We’re (sadly) back from our time in Barcelona and I wanted to provide a recap of some of our eating highlights as a reference for future visitors:
Aborigens (feast tour)
Aborigens came highly recommended by a trusted friend, and it was really a highlight of our trip. We enjoyed fantastic food, drink and company. Cesc took us to parts of the city we would never have explored otherwise. He truly did show us one of the “real” sides of Barcelona, while using his journalism background to give us a cultural education on the neighborhood and it’s historical impact. I would say a tour with Aborigens is a must for any visitor who loves food and travel.
We were quite reticent to take a “tour” as we are more wanderers and generally loathe guided tours. (We always joke: look at the tour buses and no one is EVER smiling.) When we expressed this to Alex, his response bore out to be quite honest: “Being honest with you, we are not tour people ourselves. Our main reason to start Aborígens was to provide the kind of experience we would like to find abroad, learning about gastronomy (food and culture) from a local in a casual way while eating, drinking and having fun.”
We took the Metro to the Plaça de Sants stop where we met Cesc, our guide for the evening. Another man and his mother who were on a grand tour of France, Spain and Italy joined my wife and me on our evening tour. He was a 3rd time Aborigens customer, so obviously satisfied. We visited bodegas, bars and restaurants in the Sants-Montjuïc neighborhood that we simply would have never experienced otherwise. Some were humble, one was quite refined (La Molla), all were delicious. As tourists, it was quite enjoyable to be surrounded by only locals for this evening. The crowd at even the most humble of bars we visited was welcoming and friendly. I don’t have the names of most of the places we visited, as we put our phones away and just enjoyed the evening. The company, education, food and drink were well worth the price of the tour. Sometimes one has to work to get off the beaten path when travelling to find the true identity of where you are, Aborigens took care of this and then some.
Beyond the tour, Alex secured us a booking at Disfrutar while in BCN and Cesc provided us wonderful recommendations for the rest of our time in Barcelona. I was pleased we did our Aborigens tour early in our visit as we relied heavily on their advice for the rest of the trip. Now I look forward to returning during truffle season for one of their countryside tours.
We snagged a last minute cancellation for Tickets Bar a few weeks before our arrival. Booking was for 7:30p, which is ridiculously early by BCN standards but it was perfect timing for our slightly jet lagged first night there. After a red eye from the east coast, we generally allow for a short nap than push through the day, have an early dinner, then medicate and flop out for a full night’s rest. Though it was quite a long meal, Tickets fit the lively atmosphere we look for on our first night abroad.
We opted for “surprise” menu (at Tickets this means let the waiter pick) to minimize the brainpower we needed to use on our first night abroad. We just told him to be sure we got the octopus and pick his favorites of the rest. Most every course was fantastic. Highlights included the octopus (most tender preparation I’ve ever had, literally melted in my mouth); lobster (PERFECTLY cooked with a beautiful sauce that complimented the lobster flavor, a bit of spice with plenty of the tamale flavor), jam on (might as well begin the jamon fest on our first night in BCN and this meat had a rich nutty flavor and the ideal unctuous texture). The last dish was a steak and while it was good I will say that this dish was really not necessary and quite out of character with the rest of the courses both in terms of the heaviness of the dish and portion size. Maybe they tack that dish on the end for the Americans, but it brought the rest of the meal down as the ending dish.
After dinner, it was on to the Willy Wonka like dessert room. The concept of the dessert room is fantastic, but desserts themselves were just OK. They were quite creative, but not up to par with the rest of the meal flavor wise.
Despite being nearly impossible to score a booking, there were tables that were open when we arrived and still unoccupied when we moved into the dessert room. Particularly if on the early side during the week, I wouldn’t hesitate to try for a standby table if you really want to try Tickets.
We were pretty taken with Tickets until our meal at Disfrutar a few nights later. If I had to pick one to do again, Disfrutar would be the clear choice. The flavors were more refined in each dish, and the level of focus from the staff was evident in every aspect of the meal. It is hard to believe they have only been open 18 mos. Disfrutar was recently awarded their 1st Michelin star and it’s only a matter of time until they get their 2nd. The hospitality certainly matches the food. When we entered the host instructed us to consider this your home, and every employee treated us accordingly. We appreciated being taken on a quick tour and introduced to chefs Castro and Xatruch upon our arrival.
We ordered the longer menu festival, and would have kicked ourselves in retrospect if we had not. At the end of our meal we were not stuffed, but definitely not hungry either. I don’t think I would have been able to handle the envy of seeing diners around us eating dishes we didn’t get to try! Our favorite dishes included:
- Carbonara: Absolutely delicious, like I don’t care where we are wipe the plate with my finger delicious. The dish is made transparent gelatin based macaroni and served in a pan with Parmesan and pancetta. The waiter applied carbonara truffle sauce from a cream charger, along with more grated Parmesan. Umami bomb!
- Crispy Egg Yolk with Mushroom Consume Gelatin: I am a sucker for 60-degree eggs, so the crispy tempura shell hiding the perfectly oozy egg had me at hello. Beautiful presentation on this dish.
- Langoustine al ajillo: a simple dish but insanely fresh product perfectly prepared. I was disappointed to see so many people in Barcelona leaving the heads of their langoustine on the plate. For me, that is the best part.
- Red Mullet with Pork Jowls: an unexpectedly mouthwatering combo, and the eggplant gnocchi on the side were excellent as well. Oh my, those tender pork jowl slices.
- Olives: The famous El Bulli olives, better than those at Tickets
- Mushroom Dumplings: Delicate, transparent dumplings with fresh herbs served in a steaming basket. A light dish with the earthy mushroom flavor really standing out.
- Tarta al Whisky: Anytime you want to pour Lagavulin onto my hands, I’ll probably be happy. I almost asked them to pour some into my mouth but feared that could be inappropriate. Inhaling the scotch whiskey deeply really set the palate for the spoonfuls of amber that we saw chefs painstakingly prepping at the front bar when we first entered.
- Cheesecake Cornet: Crisp red fruit cone, filled with cheese, cherry sorbet and mint. Yum!
- Cotton of Cocoa and Mint: beautifully presented on a branch, this dish showcased the creativity of the chefs.
- Chocolate Peppers: The peppers look picture perfect, but are actually made from gelatin and filled with a milk-chocolate ganache. Drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, and imparting just a bit of spice. A delicious end.
Overall out bill was a bit less expensive than Tickets despite having several bottles of wine vs a cocktail and beer at Tickets. Both are worthy, but Disfrutar is the one we would return to. A truly memorable meal.
Another Aborigens recommendation from Cesc. This is the best ice cream I have had anywhere. I enjoyed it as much as any gelato I ever had in Italy. Not surprising that the owner, Massimo Pignata, is Italian. After returning home I am jaded and bitter to all other ice creams. I need to open a DelaCrem here. Their pistachio is haunting my dreams!
I can never get enough jamon while in Spain. Luckily Reserva Iberica close by to our hotel. I almost pass out with anticipation walking into a place like this, a true meat temple. They have a wonderful selection and are very generous with tastings. Their service was friendly and I learned a lot about jamon varieties from the staff. We stopped back in for another tasting after our initial visit and purchase, and were made to feel welcome by the staff even though not buying more. They told me that when vacuum packed their jamon will last 3 months stored normally and up to a year in the refrigerator. I can neither confirm nor deny that the quality of their vacuum packing might be enough to fool the green vested beagles at customs…
El Quim de la Boqueria
We went to El Quim for a hearty breakfast before a long day of walking. We had no problem finding a few open stools with a prime view of the action right away. Unfortunately the stools immediately adjacent to us were soon occupied by Chinese tourists who hocked up phlegm and coughed with no attempt to cover their mouths throughout the rest of our meal. You might say that took the edge off the experience, but I suppose it is to be expected at a tourist destination like the Boqueria directly off La Rambla. Amidst the coughing and hocking we got to witness them disappoint the waiter by ordering their tuna well done.
The food we actually received was excellent; unfortunately our server never brought several of the dishes we ordered. We saw him sitting across the way eating his own breakfast and figured they were never coming. The house specialty fried eggs with baby squids was truly one of the best breakfast dishes I have had anywhere. Quim himself was behind the counter so it was disappointing the service was so lacking, but we’ll write this off to bad luck and maybe give them another shot next time through Barcelona, if only to get the eggs and squid again.
The Boqueria itself is a marvelous market. We enjoyed strolling the aisles and seeing all the bounty laid out at each stand.
Cesc from Aborigens was kind enough to send us some suggestions for Sunday, when many restaurants are closed. He encouraged us to enjoy a day for family in Barcelona and gave us many ideas for places where there would be groups of friends and family casually enjoying food and drinks together. He made us promise to start with a vermouth or two. First he suggested we head to Parlament Street (heart of Sant Antoni area). Close to the beautiful old market currently under renovation was a flea market that proved a good place to pick up a few last minute gifts for people back home. We started out with a vermouth and a few nibbles at Bar Calders. The weather was beautiful and the environment was friendly and relaxed. After that we walked across the street to El Dynamic for some more plates. In that area Cesc also suggested Jonny Aldana, Sortidors del Parlament and La Xalada.
We then took a short walk to Poble Sec neighborhood and enjoy some wine and jamon at Seco. We didn’t have enough room left to try Palo Cortao and Cal Marino as suggested. After our late lunch we took a long stroll to La Barceloneta where throngs were enjoying one of the first summer beach days.
After resting at the hotel we rediscovered out appetite. We didn’t want our last meal in Barcelona to be in the hotel, but were also a bit lazy to explore far. We discovered Bar Nolla just off Passeig de Gràcia. Bar Nolla proved to be a typical Barcelona hidden gem of a casual tapas bar. After checking out the market from which you could purchase various meats and cheeses to take away, we settled into a sidewalk table outside. The food at Bar Nolla was much better than most of the tourist traps typical of this area. We particularly loved the grilled squid and the garlic prawns.
One of the attractive things about my wife is her positive outlook. She declared Barcelona her favorite food city anywhere. No small endorsement for someone who has traveled extensively and eaten her way through various continents. I joked that she would replace it with a new favorite after our next trip. While she couldn’t deny this, Barcelona can certainly hold it’s own with anywhere on the planet.