Monday, 20 August 2012

Elle's weekender: The civilised side of Barcelona

THE PLACE: Barcelona
THE TIME: A long weekend in May
THE PEOPLE: 3 generations of hungry women

Earlier this year I decided to award myself a compensation prize for being left in London whilst Flo cavorted around Asia. I had a look at cheap BA flights, packed Le Pliage and coaxed the elder two generations away to Barcelona for a long weekend. 

My Nike Blazers on the pavers...yeah

Barcelona is probably my favourite European city and certainly the best mini-break to be had under 3 hours flight away. As a result I have been far too many many times. I'm not usually the type to keep going back to one place over and over but Barcelona is the perfect mixture of sophisti-tourist hot spot and real, functioning place so there is always something new to do. 

The previous time I was there was for a girls' New Years Eve trip - that time around we stayed in a perfectly located youth hostel where we found that the window in our room lead onto the roof - romantic manchego, chorizo and cava picnics against a backdrop of the sun setting on the city ensued.

So if you're on a budget, this is the place to stay at. However, this is a post about what to do as a discerning adult so I won't be including photos of Georgie and I dancing the night away at Razamataz, Otto Zutz and Catwalk, or sipping champagne cocktails at Dry Martini BCN until the early hours of New Years day.

Platform ankle boots from Zara, Jeggings from H&M
Bag from Marc by Marc Jacobs, stole: Paris vintage market

Oh no, this was a different kind of trip. My mother, my grandmother and I arrived on the Friday night and stayed in a spacious, modern and excellent value apartment in Carrer de Casp (the old millinery district) but being the predictable moth to a flame that I am, I spent the entire time persuading the two to come to the W hotel for cocktails. It's so impressive from the outside that I managed to get my mother to overcome her vertigo and brave it onto the roof bar for sunset cocktails - isn't she beautiful?
I wear cream jacket: Zara, white clutch: Miu Miu, Black dress: Monki

To the food... 
Fish shop: Passeig de Gracia 53-55

Go here for a buzzing pre-dancing dinner.

On the night we arrived, I took Mum and G-Ma to The Fish Shop, a new concept restaurant in central Barcelona concealed underneath a shopping centre, and other half to Beef Shop. Georgie and I ate at Beef Shop on NYE so this time we opted for the fish. This place has the same feel as a Meat Liquor or a Burger and Lobster - though you'd have to sit in between the two restaurants to be served both a burger and a lobster here as Beef and fish are strictly separate. The beef was excellent (they have Wagu - an absolute no brainer on any menu) and washed down with celebratory cava. 

Fish Shop has an excellent selection of the harbour catch, laid out for your viewing pleasure and written up in chalk on blackboards. The cuisine is Spanish with a pan-everything-foodie twist (including Japanese, Italian and even South American influences), the ambience is fun and sophisticated all at once and it's excellent value too. I was as happy in here with my elders as I was with Georgie on NYE (though my grandmother is truly ever-young and in general I wouldn't recommend this for grandparents.)

Elisabets: Carrer de Elisabet (just off La Rambla)

Go here for a low key, high quality lunch

Elisabets has been written on to death in the travel blogosphere - still run by the original owners, this quaint tucked away eatery is packed with character. 1960s memorabilia clutters the walls, you sit in tiny booths and eat off cafe-style tables. The menu del dia gives you an option of 3 choices for each of your 3 courses - all for approximately 10 Euros including a glass of wine. We had slow cooked pig's knuckle, snail, chickpea stew amongst other things. It was all delicious - a trip to Barca is not complete without a visit here, though I'd recommend going back a few times as everything on the menu is good and changes daily.

The sit-up tapas bar at Elisabets (recommended for a 6pm snackette on the way to dinner as far too bustley at lunch)
Jamon Serano baguette, calamari and brandy... a not so light but oh so good lunch between museums and shopping.

Les Quatre Gats: Carrer de Montsi√≥

Go here for history you can eat and drink

Again, I'm being a bit obvious but I can't help it. Les Quatre Gats is the cafe where Picasso and other French and Spanish modernists met throughout the start of the 20th century to form their ideas and drink absinthe. We came to here to drink the famous Barcelonan hot chocolate - xocolat which can only be described as devil's ambrosia it feels so naughty. Cocktails, tea, hot chocolate, lunch and supper are all good here but I usually just pop in for treats after Museo Picasso.

El Roure: Carrer Luiz Antunez, 7

Go here for a working lunch

Tourism can be tough can't it?... in all seriousness finding somewhere good to eat when you haven't pre-planned can be very tough indeed but when you discover somewhere fantastic by accident there is no better feeling. Georgie and I stumbled upon this place on an unlikely back street in the Sagrada Familia district which I was thankful for when I returned with Mum and G-Ma, as we had another excellent meal here. It was empty at 1pm, but by the time we had ordered it had filled to the brim with groups of smartly dressed office workers stealing a lunch hour alongside traders and workmen and all sipping steaming bowls of spiced broad bean soup followed by trotters in a stew. Another meal for under 15 euros and a real piece of the city. 

Since finding this place, I found its inclusion on The Guardian's 10 best tapas bars in Barcelona, from which I also pinched the image (sorry - this post is being retro-written as I morph into the conscientious ever-photographing blogger I aspire to be).

Casa Calvet: Carrer de Casp, 48

Go here. Just do.

The final and best place we ate was the Casa Calvet - an original Gaudi building originally built for the Calvet family and fabric dynasty. We noticed this place for its vast metal doors and ornate knockers on the same road as our apartment before we realised they do dining sittings in the evening. 

Bed bugs for door knockers so anyone coming in symbolically squashes this fabric industry pest.
My mother eats no dairy (so watch this space for the best vegan cake and pudding recipes √† la Flo). The effort that Casa Calvet made to give her delicious and original food at no notice was truly incredible. It's worth noting that everywhere we went waitresses and waiters alike fawned over the three of us, finding it so sweet that we were doing a multi-generational trip. 

The amuse bouche were full of striking catalan flavours. My favourite thing on the menu was the warm salad of lobster and papaya with vanilla oil but the hake and the tuna were also very good. You cannot leave here without trying the deserts, especially the avocado and peach sorbet which is dairy like in consistency but as fresh as cut-grass, without that heaviness that ice cream can give you afterwards.

Other foodie treats include the market off La Rambla where you must try the thick cut jamon in Mc-Donalds-esque paper cornets.

Most of the markets in Barcelona are worth wandering into to see if you can find a seat at the hot-food end of the buchers or fishmonger stalls. These serve drinks and tapas from market to grill to plate in a mater of minutes and are a wonderfully hectic experience if you're in the mood for that. all in all a magical time. For other tips and tricks in Barcelona watch this space or drop me a line and I'll be happy to help.