onions, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes – it’s not dissimilar to a ratatouille). The thick chunk of cod had been fried and it’s traditionally served with samfaina, the sweetness of the vegetables pairing well with the salty fish. This modern presentation was beautiful, with the red pepper foam and black olive drizzle.

Bacallà amb samfaina

Our other second course was Cap i pota amb cigrons (literally “head and feet” with chickpeas). Bits and pieces from the pig’s top to tail had been stewed together with chickpeas and made for a comforting stew, thickened just by the gelatin and collagen from the trotters used. A hamburger was the third option and it was very popular and looked amazingly plump and juicy as it was brought to diners around us (I hope it’s still on the menu next time!).

Cap i pota amb cigrons

We were pretty stuffed already but soldiered on with the desserts. A Pastís de xocolata was an ethereally light chocolate brownie slice with a not very light chocolate sauce – I’m still dreaming about this cake.

Pastís de xocolata

I knew not what to expect from the Plàtan amb taronja (Banana with orange) and was surprised when a bowl of banana slices appeared swimming in a bowl of freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s simple but was actually a perfect refreshing ending to our meal. If you’re wondering, the third available choice for dessert that day was granola with yogurt.

Plàtan amb taronja

And for this delicious modern Catalan lunch? Well, that’s the best part of the menú del dia, its affordability. At La Pubilla, a set lunch was only 13€ – a total bargain. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch and it’s very popular, making drop in lunches a bit difficult. Do book in advance or come early or be prepared to wait; when we went at about 2pm, there was still space at the bar and we ate there.

La Pubilla
Plaça Llibertat, 23
Gràcia
Barcelona
Spain

That rounds up the posts from my trip to Barcelona over Easter. All my photos from this trip can be found in this Flickr photoset.

I first heard of Can Kenji over on gourmet traveller and immediately looked into it; to my surprise and to Blai’s also, it was situated only about a 10 minute stroll from Blai’s parents’ flat and we (I, Blai and Blai’s mother) found ourselves strolling over to try their Japanese-Spanish/Catalan fusion food for dinner one night. It was no surprise that it was a tiny unassuming place that they must have walked by many times before without realising there was a restaurant there. I myself would never have looked into dining at a fusion restaurant but it’s got a few excellent reviews online and our need to book a few days in advance confirmed its popularity.

Their menu was full of things you want to eat and we set about selecting what we thought was a nice little range. We started with an Assortit de sushi, sharing by somehow choosing the bits that pleased us most. The tuna maki rolls were made with tuna belly which melted in the mouth; the fish we had at Can Kenji was all beautifully fresh.

Assortit de sushi

A Tataki de bonítol amb salmorejo was topped with fried garlic chips, enhancing the garlic already in the cold tomato and bread soup. This dish made fusion proud, the thick slices of seared fish and the sweet yet acidic soup together making for a happy mouthful.

Tataki de bonítol amb salmorejo

I was originally skeptical about the combination of cheese and prawns in the Broqueta de llagostí, espàrrecs, tomàquet sec i formatge Idiazábal (skewer of prawn, asparagus, sun dried tomato and Idiazábal cheese) but again, to my surprise, they were fabulous.

Broqueta de llagostí, espàrrecs, tomàquet sec i formatge Idiazábal

Less impressive were the Mandonguilles de xiitake i llagostins arrebossats (battered shiitake and prawn meatballs). They were the letdown of the night as the battered prawn stuffed mushrooms soaked up the dashi broth in which they sat and became soggy lumps that fell apart at the touch of a chopstick. They were tasty but could have improved in texture.

Mandonguilles de xiitake i llagostins arrebossats

This was made up for by the Hamburguesa Can Kenji. What I initially mistook for melted cheese turned out to be a fried egg, its oozing yolk gooing all over the tender beef patty. Covered in beefy, oniony gravy, the Japanese style hamburger was served with a cold potato puree and a dressed salad. I could have just eaten this with rice…. and you can for lunch as it’s on their menú del dia. Optional at dinner time is topping the patty with a slice of foie gras. (Does any place in London serve these Japanese style hamburgers? I know they are quite popular in Japan.)

Hamburguesa Can Kenji

Oozing Egg Yolk

We’d left plenty of room for desserts and chose three to share between us all. A Pan cake Japonés “Dorayaki” de Xocolata (yup, a chocolate dorayaki!) was two homemade pancakes sandwiching a rich chocolate filling; the traditional version with red bean paste was also available if you need to stick to the classics.

Pan cake Japonés “Dorayaki” de Xocolata

The Flam de boniato (sweet potato flan) was silky smooth and gorgeous. I love the use of those orange sweet potatoes in desserts.

Flam de boniato

Absolutely delicious, and the most interesting, was the Gelatina de fruita amb shiratama, a bowl of crushed up jelly and fruit topped with chewy boiled sticky rice cakes and a brown sugar syrup. Their desserts were definitely worth ordering.

Gelatina de fruita amb shiratama

It was quite the bargain too – with green tea for us all, our meal at Can Kenji came to a little over €50. I’d love to return for lunch and I believe Blai’s mother will definitely be back for it – they offer both a bargainous menú del dia and even a small tasting menu then. We were warned that reservations were even necessary then, so yes, do book ahead if you’d like to dine there.

Can Kenji
Rosselló 325
Barcelona
Spain

It was my first Easter in Barcelona and I was looking forward to trying out all the foods of the festival. As with most events and festivals in Catalonia, there are particular foods and dishes that are eaten and that are sometimes only available to buy at that time of the year.

Botifarra d’ou is available all year round but is particularly popular around Carnaval, the celebratory days before Lent (Quaresma in Catalan). This firm pork and egg sausage is eaten cold, sliced, and tastes just as you expect – of pork and egg. It’s tastier than it sounds!

Botifarra d'Ou

During Quaresma, bunyols de Quaresma are available at pastry shops and as desserts at restaurants. These fried sweet puffs of dough are airy on the inside (giving them their other name of bunyols de vent – “of wind”) and it’s difficult to stop at one!

Bunyols

What got Blai very excited though was the mona de Pasqua – an Easter cake that he hadn’t eaten for a number of years. This is a traditional mona – a ring of slightly sweet bread with hard boiled eggs embedded. Other shapes can be made too; there’s another popular variant where the eggs are piled in the middle of the ring like in a nest. They are usually given by godparents to their godchildren on Easter Sunday and the number of eggs on the mona would usually be the age of the child, usually up to about 12-13 eggs. Blai’s cousin told us of one mona with 30 eggs that he saw at one pastisseria – it covered an entire dining table!

A Traditional Mona de Pasqua

Nowadays though, these are less popular as people turn to cream cakes like the one below we shared with Blai’s family and extended family. The coloured feathers seem to be popular with all pastisseries in Barcelona.

Chocolate Mona Cake

Chocolate mones are also very popular – Blai remembers only chocolate houses being available when he was younger but today’s chocolate mones also reflect popular culture: the variety ranges from the ever popular Barcelona football team …

Chocolate Football

…to films like Tintin…

Tintin Boat!

…and all the way through to Spongebob Squarepants (he’s very popular in Spain and goes by the name Bob Esponja).

Spongebob's Pineapple

Overall, Catalans are not very religious but due to Spanish immigration from Andalucia to the city, there is still demand for religious processions such as the two I went to see on Good Friday (Divendres Sant) – one was dedicated to “Nuestra Señora de las Angustias” leaving from the Església de Sant Jaume and the other was for “la Hermandad de la Macarena” and “la de Jesús del Gran Poder” departing from the Església de San Agustín. The two processions met at the cathedral before returning to their initial churches. While they didn’t meet with the same wild reception they would have received in Andalucia, it was still interesting to watch.

Our Lady

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I’ll end this post with an Easter egg/chocolate mona I saw at Pastisseria Takashi Ochiai, a brilliant Japanese/Catalan pastry shop. It’s possibly the best Easter egg I’ve ever seen: it’s a ninja shark (with uh… smurfs)! Do also see his Totoro egg!

Ninja Shark Egg!

Blai and I had decided to head out of Barcelona during our recent visit and with the weather in the city improving over the Easter weekend (my flight arrived in a downpour), we decided to visit Sitges, only a 40 minute train ride away. I had always thought that Sitges was just a place for tourists looking for the beach but was corrected and told that it was indeed a beautiful town and well worth a visit. It was still a bit too chilly to actually partake in traditional beach activities but it was a beautifully sunny day to stroll about with no cares in the world.

Walking from the train station to the beach, we encountered a number of very grand houses, many of them built by Indianos, the name for residents of Sitges who went over to Cuba at the beginning of the 20th century to make their fortunes. On their return, they used their newfound wealth to build big beautiful houses that add to the uniqueness of the town.

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One particularly famous Indiano was Facundo Bacardí Massó, who yes, founded the Bacardí rum company in Cuba. I was surprised to see both a Bacardí distillery tour (Casa Bacardí) and a sculpture on the beach commemorating him.

Apart from the big grand houses though, the rest of the old town of Sitges was very pretty with its small winding streets and illustrated tiled street signs.

In Sitges

We ended up by the beach, of course – it’s impossible not to. It really was a stunning scene and I was again surprised to see lots of artwork scattered about by the beach. I can imagine how crowded it must be in the summer. Strong winds that day certainly didn’t stop the sunbathers though!

The Beach

The church of Sant Bartolomeu i Santa Tecla, overlooking the beaches, wasn’t open that day and I’d like to return to see inside.

Sant Bartolomeu i Santa Tecla

By this time, it was about noon. Blai’s brother had suggested that we go to fer el vermut, a Catalan tradition of having a drink and a bite at one place before moving on to lunch at another (lunch being the main meal of the day in Spain). It’s particularly popular on Sundays and can be had when going out or eating at home. He recommended a chiringuito (beach bar) and it was to that we went to – El Chiringuito, right by the beach and established in 1913. It was only when I got back to London that I discovered that this Chiringuito was the first in all of Spain and it was its name that was given to beach bars all over the country.

Chiringuito

Vermut

We didn’t drink any actual vermut but had a couple of Cokes with olives and fried calamari, both very traditional snacks to have. Other common things to have are potato crisps and anchovies.

After our vermut, there was time for a little stroll again before heading to La Marinada, our chosen restaurant for lunch. When by the sea, it’s hard to resist all the local seafood available. This seafood restaurant was right by the beach but not overlooking it and was very popular with locals looking for high quality seafood all caught nearby. We nibbled for quite a while on delicious little arbequina olives as we perused the menu full of amazing fruits of the sea, finding it very difficult to decide what to eat.

We’re both suckers for crispy, creamy croquetes though and we had to start with these excellent ones.

Croquetes Casolanes

To follow, a plate of navalles (razor clams) cooked on a planxa and drizzled with a picada made with parsley, garlic and olive oil. They were, hands down, the finest razor clams I’ve ever eaten – perfectly tender, not at all rubbery and so delicious. Underneath the clams was a bed of lettuce and grated carrot and we ate all this salad that had soaked up all the fabulous oil and clam juices.

Navalles

For our main course, we ordered Arròs amb Llamàntol for two, thinking that this was a rice made with a particular type of fish. Imagine our surprise when this arrived – it turned out that a llamàntol was a kind of lobster (llagosta)!

Arròs amb Llamàntol

It was amazing though – the freshest fish, clams, giant prawns, that lobster all mingled together in the pan and the rice was infused with all their gorgeous flavours. And it was huge – we managed to finish most but not all of it. It was quite the feast.

Other dishes that were very popular at the restaurant were their simple fishes cooked on a planxa, their anchovies with escalivada and their paella. Most of the other tables were sharing huge seafood paellas. Of course, all that seafood came at a pretty price and with just sparkling water, a lemon ice cream and a coffee, our meal cost about 90 euros.

After lunch, we waddled our way over to a temporary exhibition set up with the major pieces of art in Cau Ferrat, a house once owned by the Catalan artist Santiago Rusiñol. It’s beautifully set by the sea but unfortunately, during our visit, it was closed for refurbishment. The art is well worth a visit but I need to return to see inside the eclectically decorated house.

We continued strolling along the beach and back through the old town, wishing we had more stomach space for the goodies we saw. As the sun slowly started to lose its warmth, we walked slowly back to the train station and caught the first train back to Barcelona. I’ll be seeing you again, Sitges.

Sitges

All my photos from Sitges can be found in this Flickr photoset.

El Chiringuito
Passeig Maritim
Sitges
Spain

Restaurant La Marinada
Carrer Rafael Llopart, 49
Sitges
Spain

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