A combination of visitors, a bad back and frozen hands in a cold flat (the worse thing about a Barcelona winter) have kept me away from the laptop of late. If you’re freezing and need the perfect place to get cosy through the next couple of months, you’d be silly to not try out Elsa y Fred.
Archive for the ‘Catalan food’ Category
Posted in Bars, Bistros / restaurants, Catalan food, Gracia, tagged anarco bravas, aubergine, Bar Manolo, Destroyer, foie gras, jamon, morcill, octopus, port braised apples, potatoes, white beans on August 1, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Appearances can be deceptive in Barcelona and none more so than Bodega Manolo. You’ll find not a website for this place and without a hunch about what delights come out of their kitchen, you’d be forgiven for walking past and doing nothing more than making a mental note that it’s one of those great spots for refilling your wine bottles.
However, a glimpse at those sparkly white table cloths at the rear gives the hint that this is more than just your usual bodega. This family business is now with the third generation and very popular with locals, although our visit coincided with a Classico football match and bank holiday weekend, leaving this corner of town eerily quiet and the restaurant to ourselves.
With payday money burning a hole in our pockets we most definitely over-ordered and indulged and whilst everything we ate was absolutely scrumptious, be warned, the only criticism I can aim at Bodega Manolo is that the menu is crying out for a couple of dishes to offset the richness. A green salad or un-embellished vegetables are nowhere to be seen.
I’d been hearing about their anarco bravas for weeks and was keen to become acquainted with these leftfield spuds. Crispy, chunky sliced fried potatoes with a moreishly pungent garlic and squid ink sauce, drizzled with parsley oil, tomato sauce and a further daub of iodine ink didn’t disappoint. Give me a bowl of these alone with a cold beer and I’d be a happy woman.
We also ordered beautiful, delicate white beans topped with melt in the mouth octopus, firey rocket and more generous smears of that squid ink sauce. And amazingly, you seriously don’t get sick of it.
The curiously and aptly named ‘Destroyer’ is a puree of potatoes pimped with jamon topped with morcilla, crispy bacon and a poached egg yolk. Maybe not the choice to compliment what else we’d ordered. However, it was still “awesome” to quote one of my companions’ much used buzzword, probably does to your arteries what it says on the tin and makes me wonder if they’d deliver it round the corner to my door for breakfast some day.
Ah, some vegetables! Aubergines on the plancha grill with a honey drizzle and zesty piece of toasted goat’s cheese, to offset any potential health benefits the egg plant might bring us. Damn it was good.
And finally, the pièce de résistance of dinner. Foie gras in a sweet and tangy sauce of port, braised apples and booze soaked raisins. I’ve had this a second time, on a more restrained visit, with some crusty bread to soak up those syrupy juices. Indulgent heaven on a plate.
As if our livers weren’t approaching something similar to those of a fattened goose already, greed and curiosity pushed us to share a portion of cheesecake. Simple, a little overbaked but homely and comforting at the same time.
I sense that the menu at Bodega Manolo has changed little over the years and a lightening of the evening menu might not go amiss. Yet it is the kind of place that ensures I will never be slim and I’m thrilled to have it as a local.
Bodega Manolo, Torrent de les Flors 101, Gracia
Tel: 93 284 4377
Open for lunch and menu del día Tuesday – Saturday 13:00 – 16:00 / Dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday 21:00 – 23:00
I used to think happiness was a steaming bowl of soup, a luscious, rich ice cream or chicken slowly barbecued with lots of spices. I was wrong. Happiness is having a fully functioning, just like new laptop. So after weeks of clumsy messaging and browsing on my phone my fingers can grace the keyboard and scratch that blogging itch.
With the technological breakdown it’s time to play catch up, and several weeks have now passed since I treated my good friend Sarah to a birthday menu del día lunch at Ca L’Estevet.
This hidden treasure of the Raval has been around for more than 120 years and was a popular hang out for the Barcelona left wing intellectuals and artists, not to mention other celebrities that have graced its tables during its lifetime. At 18€ a head the menu del día is at the pricier end of the city’s lunchtime offerings but the quality of the ingredients shone through and for me justified the charge. What follows is some of the most uncomplicated yet satisfying food I’ve eaten in Barcelona.
Chunks of tunneled sourdough dipped in Borges oil satiated our hunger until our steaming plates of mejillones arrived, naked and unadorned except for a wedge of lemon. It never occurs to me to eat this marine favourite of mine without a bath of wine, parsley, garlic or tomatoes, but these were simply heavenly, fresh, juicy and a wonderful hint of seawater.
The simplicity rolled on with grilled hake steaks, again naked except for a drizzle of olive oil and that wedge of lemon. I would’ve preferred some spears of seasonal asparagus or other more complimentary partner as an accompaniment rather than the uncomfortable marriage of half a tomato, but nonetheless the fish was beautiful and just flaked from the bone. Hake is such a pleasure to eat, no fiddly bones holding you back from just tucking in. The beans to botifarra ratio was probably slight skewed on Sarah’s plate and a slightly heavier handed addition of parsley probably wouldn’t have gone a miss either. However, this was a no nonsense honest plate of good ingredients again.
Tocino de cielo was something new for me. Informed by the waiter that this was not flan, we both reacted with a ”but it is” when it arrived at the table. But, appearances can be deceptive. Like non-identical twins there is a slight but noticeable difference. Tocino de cielo is made with just egg yolks, whites and sugar and not with the addtion of cream as in flan. This gave it a distinctive taste, much like the filling of our native egg custard tart and with the light caramel syrup the slurps, mmms and ahhs kept flowing.
It’s common when having a menu del día for the bottle of wine to be left on the table and you pour your own included glass. This is dangerous turf. We polished off the lot. Yet we still only got charged for the menu price. Birthday bonus.
C’al Estevet, Valdonzella 46, Raval
The post-Christmas festivities, although tinged with sadness at leaving loved ones back on the island, are not tainted in Barcelona by the January blues. The welcome light and sun that greets you after 8 days of constant grey and drizzle in northern England lifts your spirits, as does the realisation that once again the calçots season is upon us.
Now I have written about calçots many times but I thought the ‘Festa de Calçots’ in Valls was worth a mention. The people of this sleepy town an hour inland of Barcelona claim to be the creators of the calçotada and as such hold an annual festival on the last Sunday of every January to celebrate their wonderful invention. As such, we decided to hop on the one bus that day heading out to the town to see what they were cooking up.
The crowds were also scrambling to sample the product from the demonstrations in national dress of how to make this rich, mouthwatering nutty and garlicky sauce.
As with all Catalan festivals the gegants (giants) were out in force and paraded through the town followed by a band which always includes quite possibly the worst sounding reed instrument, the shawm, which evoked memories of the unwelcome Sunday morning wake up call I used to get when living in Poble Sec. What Catalonia has in abundance in good food it lacks in its folk music and incredibly dull national dance la sardana. Thankfully the tradition of building castles from people, castellers, is much more impressive, even when in this case it’s a simple pilar of one column of brave souls.
Holding off for those tasty onions a little longer we went to observe some less wise folk than us who’d volunteered themselves for the calçots eating competition and were looking to eat the usual 2+ kilos winning quantity. I don’t envy the inevitable stomach cramps and wind that must follow that hefty portion.
For our 8€ tickets we snapped up our bag containing the onions, bread, nuts, a half bottle of red wine and fruit, standard fayre at any calçotada, and grabbed a few steps to tuck in with bibs round our necks, also standard calçotada practice. This is messy work.
However, although quite bursting from the contents of our goodie bag the highlight of the day for me were the locals making the most of the open fires when the calçot roasting was over with. Not wanting to feel left out we nipped into the butcher’s shops doing a swift abnormal Sunday trade and snapped up some morcilla and botifarra sausages and lomo pork loin for the barbeque. Definitely not something you’d find happening on the streets of England in January.
The other highlight of my day was being interviewed in Spanish for Catalan television for my thoughts as an outsider on the festival. Sadly I didn’t make the final cut but the film gives you a real feel for the festa even if you don’t understand a word they’re saying la-gran-festa-de-la-calcotada
As we whiled away the remaining time for the one returning bus to Barcelona we took a stroll through the now suddenly eerily deserted town in a poor effort at burning off the days eating, sank a few boozy carajillo coffees and cava in a local bar and were bid farewell by what now seems to be an obligatory Catalan sunset at the end of a heartily good day out.
For those of us Brits who love our new Catalan home or visiting city yet at the same time hanker after the familiarity and flavours of home, we should look no further than La Cervesera Artesana, a Gràcia based microbrewery which produces beers to the traditional English brewing methods. As you pull open the wooden swing doors that comforting aroma of ale envelopes you and the carpet, a rare thing in Barcelona, brick, wood, brass and warmth provided sanctuary from the November (relative) cold and drizzle. Stepping in is reminiscent of being in your English local.
Forget India Pale Ale, as our acronym IPA is derived from, these guys are producing Iberian Pale Ale on site and what I understand to be a boil kettle and fermentation tank are seen behind glass at the back of the bar. For me beer is quite an ‘adult’ taste and one it’s taken me a while to acquire but both the negra and honey beers I’ve tasted previously were fantastic. Sadly, that negra black beer which I so enjoyed last time wasn’t available so we went for the lighter rubia blond beer. At 3.10€ for a half pint this is not cheap, yet as with all artesan produce I believe you get what you pay for. They also stock a wide range of bottled beers and ciders including our native Newcastle Brown Ale along with Basque beers and those from across the globe. If you’ve had your fill of Estrella Damm and Moritz and are looking for something a little different or are a beer connoisseur frustrated by the lack of availability elsewhere in the city this is paradise. The fusion with Catalonia comes with the food. This may feel like an English boozer but there’s no sausage and mash or pub grub going on here, rather creative takes on Catalan cuisine. On this occasion I didn’t eat but in the past have enjoyed the patatas bravas, mil fulles de botifarra negra i patata which was thin layers of potato with Catalan black pudding, beer roasted chicken pieces and pebrots del piquillo farcits which are small red peppers stuffed with salt cod. I know of few friends who are aware of this bar, yet it’s a hidden gem especially for the coming winter months, tucked away just away from the huge junction that is Diagonal, Passeig de Gràcia and Gran de Gràcia. Make a point of getting that coat, hat and brolly on and be sure to seek it out.
La Cervesera Artesana, C/Sant Agustí ,14, Gràcia.
Mam i Teca is the kind of place I fantasise of one day owning, lottery wins and some serious cookery training permitting. At tables they can seat 20 with space for a few more perched on stools at the bar, a perfect intimate location without the chaos of a big restaurant.Here you will find a true taste of Catalan cuisine, where traditional dishes are served created with produce from around this proud nation to standards loyal to the principles of the Slow Food movement which the proprietors follow.
We were dining here to celebrate my friend finally passing Oposiciones, an arduous scheme for selecting civil servants in Spain which seems very bizarre and long-winded to an outsider. Salut to Irene and good luck to her with all those angst-filled teenagers she will be teaching in September.
And so to the food. This was gutsy, strong regional cooking and after deliberation we shared a Xató salad, rabbit cooked with prunes and apricots and some desserts.
Xató (pronounced like the French word for ‘castle’) is most certainly a dish you will either adore or despise. It is heavy on salt from the bacalao salt cod, canned tuna steak and plump anchovies, not to mention the briney olives. However, this is balanced with bitter endive lettuce and a creamy romesco sauce made from among other things, tomatoes, peppers and fried bread. For me this is perfect equilibrium and this was the best I have tasted thus far. Rabbit is a meat I love and do not understand why it is so out of favour in the UK. Here it combined the popular mix of meat and fruit so widespread in Spanish cuisine, and though many may deny it, also present in the food of Catalonia. This rabbit had been stewed with red wine, port, prunes and apricots along with other ingredients being kept a little closely guarded by the chef. The rabbit was moist, fell off the bone and that sauce was loving mopped up with excellent bread. Desserts were clearly home made and the passionfruit ice cream and creamy though not too sweet cheesecake, topped with bittersweet berry coulis, were both wonderful. This was probably not one of the cheapest meals I’ve eaten in Barcelona but having the good fortune to being treated as thanks for my exam tuition I can’t comment further there. However, it was one of the most honest meals I have eaten in the city; excellent quality, made with love, full of flavour and not at all poncey. Just how us Yorkshire folk like it.
Mam i Teca, C/Lluna 4, Raval
Sant Joan, or the feast of St John, the festival that marks the longest day, leads us literally with a bang into the long sweltering summer. Not uniquely a Catalan holiday, nor celebrated in every region of Spain, this is the time of year when the night sky is lit up with fireworks and the city rattles with the sounds of booms, bangs and blasts from those focs artificials and firecrackers. It is also, bizarrely, the exact point when the temperatures start to sky rocket and the mosquitos start to eat me alive.
Whilst the rest of the city headed down to the traditional haunt of the beach to let of their pyrotechnics, I followed some wise locals in the opposite direction towards the Collserola mountain that looks out towards the sea. Laiden with a picnic, coques de Sant Joan and moscatell, our location afforded us amazing views of the illuminated city whilst out of the fearful way of children armed with firecrackers.
Our destination, which I have been sworn to secrecy not to reveal, gave us almost 360° views at one part of the ascent. The spot, which once played a key part in the defence of Barcelona during the bombardment or bombardeig, was also a fitting spot to witness the eruption of noise and colour being emitted from the city. Although this was a festive occasion my mind fleeted to what it must be like to live in a city under seige, when those blasts and bangs are an ever present sign of danger and fear whilst trying to go about your daily life. I felt thankful that I never have had, and hopefully never will have to, live in such a dreadful situation.
This being a fiesta there was of course, once again, something specific to be eaten for the occasion. To quote a book of mine, deceased famous Spanish writer and gastronome Manuel Vazquez Montalban “counted 50 days in the year when there is a special and uniquely characteristc sweet cake or pastry”. The coca, yeast dough baked in large shallow pans, come in many varieties, but the one traditionally eaten at Sant Joan is topped with creme patisserie, candied fruits and pine nuts.
Coca de llardons, the llardons being small pieces of pork fat mixed into the dough and then topped with sugar and pine nuts, is much more delicious than it may sound and is crisper and less doughy than the coca de Sant Joan. Staunch vegetarians beware when lured into the cake shops, many Spanish cakes and patisserie items are made with lard, including ensaïmada and many croissants.
Washing all this down with sweet dessert wine moscatell (pronounced ‘mooscatay’ as I was frequently reminded), there was also a third, this one topped more generously with creme patisserie and yet more of those expensive little pinyons. As I was handed a generous piece of all three for my research I devoured them all and gave up all thoughts of ever dropping a few pounds in this city.
The celebrations peaked around midnight then slowly died away as the night progressed, my friend commenting that the economic crisis the country is suffering has definitely hampered the length and intensity of the night’s celebrations in the last couple of years. As an outsider I can barely imagine how it was before.
The world could learn a lot from the town of Sitges. What I perceived as a ghetto of hedonistic, holidaying, gay folk whose partying and two weeks in the sun got in the way of residents lives was completely shattered after my first visit. Instead, this picture postcard, seaside town is a melting pot of all walks of life and I am completely infatuated with it. Sit on the main street, especially in summer, and you will see couples of all persuasions taking a stroll, old people walking dogs, groups of holiday friends, babies in buggies and screaming toddlers. And of course there are the well turned out fellas whose saunter past wafts their cologne in your direction which leaves an after-taste on your tongue and curious of where their night is going to take them. This is a truly mixed bag of harmonious living (although I’m not naive enough to think this is always the case). Take note Uganda!
My love of this place means any visitors in town now get the obligatory trip on the train to spend the day there. It’s worth noting that this is not just a summer resort. Whilst it is of course more jumping in the summer and at times you’ll struggle to get on the beach, this is not a town that completely shuts down out of season and is equally enjoyable in the cooler months.
The train drops you straight in the centre of town, and the station looks stunning in the summer as the bougainevillea hangs over the walls adjoining the tracks. From here you can leisurely take in the quaint streets, boutiques and gift shops and try and resist the temptations of some of the several patisseries. Being Easter when I last went it was still too chilly for a swim but at least stick those feet in the ocean for a paddle. With many cafés and restaurants to choose from and without any recommendations it was difficult to know where to satisfy our hunger. Some fine looking paella at La Costa Dorada finally lured us in. Looking out onto the San Sebastian beach this was a perfect setting for taking in the ocean and doing a favourite pastime of mine, people watching. At 17€ each for the paella we plumped for the menu del día at 25€ which also gave us a starter platter to share, dessert, drink and bread. Who could turn down an offer like that?
The starters missed the photographs, we were famished and got stuck straight in to the plate of calamars, croquetes and the xato salad I could’ve happily eaten more of and forfeited the rest of the meal. Xato is a salad of salt cod, served here with bitter frisée lettuce, olives and romesco sauce. However, that wasn’t all and a large pan of mussels in tomato sauce arrived, tender and juicy in a creamy tomato sauce that was soaked up by the bread.
We probably could’ve stopped there but the star performer was on it’s way. I’ve never had a paella since I’ve been here, always suspicious of their authenticity and tourists connotations. I should probably stop being such a snob. A steaming dish of saffron rice with mussels, clams, prawns, langoustines and peas landed on our table so we took a deep-breath to aid our starters’ digestion and got stuck in. Heavenly marine flavours and the perfectly cooked rice (although lacking the true paella crust on the bottom) was so good we fought off our increasingly stuffed stomachs to finish.
Thankfully desserts were of a much lighter note and we both chose the Catalan staple crema catalana. Similar to the neighbouring French crème brulée and our lesser known ‘burnt custard’, this is spiked with cinnamon and lemon flavours and has a satisfying crack to get into it. Not overly sweet or filling after the feast prior this was a perfect end to the meal. And to end a post about Sitges here’s a photo that captures the perfect end to a day there. La Costa Dorada, Playa San Sebastian 27, Sitges
It’s a rather strange situation when moving to another country means you learn more about your own country’s patron saint than you did when you lived there. That’s how I find myself when the festival of Sant Jordi comes round. Firstly most citizens of England would struggle to tell you what date St George’s Day falls on and secondly, they wouldn’t be able to tell you of a single tradition that exists to commemorate the day. I certainly couldn’t before I came here.
St George, or Sant Jordi as I’ll name him from here on in, is the patron saint of Catalonia (as well as many other countries and cities as I’ve now learnt) and our familiar George cross sits next to the Catalan flag in the Barcelona masthead. Thankfully there is no hint at any racist connotation regarding the flag or the national day, here the celebration leads more towards love and friendship with the exchanging of roses and books. Stalls pop up around the city selling new and second-hand libros and predominantly red roses although other colours are creeping into popularity.Each rose is presented with a hint of Catalonia and for reasons unknown to me, an ear of wheat.Times have changed from the original tradition and although it’s still customary for men to present women with a rose it’s also now the norm that both sexes receive a book. This tradition stems from the fact that the 23rd April was also the date of the deaths of literary mights Cervantes and Shakespeare. As this year’s festival has fallen on a Saturday rather than a school day there’s been no roses for me, but I have managed to replenish my book supply as some stalls did have titles in English. Whilst we perused the book selection a group where dancing in front of the newly renovated, and slightly vulgar looking El Molino theatre on Paral.lel.And finally, of course this wouldn’t be a true Catalan festival without something to pass the lips to mark the occasion. This day is when people eat pa de Sant Jordi, layers of sobrassada flavoured bread provide the red stripes of the Catalan flag contrasted against the yellow tinged dough. Sold by weight it can be relatively expensive due to the sobrassada and no doubt a fiesta price tag.
Posted in Catalan food, Out of town, tagged beans, botifarra, bull blanc, calcots, Collbató, La Vinya Nova, masia, morcilla, moscatell, pa amb tomaquet, romesco sauce on February 13, 2011 | 7 Comments »
Some days in life are just pure magic and this weekend’s visit to La Vinya Nova was one of them.
As the bus drops you at the side of the motorway at Collbató it’s difficult to imagine the stunning setting that awaits you. A short wander through the sleepy town brings you to a path which weaves and meanders round the foothills of Montserrat and brings you to the restaurant, a masia or ‘countryhouse’ which lies at its end. I pitied those driving up to La Vinya Nova as in their vehicle they missed out on fully appreciating the powder pink and virginal white blossom, the rows of olive trees, the majestic mountain at almost touching distance and the uninterrupted royal blue sky.
Don’t be tempted along the way to sample one of those olives dangling from the branches of the low lying trees, I’ve already done it for you and can say categorically that they are best left until ripened. Imagine biting into a super sour, acidic blackberry and you’re somewhere near. The sharp aftertaste lingered with me for the remainder of the walk. Your reward for the 45 minute walk is the masia, sat in this wonderful setting. I tried to ignore the car park on our left as we approached closer as it tarnished the beauty of the place but regardless it is a beautiful location. Tables were laid outside, under trees that still bear the leafless signs of winter although the bright, warming sunshine and luminous light made it feel like anything but a mid-February day. Over-ripe tomatoes, garlic and olive oil were laid amongst the place settings ready to make the pa amb tomaquet that accompanies every Catalan meal.
Although we were to eat outside I stumbled across this charming dining room as I ambled around. What a beautiful place to eat on a cold day, log fire blazing and the light streaming in through the window.This being the middle of the calçot season we were here for the calçotada menu to celebrate three birthdays. It was one of lifes simple pleasures to sit in the open air with almost 40 other people, the wine, conversation and laughter flowed, as did a seemingly non-stop succession of plates of food.
Toasted bread came first and was quickly brushed with the cut garlic, a squeeze of tomato, a good glug of olive oil and some salt as we helped ourselves to the plates of crisp, fresh salad, and embutits of ham, fuet and bull blanc.
Then came the main star, the calçots, blackened and ready to be ripped from their charred casings, dipped in the romesco sauce and lowered into our mouths without getting those black bits all down our fronts, none of the usual calçotada bibs here.Jeans were already starting to tighten by this point but there was no stopping at that. Huge cassola of veal chops, botifarra and morcilla sausages sat on top of white beans and chickpeas cooked with parlsey appeared on the table.
The beans, drenched in all that meat fat and with the herb were incredibly moreish and what a great combination sausages and beans are. The cutlets, although a little dry in parts also disappeared rapidly.
And still the end wasn’t in sight. For a long, protracted finish we were brought baskets of fresh fruit, for me a clementine which was perfect after the richness of all the meats and then finally something new to me, a plate of carquinyolis, small, hard biscuits with almonds and spiced with cinnamon and lemon which were just amazing when dipped in the moscatell desert wine. A tallat coffee rounded everything off to perfection. It also came with a perfect price, 25€ per head.
As a final note, I strongly advise making the trip to Collbató to visit La Vinya Nova. I even more strongly suggest formulating a good plan of how to get back and where to pick up the bus to return to Barcelona. We didn’t. And after getting separated and being slightly fuzzy from the wine we eventually muddled through and made a slight detour through Martorell to get us home. In reality, this did little to dampen the magic of a marvellous day.
La Vinya Nova, at the end of Av de la Vinya Nova, Collbató
How to get there:
Take the Barcelona metro to Maria Cristina. Make sure you are then stood on Diagonal in the direction of traffic going out of the city. Take the bus going to Igualada from here. You need to get off the bus at Collbató. From there follow the map given on the restaurant website.