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.

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

Untitled

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!

Another visit to Barcelona, another new place for hot chocolate! Blai discovered the hot chocolate at Cacao Sampaka over Christmas and was excited to have it again when I went along at Easter. The shop was co-founded by Albert Adrià and when it first opened in Barcelona, I remember popping along to try their products; I hadn’t been back in a while though. It looks like they’re no longer just in Barcelona though: there are now franchises around the world. We went to the branch in Eixample off Rambla de Catalunya and the cafe was situated at the back of the shop. While the menu was full of lovely sounding things, we were there for their hot chocolate, not the ice creams, nor the sandwiches, nor the milkshakes. I’d love to try those next time.

Our favourite order at any granja is always a suís (hot chocolate with whipped cream on top). Their Suís was made with their traditional xocolata, made with 70% dark chocolate and cinnamon. It was very good – the high quality dark chocolate really did make a difference when compared to the versions at other granges.

Suís (xocolata amb nata)

We also split an Asteca, a very dark hot chocolate made with 80% dark chocolate and spices. It was intensely dark and rich and very delicious but between the two of us, we just couldn’t finish the very large cup – it defeated us.

Asteca (80 % cacau i espècies)

We weren’t having the hot chocolates by themselves, of course. As it was the end of the day (the cafe closes at 20:30), their xurros had run out so we made do with their melindros. These Catalan sponge fingers were fabulous, so far the best I’ve had in the city (I really want to try all the city has to offer!). They were sweet but this balanced the bitterness of the dark chocolates.

Melindros

While their hot chocolates are excellent, I’ve never been taken with their chocolates. I tried some more on this visit but again, disappointment. I’ll stick to their cafe rather than their shop.

Cacao Sampaka
C/ Consell de Cent, 292
08007 Barcelona
Spain

That translates to Ferran Adrià and elBulli. Risk, Freedom and Creativity. This new exhibition was created by the Generalitat de Catalunya to celebrate 50 years of elBulli and is currently being held at Palau Robert in Barcelona, with free entry. As I never managed to secure a reservation at elBulli while it was open and still very curious about the whole experience, we popped in to have a look around; while we didn’t have much time, we still managed to see some of the high points in the exhibition.

It started with a bulli, of course; the restaurant was named for the French bulldogs owned by the Schillings, who opened the first restaurant back in 1964 (originally a mini golf place with a beach bar). The first section of the exhibition focused on the history of the restaurant, featuring lots of old menus, photographs and even bits and pieces from the chefs’ childhoods – I was surprised to see artifacts such as school identification cards!

El Bulli

I was impressed with the unique and creative ways in which all the ideas and the experience at the restaurant were portrayed – for example, a video table showed what a meal would be like at the restaurant in recent years prior to its closure.

Video Table

It was at this wall that I wished I had more time. This chronological display wrapped around a few rooms and showed the vast number of techniques developed at elBulli across the years.

Chronological Wall of Techniques

The wall was also my undoing: the exhibition was becoming quite overwhelming by this point. The restaurant was known for their meticulous records of all the dishes they created and the research going towards them and while I would have loved to spend time going through it all, it just felt like a lot to take in. There were exhibits on everything related to elBulli, from their techniques to the tools they used and created to their plating of dishes. Everything elBulli. I reckon I didn’t see over 90% of the things on display.

A life size video of Ferran Adrià in a simple room calmed things down a bit and was a brief respite from even more full-on elBulli exhibits.

Life Size Ferran Adrià Video

We were amused to see that hilarious clips from the Catalan TV3 political satire show Polònia were also being shown at the exhibition. Of course, these featured Ferran Adrià and the actor portraying a mock Adrià; it was lovely to see Adrià’s sense of humour! If you’re interested, it looks like some of the clips (in Catalan) are on YouTube.

I was just as tickled to see the birthday cake card designed for elBulli by Escribà, a well known pastisseria in Barcelona, …

Birthday Cake

… and the beautiful tray of petit fours served at the end of a meal. Just as they close a meal, this and a small display dedicated to the last service at the restaurant were to close the exhibition.

Petit Fours

According to the website, the exhibition will travel to New York and London but until February next year, it will be in Barcelona. I do recommend a visit if you’re a fan and I’d also recommend either setting aside quite a bit of time or visiting a few times to cover it all. I’m planning on returning and spending more time there.

Ferran Adrià i elBulli. Risc, llibertat i creativitat
at Palau Robert until 3 February 2013
Centre d’Informació de Catalunya
Passeig de Gràcia, 107
08008 Barcelona
Spain

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