Catalonia


One of the newest visitor attractions in Barcelona is El Mercat del Born, a former market and wholesale market in Barcelona that functioned from 1878 to 1977. I remember my first visit to Barcelona, over ten years ago, when Blai took me there to peep through the railings and into the then excavation site. For under the market, the ruins of the preexisting 18th century Born neighbourhood were in remarkable condition. Today, the market is El Born Centre Cultural, a cultural centre, all centred around the ruins and holding exhibitions, theatre space, meeting rooms, a shop and a restaurant.

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It was, of course, the restaurant that caught my eye and a couple days after our visit to the market, we returned with the whole family to try El 300 del Born, the restaurant run by the local major beer company Moritz and with a menu developed by Jordi Vilà of Alkimia. The space is lovely and light and has, of course, a fantastic view of the ruins (there is a separate entrance to the restaurant from outside when the cultural centre is closed). There are photos all around the restaurant of when the site was still a working market, which made for a great talking point throughout the meal.

What really tickled me though were the menus. On the Catalan menu (which is used as a placemat), many of the items refer to either key points in Catalan history or important Catalan cultural events and details of these are provided as references on the back of the menu. Unfortunately, the English menu lacks these – they should be translated as they’re a great read! Lots of thought had been given to the naming of items in the menu, with lots of ingredients reflecting the historic event or whatnot.

Anyway, onto the food – and it was all Catalan food, making the restaurant a good place for those who’d like to try Catalan cuisine. We ordered a whole lot of things to share between us. First on my list of things to try were bombes. Yes, in English they would indeed be bombs! These deep fried potato croquettes are sauced with aioli and bravas sauce and were originally created to resemble those cartoony spherical bombs that were popular with Catalan anarchists in the politically unstable years around the beginning of the 20th century.

At El 300 del Born, they made different types of bombes with different fillings and sauces and named them after groups and military leaders who were actually involved in the bombing of Barcelona at some point in history. Bombes de la Barceloneta (€4,50) were the traditional ones and which, yes, were originally created in Barceloneta. Bombes de l’Espartero (a Spanish general) (€5,00) were made with morcilla, the Spanish black sausage. Both were excellent.

Bombes de la Barceloneta, la tradicional i Bombes de l'Espartero (amb morcilla)

An Esqueixada tradicional (€9,00) was a traditional Catalan salad of tomatoes, onions and shredded salt cod and was delicious.

Esqueixada tradicional

Patates Felip V (€3,75) were described as patatas bravas of Born but what came out surprised us all! Five roasted potatoes were smothered in aioli and a spicy bravas sauce and were simple but delicious. Felip V was the king whose army defeated Catalonia in 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession. It’s what the 300 oin the name of the restaurant commemorates (1714-2014). But why five potatoes? Perhaps five for Felip V?

Let's get a closeup of the crazy Patates Felip V at El 300 del Born yesterday! Fabulous!

One section of the menu had a variety of things on slices of bread: these things were the conserved foods that the Catalans do very well, from canned seafood to embotits, their cured meats. Llesca de pa amb espetec (€1,90) was a slice of bread (tomatoed in the style of pa amb tomàquet) with many slices of espetec, a thin cured pork sausage.

Llesca de pa amb espetec

Llesca de pa amb pernil pota negra (€6,00) was similar but with melt in the mouth slices of cured ham made from black footed pigs.

Pernil pota negra

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos (€2,50) was topped with canned piquillo peppers and delicious canned sardines. The quality of the little fishes was outstanding – if only all canned seafood could be like this.

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos

A coca de recapte is a savoury Catalan pastry/flatbread with toppings and our order of a Coca mallorquina (€8,75) came topped with grilled vegetables as well as sobrassada and cheese. The pastry was fabulous – very thin and crispy and the toppings generous.

Coca mallorquina de sobrassada i formatge

We ordered repeats of our favourites – well, with a slight switchup to try as much as possible. Another coca was ordered – this time de recapte tradicional de Cardona (of a traditional recipe from Cardona) (€8,50). Again the pastry here was perfect and the coca was topped with grilled vegetables and sardines.

Coca de recapte tradicional de Cardona

More bombes too! Bombes Prim (€5,00) were filled with tuna and sauced with romesco. Bombes del Comte-duc d’Olivares (€5,50) were filled with oxtail and black olives. Both were, again, excellent.

Bombes Prim (amb romesco i tonyina) i Bombes del Comte-duc d'Olivares (cua de bou amb oliva negra)

We stopped with the savouries there to make room for the sweets. We ordered a few different things on the menu. I forgot to photograph the ice cream, which was a very generous portion in a large glass.

The Tiramisú a la catalana were made not with ladysfingers and Marsala but with melindros, soft Catalan sponge fingers, and vi de Banyuls, a fortified dessert wine from Banyuls.

Tiramisú a la catalana (amb melindros sucats amb vi de Banyuls)

My xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata (€5,50 and €0,85 for the whipped cream) were fantastic. The dark and rich hot chocolate had been combined with coffee (surely one the best combinations) and on the side were lemon-tinged melindros. I ordered whipped cream (the nata) on the side as it’s just the best thing ever with hot chocolate!

Xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata!

And, of course, being run by a brewery, there’s lots of Moritz’s beers on tap and all at very reasonable prices. There’s even a beer that’s only available at El 300 del Born as it incorporates flavourings popular 300 years ago!

I loved El 300 del Born and hope to return the next time I’m in Barcelona. They’re open every day, except Monday, from breakfast time all the way to midnight and there are many other sweets and savouries that we didn’t get a chance to try this time. I also hope to time my visit to get onto one of the guided tours that take you down into the ruins themselves!

El 300 del Born
Placa Comercial, 12
08003 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

You can’t turn a corner in Barcelona without coming across yet another hamburger joint. And if it’s not a standalone burger place, it’ll be a hip restaurant with hamburgers showing up somewhere on their menu. I was more interested in a more recent fad that owes its origins to somewhere more local. I was interested in botifarra, the large Catalan sausage that comes in a couple of varieties, some ready to eat and others requiring grilling. It was the latter type that featured at Butifarring, one of the first ‘fast food’ botifarra restaurants in Barcelona.

Butifarring is located very centrally on Carrer del Call right in the Barri Gòtic and the restaurant is only about a year old. The place is tiny with a bit of seating on the ground floor and more upstairs, though when I visited (twice over the holidays!) the upstairs area was always closed. There’s a menu printed on the wall but what’s available actually depends on the season and what’s not sold out yet; it’s best to take a look at the raw sausages themselves sitting in the chilled counter further inside the shop. You make your choices and pay using the fancy machine in the front and then you wait for your meal. It’s just like at any other fast food joint. Well, any fast food joint where the food is cooked in a Josper grill (an indoor charcoal grill) in the back.

Each grilled botifarra in a bun was €5-6 each. Here we tried their classic botifarra and their botifarra with escalivada – here the Catalan grilled vegetables had been incorporated within the sausage. Both were stuffed into a wonderfully toasted crusty roll and I opted for the optional cheese and crispy onions too. That extra choice turned out to be a wise one – the cheese adhered the botifarra to the bread and the fried onions added a great crunch. And the sausages themselves? Excellent! They were meaty and flavourful and so good as only charcoal grilled sausages are.

Entrepans

In addition to their botifarra, there are a couple of side dishes available. There’s salad and these patates al caliu, cooked potatoes that are chopped and roasted again in the Josper grill. Those potatoes were mighty fine with their homemade sauces – here we’ve perhaps gone a bit overboard with their aioli, bravas sauce and spicy ketchup.

Patates al Caliu

The size of the place doesn’t lend well to lingering after your meal – it’s more of a fast food place. Still, it’s excellent for a quick but excellent bite. I need to go back to try the botifarra with calçots! Perhaps when I go back, there’ll be another Butifarring elsewhere in Barcelona – it looks like they’re getting ready to expand.

Butifarring
C/ del Call 26
08002 Barcelona

We saw New Year’s Eve in in Barcelona in our usual quiet way – at home and with lots of amazing food! 31 Dec 2014 first started with breakfast for me and my brother at La Pubilla (Blai and I had a fantastic lunch there before) near the Mercat de La Llibertat. Tallats (espressos with milk) to start… Tallats … with pa amb tomàquet (excellent execution here) on the side while we waited for our main dishes. Pa amb Tomàquet Their breakfasts are esmorzars de forquilla, or fork breakfasts, proper hearty, savoury dishes on a plate, as opposed to the usual handheld pastry most people have. We split salsitxa amb patates de forquilla (sausages with panfried potatoes) … Salsitxa amb Patates de Forquilla … and ous ferrats amb terrina de peu i morro (fried eggs with a terrine made with snouts and trotters). Everything was brilliant, especially the very unique terrine (sliced and pan fried), with its mix of soft and crispy and gelatinous textures. These were my kind of breakfasts! Ous Ferrats amb Terrina de Peu i Morro This was a great start to these days of eating and I do want to explore more places for esmorzars de forquilla in Barcelona! The rest of the day was spent wandering and generally being a tourist. (This included a trip to La Boqueria on the request with my brother. I was dreading this visit and I had reason to dread it – the place was so absolutely packed with tourists, it was almost impossible to move. I do feel for the locals – I’m not sure how they manage to do any shopping there.) We were back at home with plenty of time to spare to the midnight countdown and what greeted us there was awe inspiring. Check out the table! The Table is Set There was even a trolley filled top to bottom with lots of other goodies. Top of the Trolley Bottom of the Trolley Blai’s mum really outdid herself! There were so many things to eat that it was almost overwhelming. There were even these platters of big red prawns grilled on the planxa … Red Prawns … and of her famous fried artichokes. Fried Artichokes As you can imagine, there were a lot of leftovers for the next few days! We ended, of course, with the twelve grapes for the new year’s eve countdown (that’s a fruit portion, right?!). On 1 Jan 2015, my mother-in-law also had grand plans for lunch! The over 100-year-old soup tureen was trucked out and filled with a golden broth of chicken bits and eggs. This was sopa de menuts, a Valencian soup of little pieces from the chicken – i.e. chicken offal and cockscombs – as well as chopped boiled eggs. To serve it, it’s poured over a toasted crouton at the bottom of the bowl. Soup on Top The broth is rich and meaty (chickeny?) and the bread gives a great additional texture to the soup. It’s a recipe she learned in Valencia from her own mother-in-law. My Bowl Her second dish is now possibly her most famous dish… well, to me anyway! It’s her vedella, a Catalan style braised beef that takes two days to make and that’s just so utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious that we cleaned the entire pan. Vedella And those were our New Year’s celebrations! How was your New Year’s Eve?

Happy new year, everyone! We’ve been spending the last week and a bit in Barcelona where we were relaxing and working and I was mainly playing tour guide to my brother who was also visiting. It was a hectic but a very good visit. Before all the craziness though, we did have a couple days to ourselves, of which one was used for a trip to the historic city of Ripoll.

It was a two hour train ride there, which we whiled away by staring out the window at the beautiful scenery and trying to pop our ears as the train rose with the elevation towards the Pyrenees. It was cold in the town when we arrived but from the station we went directly to its famous monastery – the Monestir de Santa Maria de Ripoll. It was founded in the 9th century by the amusingly named Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pilós) and was the main centre of religion in Catalonia until the 15th century. A few of the great Counts of Barcelona are interred there.

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Of particular note in the monastery are the tower (above) and the portal (below). The portal is a beautiful example of Romanesque sculpture and there was a bid to have it recognised by UNESCO when we visited.

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It was lunchtime when we finished at the monastery. It being a Monday wasn’t exactly helpful as we discovered that many restaurants were closed; even the tourist office was closed on Mondays! We wandered until we found one that was open and that space for us two to squeeze in. That restaurant was Can Canaules, on the ground floor of a beautiful Modernista building.

Cafe Canuales

As is usual for us, we went for the menu del dia, that wonderful and affordable set lunch deal offered throughout Catalonia. Here their menu was €12.50 and consisted of two dishes, dessert, and bread. Instead of including a beverage like most other restaurants though, they included a glass of juice or a salad.

And as is usual when Blai and I eat together, we split all our dishes. The first was Escudella de galets i tall de pilota, the classic Christmas soup which here was executed perfectly and was such a lovely meat broth to slurp on that cold day. The slice of meatball, one of the usual components that is cooked up in the broth, was delicious.

Escudella de galets i tall de pilota

Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia was a simple but good saute of short noodles with wild mushrooms (the black trumpets of death) and seafood.

Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia

They forgot our salads (service was a bit shaky) but an inquiry ensured that they arrived on our table.

Amanida

Of our second dishes, the first was Xai del Ripollès a la brasa, lamb from Ripoll served grilled and here with a side of fries. These made for some fabulous gnawing at the bone.

Xai del Ripollès a la brasa

The second second dish was a stunner – Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses (salted cod with tomato sauce and raisins). The combination sounded strange at first but the raisins really did work well with the tomato sauce and the tender cod.

Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses

Desserts were pretty good if on the sweet side. Flam was homemade and executed well.

Flam

The Iogurt amb salsa de gerds (yogurt with raspberry sauce) was at first perplexing with its crunchy grains of sugar. It turns out they hadn’t melted into the raspberry puree and though this was a bit of a fail, I secretly enjoyed crunching on the sugar!

Iogurt amb salsa de gerds

Can Canuales
Plaça Gran, 20
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

We hastened to see as much of the small town as we could but it was terribly chilly and not long after lunch, we were looking for a warm place to sit. We ended up back in front of the monastery where there was a patisserie with a cafe within. This was Pastissería Costa.

I resisted their pastries overstuffed with whipped cream and had a hot chocolate with melindros, the Catalan cakey fingers that a perfect for dunking in the thick drink. These melindros were the best I’d had in a while – soft and fresh and with a gentle lemon flavour.

Xocolata amb Melindros

The pastry Blai chose was topped with cabell d’angel, which translates to angel hair. This stringy (hairy!) looking sweet is made from pumpkin and you’ll find it in many Spanish and Catalan pastries. I need also mention that all their pastries were wonderfully fresh.

Pastry with Cabell d'Angel

On our way out, we also purchased a bag of moixaines, a biscuit that originated in Ripoll. The name translates to ‘caresses’ and it also goes by the name of carícies (‘fondles’). These little rolls are made with the same wafers as neules but these are filled with a hazelnut and almond paste. Yes, they’re as delicious as they sound!

I forgot to share this photo of moixaines from Ripoll. The name translates to 'caresses' and they are wafers filled with a hazelnut and almond paste.

Pastissería Costa
Plaça Sant Eudald, 7
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

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Ripoll was a lovely town to visit in North Catalonia but if you do visit in the middle of winter, as we did, wrap up warmly! And to see more, perhaps time your visit not to occur on a Monday.

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)

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