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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
After your fair share of dodgy patatas bravas in Barceloneta and beyond, Bar del Pla is a breath of fresh air. While the prices are slightly higher than average, you get what you pay for at this tapas and vermouth bar, with high quality dishes that remind you why Spain is famous for its food. Although at first glance Bar El Pla looks like a traditional tapas bar with the wooden barrel out front and an old school bar with high stools, it’s a modern establishment which opened in 2008. Imaginative ingredients, modern touches and international influences breathe new life into old dishes which attract a mix of young trendy locals and older clientele.
A small ramen bar serving quality broth and delicious craft beers. An offshoot of the beloved Asian tapas bar Mosquito famous for its dumplings, Grasshopper serves up rich, meaty ramen on a simple wooden bar with 16 seats facing the kitchen. Come here for comfort food on the day after a night of dancing at Apolo – the menu is simple, the staff are hospitable and the food takes no time at all. Choose from three types of ramen shio (salt) shoyu (soya) and miso (fermented bean paste). Deep bowls of broth come with all the regular trimmings – pork belly, soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, nori and a small selection of sides. There is a great selection of local craft beer available too.
Set on the edge of an enchanting square in El Poblenou and surrounded by trees so ancient their roots burst through the tarmac, Els Pescadors is a traditional neighbourhood restaurant that attracts patrons from across the city. The building is 100 years old and it looks it – expect dark wood panelling, marble table tops and a sideboard mounted by a leg of serrano ham. At the weekend, families pile in for long lunches of fresh fish and rice dishes washed down with plenty dry white wine – and end up staying all afternoon.
Barcelona didn’t really do fast, healthy food until Flax & Kale came along. This is the latest project from Teresa Carles Borràs, one of the few chefs famous for vegetarian and sustainable cooking in Spain. Serving up ‘flexitarian cuisine’ – that’s 80 per cent plant-based dishes and 20 per cent fish – it’s the best place in the city to find a healthy, delicious salad come lunchtime and one of the few places they won’t look confused when you ask for gluten free. There’s a huge menu of fresh salads (we love Teresa’s favourite kale salad and the red quinoa), grilled vegetable dishes, gluten-free pasta, raw starters and cooked flexitarian dishes plus Teresa’s own cold-pressed juices, purées, smoothies and nut milks. With three branches across the city you’ll be able to get your fix wherever you are.
You might not get it from the outside, or even the entrance, but head up the stairs at Il Giardinetto and you’ll find a part of Barcelona glamour preserved from days gone by. At night groups of friends and couples devour G&Ts and fresh pasta in a somewhat surreal setting – a garden painted in green with palm-shaped mirrors. The kitchen is open until 1AM and the space stays open until 3AM, so come for a long dinner with friends (with a piano player to serenade you).
Barceloneta is the best area to go for tapas but the majority of bars here can be intimidating – if you’re not willing to shout over others to order, then you can forget about your crispy calamari. Enter Maians – authentic enough to be popular with locals but also calm enough to not require elbowing someone out of the way. This small taverna features dark wooden beams, vintage prints lining the walls and glasses hanging upside down from a well-stocked bar. Take your time over some sharing plates of esqueixada, brandy prawns and patatas bravas.
Dive into Venetian cuisine at this charming restaurant, which is quickly earning a reputation as one of Barcelona’s best. Located in Poble-sec, the place has the feel of an old family-run locale with pine-green walls, a magenta ceiling and wooden furnishings – one feature wall plastered with colourful fish wallpaper introduces a more modern edge. Owned by the twin brothers behind Bar Brutal (Xemei means twins in Venetian) Max and Stefano Colombo have created a laid-back menu that provides the perfect introduction to Venetian cuisine. It’s still relatively tourist free, though Patti Smith and Sean Penn have both visited (Woody Allen’s reservation was apparently cancelled when he turned up late).
Believe it or not, ye olde hamburguesa has been a staple on Spanish menus for decades. Bacoa have given the classic patty-and-bun approach a local spin, offering a rich variety of Spanish hams and cheeses to complement the organic meat. There are five outlets smattered across the city, all of which have a casual grab-and-go feel. Arrange your visit outside of the local lunch hour (2 to 4PM) to avoid queues.
Picnic was one of the first places that started doing brunch in Barcelona and has remained a firm favourite with locals and tourists ever since. Taking influence from the classic American brunch and décor, they serve up eggs Benedict, pancakes and breakfast cocktails in mason jars with fresh flowers and vintage furniture. Brunch is offered on weekends between 11:30AM and 5PM but a lot of the brunch items are on the dinner menu as well. They have a small terrace, but you’re pretty much just eating on the street.
If you find yourself caught on the beach at lunchtime and want to indulge in some quintessential Spanish cuisine, you have two options for seafood paella. The family-run Xiringuito Escribà is renowned for serving the best fish rice in town (it also has delicious desserts made at the family bakery in El Borne. But its reputation means the place is packed every day, and while the huge pans of steaming rice are truly delicious, the experience is lacklustre – the space is looking a little rough around the edges and service is slow. If you care less about food and more about the setting, opt for Pez Vela hidden under the W Hotel instead. It’s a spacious, cool escape where the mojitos are great and the paella is good too.
Vegetables take centre stage at this restaurant from Toni Romero, the chef at Succulent and business partner Javier Cotorruelo. While it’s not strictly vegetarian (there is some meat and fish present in sauces and broths) this is a restaurant for people who want to eat vegetables cooked in a different way. Think white turnips in a broth of roast quail and grated truffle, white asparagus with chard and Parmesan serum and cauliflower with black butter and pepper sauce. The menu is seasonal and is divided into four categories – root, leaf, flower and fruit.
If you want the Catalan gastronomical experience but not the stuffy Michelin atmosphere, Mont Bar is the restaurant for you. Located in the upmarket Eixample area, Mont Bar is a tapas restaurant serving inventive and high quality dishes in a relaxed and homey atmosphere – quite literally along a 30m bar and a few scattered tables. Dishes are both modern and traditional with an Asian flair. They range from the simple – homemade burrata with tomato or Ibérico ham croquettes to the more complex – a squid ink crisp filled with smoked sardines, mango pieces and yoghurt, to piglet terrine with Cantonese sauce, grapefruit and pak choi. Choose from the á la carte menu of around 25 dishes or have a tasting menu from the chef.
An Aussie-owned establishment, Caravelle is the type of place which could exist in East London, East Village or Newtown in Sydney. It’s modern and minimalist, with light flooding in through the windows. Caravelle is on most locals’ go-to lists for the quality of food and the banging brunch, which includes home-toasted muesli with fresh berries and passionfruit yoghurt, as well as poached eggs with avocado and rocket pesto. At lunch and dinner, Caravelle is still going strong with roasted pumpkin salads, Cuban sandwiches and steak tostadas.
A bustling modern restaurant, housed in a section of the Santa Caterina food market. They serve four types of cuisine from around the world out of their large open-plan kitchen, with menus changing seasonally – the specials of the day run along LED screens. You can sit at the bar for a quick glass of wine and a few tapas or in the main restaurant where there is a selection of private and long communal tables. It’s loud and hectic, but that’s part of the fun.
From the outside Electricitat doesn’t look like much and from the inside it looks like even less. Not the most aesthetically pleasing of spots, this legendary bar is popular with locals for its tasty tapas and dynamic character. Rub shoulders with locals patrons and fight for space at the wooden benches before bear-hugging the slightly sweaty owner, who will give you a run-down of the menu. When we visited, a trio of men dressed as fairies walked in and the whole bar erupted into song. You won’t find an English-speaking waiter in sight.
Ask any young foodie for a round-up of their favourite places to eat and drink in Barcelona and Bar Brutal / Can Cisa will be on the list. And for good reason. This taverna-style restaurant and bar has a winning formula, serving serious food and natural wine in an eccentric setting. There are mounted statues of fish heads, a bull head and even a pig head with a halo lining the walls. Pull up a chair at one of the rustic wooden tables and pore over their menu of Mediterranean sharing plates. It’s the kind of place you can put a couple of bottles of wine away without anyone batting an eyelid. And although it’s located on the tourist trail of Calle de la Princesa, you’ll still hear Catalan conversation in the mix.
If you’re looking for Italian food in Barcelona, the two restaurants everyone will tell you to visit are Xemei and Bacaro. If you don’t feel like making your way out to Poble Sec, Bacaro is in the centre of Barcelona, down a small side street in Raval and around the corner from the famed Boqueria food market. The restaurant is charming, unpretentious (and tiny) with wooden tables scattered on the ground floor and mezzanine. The kitchen serves up delicious home cooked Venetian dishes and they have some of the nicest staff in all of Barcelona – the chef often comes out himself to give you a first-hand recommendation.
Ferran Adrià’s Michelin starred hotspot is a curiosity shop of gastronomic surprises, with the choice to pick from the menu yourself or succumb to the custom-made selections of your server. What follows is a delectable romp through a succession of miniature marvels, each mouthful more eye-popping than the last. Expect El Bulli’s renowned liquid olives, eel canapés with yuzu tarama or a ‘Nordic landscape’ of cured beef with sweet pickles and vinegar snow. A spot at the most sought-after table in town does however take some serious planning. Bookings open exactly 2 months in advance and fill up in a flash.
The younger sibling of brunch institution Picnic, newly opened Little Basket is part-café, part-general store, selling marmalades, fresh fruit and vintage French linens. Perch at the bar with a bagel platter and vegan nachos, or take advantage of the cafe’s proximity to Parc Ciutadella and pack a picnic of giant deli sandwiches and cinnamon rolls. Wash it all down with an icy pink lemonade or one of the kitsch craft beers that line the bar.
The heavy wooden door of this discreet local tapas bar is closed more often than not, such is the profitability of its weekday lunch trade. Inside, you’ll find a tiny, airless room that still manages to be utterly charming. Beer swigging locals jostle around the bar, while tourists are tucked in at marble topped tables. Team Barça memorabilia hangs over the cramped, open kitchen while a prehistoric blackboard shouts out the only menu in chalky Catalan. Food is an array of unfussy small plates, most of it seafood, all of it smothered in garlic and parsley. Make sure to try the famous ‘Bomba’ – the aioli daubed croquette said to have been invented here back in the 1950s and now one of Spain’s most classic tapas.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived at a friend’s dinner party, such is the feeling of warmth and conviviality upon stepping into La Pepita. Décor is a wild melee of old, new, borrowed and blue. Azure painted tiles clash beautifully with vintage French art, while scrawled messages from past diners tattoo every available wall space. As well as lush looking small plates, including sea bass with strawberries and smoky aubergine with goats cheese, there are a number of different ‘Pepitas’ to choose from. These slim, sexy sandwiches come filled with anything from blood sausage to foie gras.
If you’ve had your fill of jamón y queso, then you’ll love Bistrot Levante – a new Middle Eastern eatery set in a rare enclave of calm within the bustle of el Gotíc. The space is a tranquil terrarium of green and glass, with plants featuring heavily both on and off the plates. While dishes such as the asparagus ravioli or slow cooked lamb take centre stage come night fall, our favourite is the weekend brunch. Feast on roasted grape and tomato toast or pita-dunked poached eggs, before re-joining the crowds of Plaça St Jaume.
It’s all about the ambience at this neighbourhood sushi fusion spot located into two places around the city. Saturday nights are abuzz with hip Gràcia locals queuing out the door, while weekdays are low-lit, laid back and romantic. This isn’t the place for an authentic Japanese experience – instead take the chance to experiment with the menu’s vast number of creative combinations. From spicy Mexican makis of jalapeño ceviche, to salmon tempura topped with eel and avocado, they’ll have to roll you out the door.
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