The morning after attempting to taste as many of Lime Bar’s 50 flavoured gins as possible (more on that later) we needed a decent breakfast, and decided to hit up El Quim de la Boqueria on the trusty advice of Ben from Dough Boys, who had told me they’d served him one of the best breakfasts he’d ever eaten.
El Quim lies throbbing at the heart of La Ramblas’ Boqueria; after making our way through the meat curtains (Butchers tend to hang entire legs of Iberico ham from their ceilings) and being careful to avoid picking up crabs (from the many fresh seafood traders) I arrived, ready to blow my load (of Euros).
When we asked for the bill we were amazed that it only came to €21 including cava – at such good value for money you can’t argue that El Quim deserves a big, bulbous tip.
Cervecería Catalana (Carrer de Mallorca 236, L’Eixample) is one of the places I visited last year – suggested and arranged by a friend who lives in the city, we turned up, sat down and I had one of my favourite, most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten. It was a no-brainer for the last big meal of the holiday, so I called them.
“Hi, could I book a table for s-“
“No no no no, no booking. Come and wait”
“Are you busy tonight? How long is the wait likely to be?”
“Are you coming?”
“Well I don’t know, we don’t want to make the journey if we’re not guaran-“
If Front of House can get away with being that rude on the phone, the food must be really good. Turning up shortly after the phone call we were told it would be an hour and a half wait; we reserved a table as a back-up plan, but intended going to Betlem again to see if we could eat any sooner. On the way out we caught a glimpse of the food being eaten – plates of huge sardines, king prawns, octopus tentacles, razor clams – and decided that maybe an hour and a half wasn’t such a long time to wait.
Returning after a visit to Bier Cab – a craft ale bar which I’ll go into more detail about in a future post – we were seated almost immediately – it was a pretty awful table; tiny, equidistant between the entrance, kitchen and toilets to ensure that we were never more than 0.4 seconds away from somebody brushing past us, but we were happy to be sat down. After being brought a jug of sangria a waitress came and took each order individually – remarkably interrupting the last person before he had a chance to order, saying he wasn’t allowed to order because the other five of us had ordered “too much”. We pleaded his case and he ended up being granted to luxury of picking some food to eat in a restaurant he’d waited an hour and a half to sit in.
First out of the kitchen was a White Botifarra Flauta – a sandwich resembling a torpedo, filled with white sausage. I’d ordered the Black Botifarra after the success of El Quim’s Blood Sausage, but they were sold out. The white was ok – a peppery flavour and perhaps a hint of fennel cutting through the delicate pork, stippled with soft fat – but it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t expect to get from the upmarket end of Morrison’s deli meat counter. The speed the sandwich was brought out at suggests they’re made en masse. but the bread tasted like it had been snatched from the oven seconds before serving; cavernous bubbles of air in the chewy dough with a crisp, brittle crust. If I had the capacity for a lot more bread I’d have eaten several other types of the Flauta on the menu; I was tempted to go for the Foie Gras and Roquefort, but was dissuaded by my conscience (read: girlfriend).
The Fried Small Fishes were presumably whitebait, but that they were sold out meant we didn’t get a chance to find out. Also sold out were any of the anchovy dishes on the menu (Andaluz Style, Cantabric, Canapes or in Vinegar). The Fried Cuttlefish sounded like the closest interesting alternative, which were coated and deep friend and very similar to calamari, but the texture had a much more pleasing tensile property. The Crispy Camembert – cased in a coarse panko – did exactly what you want a melted camembert to do, which is coat the roof of your mouth and back of your throat in a temporary, fermented wax. One niggle I had was that streak of raspberry coulis (if you didn’t read that in the style of Prince then you’re a stronger person than I am) didn’t cut through the cheese as intended, and felt cloying.
Also too sweet was the relish on the Cod Skewers – which selfishly muscled in on the start of the dish – but the Prawn Skewers more than made up for it; lightly seasoned to a slight char when cooked, they were plumper than a lumberjack’s thumb and (probably) even juicier. One of our group hadn’t eaten prawns before, I warned him that any subsequent ones he eats will almost certainly be a letdown; I haven’t seen him since we got back from the holiday, I fear he may be on a doomed, Trainspotting-style pursuit to try and recreate that first prawn experience. I’ll come back and edit this paragraph when I think of a suitable seafood/Trainspotting pun.
The biggest, and guiltiest pleasure of the entire meal was the Huevos Cabreados, which I understand means “Eggs; PISSED OFF”. A big bowl of perfectly-cooked shoestring fries, topped with a mojo sauce and two fried eggs. I was about to get a photo of the lovely presentation when the waiter whipped out a couple of forks and smashed the whole thing together into a gooey, spicy, crispy mush – like if you took a six year old to a carvery. No picture then, and as delicious as it tasted, I’m struggling to come with a thousand words to articulate “really nice egg and chips”.
The Beef Tenderloin Montadito was essentially a generous sized meat-nugget, served as an open sandwich on a token bit of bread because it’s probably poor form to just advertise “Generous-sized meat nugget” on the menu in a nice place like this. It was beautifully tender though, with juices running down my plate by the time it had made the short journey from kitchen to table. The whole deep fried pepper was a welcome touch as well. The Mini Hamburger was disappointing, the onion relish was so sweet that the whole thing may as well have been fondant, and the stout, spherical bun and glossy coating of pale yellow cheese made it resemble a particularly infected boil – If I’d taken a photo then I’d be tempted to see if I could get it published in a medical journal.
Up to this point the dishes had displayed as little diversity in colour as the cast of Girls (zing!) so the Escalivada with Goats Cheese was a welcome respite to the onslaught of beige. The aubergine was a little watery as aubergine can tend to be, but the ripe flavour of the red peppers dispersed across the tongue immediately. Presentation was good, with the vegetables layered and topped with a slice of goats cheese – which bubbled and charred under the grill while shielding the vegetables from the dry heat.
While researching Cervecería Catalana to find out its location after last year’s successful visit I repeatedly saw it tipped as the place to visit for Tapas; Google and Tripadvisor reviewers treat it with the same reverence that second year graphic design students do J Dilla, and yeah it’s not entirely undeserved, but I can’t help but feel like the hype is self-perpetuating. For all its bells and whistles (the restaurant looks amazing; and like I mentioned before, the shitty service suggests that they’re doing you a favour by letting you eat there) it’s just a tapas restaurant – the food is mostly really good, but suffers from a lack of creativity. It’s good value for money though, for 6 people eating all of the above plus extras, desserts, sangria and wine is came to around €30 per head.
If you missed Part 1 of Eating Barcelona, you can read it right here