Category Archives: Local

Bodega Sepúlveda: Solid

A view you might be forced to enjoy for a while...

A view you might be forced to enjoy for a while...

Give it a try if… You are looking for well-prepared, classic tapas in a nice environment.

Steer clear if… You hate to be kept waiting a bit.

It must be pretty clear by now that, quite frankly, I am not a tapas enthusiast (CHOIR: OOOH!). I guess I am to blame for coming from a society where each person orders his or her plate (CHOIR: OOOOOH!) and is allowed to happily consume it – and just as happily share a part of it, if the mood strikes – without embarking on an awkward obstacle race with added problems such as, Who is going to take the first bite? And who the last? Who will prove to be too selfish? And who will need to shamefully wolf down a greasy kebab on the way home? Still, the occasional visit to a tapas restaurant can provide valuable lessons in social interaction – and if the place is as reliable as Bodega Sepúlveda, it might even end up being a gratifying experience.

A nice wine collection to complement those, ehem, cute little dishes

A nice wine collection to complement those, ehem, cute little dishes

Who Is Honouring Who?

In a time of austerity and ever-emptier dining tables, this classic restaurant – conveniently located a few minutes’ walk from the busy English-language movie theatre Renoir Floridablanca – is often quite packed. If you have not reserved a table, you will have to wait a while before they even acknowledge your presence to let you know you’d better forget it, thanks. If you do have a reservation, do not get overexcited: you will still be a victim of the typical barcelonian ASP (Acutely Selective Perception, as in “I only see or hear what I deem worthy of interrupting my very, very important contingent task”), but at least in the end you will get the privilege of giving them a significant amount of your money in exchange for their very, very precious services (another building block of the sometimes bewildering local attitude towards service).

Thank Cod!

Thank Cod!

Quality Saves the Day

Bodega Sepúlveda is not too cheap – you can easily spend 30-35 euros each, above average for this sort of place – but I consider its prices rather fair for the quality of the ingredients and the careful preparation. It does offer more than tapas if you wish, but so far I have ironically stuck to them on my visits. The results can be vaguely mixed: the buñuelos de bacalao and the tostada de atún are wonderful, some of the different types of croquetas and even the pan con tomate are unusually good, while the esqueixada tastes less divine than it looks and the patatas Sepúlveda are not too special. Yet on the whole you leave the place – which is also quite pleasant for its old-fashioned decor and quiet ambience, perfect to chit-chat the night away – feeling adequately rewarded. That is why I have been there a few times during the years, and I will keep returning (and bringing friends) every once in a while.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7+/10

Bodega Sepúlveda: Carrer Sepúlveda 173 bis (Sant Antoni) – BCN  +34 93 323 59 44 – closed: Saturdays at lunch, Sundays all day –  website

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Speakeasy: Superior

Don't believe the hype. They'll let you in if you're able to pay the bill.

Don't believe the hype. They'll let you in if you're able to pay the bill.

Give it a try if… You want to spoil yourself, someone else, or both.

Steer clear if… You are not in the mood to play the V.I.P. game.

How do you turn something into something really special? One of the most clever ways is to put a lock on it. After all, in a male chauvinist society, any closed door becomes a saucy invitation. Me wants to entah. Me wants to make miiine. Urgh! Now, though, Mr. Man seems to have learned the lesson: that is how the same phenomenon that turned chastity belts into a miserably failed gimmick is currently giving birth to the successful fad of “clandestine” restaurants. Enter Speakeasy, hidden within the classic cocktail bar Dry Martini: so sexy that it quickly has become one of Barcelona’s worst kept secrets.

The Unlocker Gets Unlocked

Personally, I could not care less about all this. I guess as a – may I say gay? – well, gay man, my testosterone supply just does not respond to the manufactured allure of the “exclusive” tag. What I do care about is the service; the ambience; most importantly, the food. And luckily, beyond the marketing façade, Speakeasy stands out for delivering a superior experience in all three respects. That is a charm I simply cannot resist – so in I went (with the excuse of this year’s Barcelona Opportunity Week) and out I came, feeling terribly guilty; terribly bourgeois; and terribly fulfilled.

Great news: real substance beyond the show

Great news: real substance beyond the show

Chapeau!

Strangely enough, this dinner reminded me of the amazing meals at Le Signal, the French on-piste restaurant I mentioned in my previous post. Every course was equally well-conceived, forward-thinking and surprising: from the marinated salmon cube and mushroom truffle to the velvet crab soup with fennel parfait, from the touching roasted meat cannelloni (best I have ever had) to the sound duck confit, down to the exquisite vanilla & chocolate dessert, all details were impeccable – apart from one of the waiters, but hey, he must have been our pinch test to ensure we were not dreaming. Take note, perhaps for a special occasion. And may I please come along?

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9-/10 + wow!

Speakeasy: Carrer de Aribau, 162 (Eixample Izquierdo) – BCN +34 932 17 50 80 – website

Onofre: Noteworthy

"Welcome. Please leave your diet ambitions out the door."

"Welcome. Please leave your diet ambitions out the door."

Give it a try if… You wish to impress visitors of taste or to discover something new about tapas.

Steer clear if… You are neither hungry nor inspired about food.

The Darwinian battle for survival has begun quite some time ago among Barcelona’s countless places to eat. I say, only the best shall survive. To hell with yesterday’s paella and microwaved patatas bravas. Now, here is a safe bet for endurance: Onofre.

Not All That Does Not Glitter…

This is one of those places where I probably would never had eaten if a friend of mine had not dragged me there with a good excuse. Hidden in a sideway road, though very much in the historic center, from the outside it looks like too many other tapas bars – perhaps a bit more posh, but equally frozen in time in some ways, as if Justin Timberlake, botox or even the Internet hadn’t quite happened yet. The owners look hurried but competent, and the menu inspires a certain willingness to indulge.

Smells good... Tastes even better.

Smells good... Tastes even better.

How to Win a New Customer

During this dinner I’ve had the opportunity to try a really memorable octopus timbal. Quite simply, don’t miss it and don’t even think of sharing it: one each, and proud of it. The foie micuit was also compelling, nor did the artichoke salad disappoint. The service was professional and polite; the environment, quiet enough to have a nice chat along with the lovely food. I can’t wait to be back. Onofre is also a gourmet and wine shop which is probably worth a visit. Without forgetting to stop by at its tables.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8/10 + wow!

Onofre:  Carrer de les Magdalenes, 19 (Gótico), BCN +34 93 317 69 37 – website

Petit Comité: Catalan-chic

Grandma's food in an evening dress

Grandma's food in an evening dress

Give it a try if… You are looking for proper Catalan food in a cool setting.

Steer clear if… You’re after a cheap informal snack.

If you live in Barcelona and you like dining out, chances are you’ve already been in Passatge de la Concepció – you know, that street between Passeig de Gracia and Rambla de Catalunya where locals and foreigners alike flock in order to look important and sign imaginary autographs while eating designer plastic in one of the pseudo-glamorous restaurants. Luckily, Petit Comité stands out as an interesting exception.

Fideuástic

Fermi Puig, the renowned chef which created this restaurant in 2008, clearly held the same thought I entertain so often when I dine in upscale restaurants in Barcelona: why do suddenly equate “good” with “containing puré de manzana (apple purée)” or “covered by a layer of foie (liver)”? That is why in Petit Comité you can taste a fantastic fideuá – curiously black instead of the usual red, a detail that tasted wittingly doctrinal albeit unorthodox – which made justice for all those times when I ate this sort of thin fish noodles, a classic of Catalan cuisine, simply cooked without love. Nearly on the same level was my friend’s dessert – mantecado, a luscious ice cream with crunchy almond topping – followed by my melting veal fricandó with mushrooms. All of this in a forward-thinking, minimalistic setting which shows that elegance is mostly a process and good service a reason for pride.

Residents, there's hope beyond Grupo Tragaluz

Residents, there's hope beyond Grupo Tragaluz

The Albondigas Situation

The evident pride, rooted in the tradition of Catalan cuisine, might even go one step further, trying to strike a tighter balance between quality and quantity of food prepared (it is probably difficult to make good meatballs in restaurant amounts, but my friend’s albondigas were unacceptably compact); also, my strawberries with whipped cream were a bit ordinary, and the prices on the menu could use a little down-tipping. On the whole, though, the unusual level of food overall and the above-average ambiance and service awareness – not to mention the Local-Gorgeous manager! – make a visit to Petit Comité quite compulsory for bonvivants. I’ll be back.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7.5/10

Petit Comité: Passatge de la Concepciò 13 (Eixample Izquierdo), BCN +34 935 500 620 – closed: mondays – website

Café de la Princesa: Misleading

HyperBorne indeed!

HyperBorne indeed!

Give it a try if… You want to impress a food-unconscious date.

Steer clear if… You care about the taste way more than the decor.

This rather well-known place, located in the Ribera area (Borne) inside a 14th century palace, is actually a hybrid; one entrance leads to a fashion/weird stuff store, the other to the restaurant. The latter flaunts a stylish decor with brick walls, columns, plants, even a glass dome up above. From the moment we were greeted and escorted to our table we were offered a level of service that, despite smelling a bit fake, was certainly appreciated. The menu itself was mouth-watering, mixing classic Catalan dishes with international proposals.

All About the Packaging?

Why, then, did the salmon tartar taste like it had just come out of the freezer? Did the cod in the salad ever swim in the sea? Not to mention the nail-sized veal fillet… Apparently Barcelona’s chefs are proud to serve the smallest chunk of meat they are able to cut, so I wasn’t surprised – but the taste, the texture and the supposedly delicious mushroom sauce did not make any dent in my universe.

Pretty gorgeous, but...

Pretty gorgeous, but...

Falling Short

As I kept eating with a flat pulse, the sophisticated setting started feeling a bit pointless. If you are willing to make 90% of the effort, why not go all the way and offer a truly unique dining experience? I guess it wasn’t by accident that my friends and I did not exchange a single word about the food during the whole dinner – and it was a shame, because we did want to love the place. Maybe it was just the wrong night (Monday); maybe it was me… But at least for the moment, I’ll have to group Café de la Princesa with the countless BCN restaurants which promise a lot, but somehow fall short in the delivery department. I’d say: try it once, and see what you think.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7/10

Café de la Princesa: C/del Sabateret 1 (Borne), BCN +34 932 68 15 18 – closed: sunday evenings – website