Written by Antoní Loza
Olympic host 1992
From the Olympic city that introduced the world to the star-studded ‘Dream Team’ of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and co., Oryx explores Barcelona in search of some of the city’s most exciting restaurants…the true Catalan culinary superstars.
Twenty years ago, Barcelona underwent a significant makeover to host the Games of the XXV Olympiad. Billions of euros were spent on infrastructure, entire neighbourhoods were rejuvenated, and a decaying waterfront was brought back to life. Since then, the city has become one of Europe’s top tourist locations; only London, Paris, and Rome receive more visitors each year.
As Spain’s second largest city and the heartbeat of the autonomous community of Cataluña, Barcelona is a beautiful, vibrant metropolis that boasts a heady mix of art, history, architecture, music, friendly people, great weather, amazing nightlife, wonderful beaches, and winter ski slopes. But what it really has in abundance, aside from its Catalan charm and the pride it takes in its progress, is an abundance of incredible restaurants.
The following eateries not only offer some of Barcelona’s best food; they also transcend the typical dining experience by providing – each in their own particular fashion – a unique way to share a meal with friends, family, or business associates. But a warning to all you hungry travellers: be sure to make reservations. These places fill up fast.
Dos Palillos: Tapas with chopsticks
In the eclectic El Raval neighbourhood, a few streets back from Las Ramblas avenue, you will find this tiny, inventive Asian-inspired tapas bar and restaurant owned and operated by Albert Raurich, a veteran of the legendary El Bulli, where he was chef de cuisine from 1999 to 2007. Taking an exploratory approach to the similarities between Asian and Spanish cuisine, chef Raurich and head chef Takeshi Somekawa are introducing Barcelona to a new way of eating Catalan foods. Cooking is mostly done using traditional methods (as compared with El Bulli’s modern, molecular gastronomy), but the flavours and presentation are cutting-edge.
Dos Palillosis dinner theatre in its purest form. A slightly elevated U-shaped bar that seats 25 people wraps around the kitchen, enabling every diner to see exactly what each of the 10-member staff is creating. The kitchen’s pace is quick and precise, yet unrushed. Everyone has their task, and no-one ever stands idle. To watch these young professionals move in such a tight space, like a well-oiled machine, and provide their customers with a non-stop stream of culinary delights is worth the price of admission alone!
Dos Palillos has two tasting menus, one that offers around 8-10 courses, the other offering 15 or more. The menu changes frequently, depending on seasonal availability of certain products as well as the chefs’ whimsies, but some classics such as the shrimp cooked two ways (one beautiful shrimp, the top half is cooked on the grill, the tail end is left cru) or the chicken sashimi (that’s right, chicken sashimi), usually find their way onto the menu. But if they’re not, ask chef Raurich if he can make an exception. They’re that good.
Passadís del Pep: A Catalan seafood institution
Passadís del Pepis located down a small nondescript hallway inside a nondescript building that faces a small nondescript plaza. As it’s been around for more than 30 years, Passadís del Pep’s complete lack of marketing has clearly not hurt the business. This classic – but not overly formal – eatery boasts friendly, professional waiters in white coats who really make you feel as if you’re dining at a place of great importance. Usually, aside from a few foreign foodies, the clientele is made up of Barcelona’s elite, business leaders, and politicos. This is a place for people in the know.
Don’t bother wondering what’s on the menu, because there isn’t one. Passadís del Pep serves only what has been freshly caught that day, so your best option is to go in with an open mind, an empty stomach, and enjoy the feast. The moment you sit down, waiters will start bringing you, at a very relaxed pace, one plate at a time to share with your dining companions. On an average day you can be served a dish of tender scallops grilled in their shells, followed by a plate full of oven roasted cockles over a bed of gray salt, then some beautiful bright red prawns a la plancha, followed by some freshly shucked clams or oysters, and then maybe perfectly grilled octopus, sautéed langoustines, or even pan-fried red mullet no bigger than one’s index finger.
But be sure to tell your waiters when you’re full, or they’ll keep bringing out this perfectly prepared seafood until the sun rises.
Tickets: The Adrià brothers
If you Google ‘culinary superstar, Barcelona’ you will be introduced to a couple of men who need no introductions to the food world: Ferran and Albert Adrià. Ferran is a 3-star Michelin chef who owned and ran the famed El Bulli restaurant (until they decided to close it down in July 2011) and Albert, his younger brother, who was El Bulli’s much-lauded dessert chef. Both are men of vision, integrity, and playfulness, and following the closing of the world’s greatest restaurant – as El Bulli was justly labelled – they decided to embark on a new adventure: tapas in downtown Barcelona.
Ticketstapas bar is housed in an old theatre (hence the name) and everything from the flashing neon sign outside, the doormen, and the waiting staff hints at theatrical showmanship. A staff of 33 serves the 115-seat dining room attentively, and if you’re lucky enough to get one of the hottest tickets in town (you can only reserve online, seating opens two months in advance) you will experience one of the most unforgettable meals of your life.
But the Adriàs don’t want this experience to intimidate you, and Albert is quick to point out that Tickets is a place for diners “to have fun. I want happy customers – that’s what it’s all about. My responsibility is to ensure that you will want to return.”
Barcelona’s beauty is how its rich history, diversity of culture, and passionate people are absorbed and reflected in its eclectic streets, gothic alleyways, and magnificent buildings. And just like the continual breath of fresh air that caresses this maritime city, you will be continually surprised each time you visit because there’s always something new to discover, be it a boutique on a tiny cobblestone street or a flea market in a major plaza. But if you’re really lucky, you might come across a restaurant, just by chance, that’s home to the city’s next undiscovered superstar kitchen. When you find it, please let us know.
The 1992 Summer Olympics hold a special place in the hearts of Qataris, as it produced the nation’s first-ever Olympic medallist. Middle-distance runner Mohamed Suleiman secured the bronze medal in the 1,500m in a time of 3:40.69.
Built in 1991 to host Olympic sailing events, this relatively recent addition to Barcelona’s coast and skyline has evolved into one of the most popular hangout spots. The square port has been converted into an upscale marina, and the wide boardwalk that runs along the fashionable beach has plenty of restaurants and cafés.
Up above, the tall towers that once housed Olympic athletes have been converted to lush offices and the hip 5-star Hotel Arts; at their base, Frank Gehry’s iconic fish structure (called Peix, which is Catalan for fish) adds yet another highlight to Barcelona’s already dramatic landscape. Taller than anything else in their vicinity, these towers are not only a testament to Barcelona’s superior urban regeneration; they are also a proud reminder of the city’s past Olympic glory.
By the numbers
The number of years Barcelona’s port has been a crucial centre for trade around the Mediterranean.
The number of Gaudí buildings/creations in Barcelona that are declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Litres of water are held in the Aquarium Barcelona, Europe’s largest sea aquarium.
The year Antoni Gaudí began work on the Sagrada Família cathedral. Depending on whom you ask, completion will take place either in the year 2017 or 2026. Or anywhere in between!
Be sure to start with the Olives by Tickets. These marvels of culinary science are the perfect beginning to your feast, and will set the pace, and heighten your expectations to the meal that is to follow.
How do they do it?
Ferran Adrià knows that calcium – a natural ingredient found in olives – solidifies when it makes contact with sodium alginate, and so, like a mad chef, he most likely went into a puréeing frenzy.
What he discovered was that Verdial olives – thick skinned, medium to large-sized green olives grown in Andalucia primarily for their oil and usually the preferred olive for this dish – possessed delicious qualities when made into a pulp.
So what ensued was natural: add small, spherical amounts of the olive purée to a bath of sodium alginate for approximately 3 minutes. Once these spheres become fairly solid, marinate them for 24 hours in a jar of aromatised olive oil (garlic, lemon peel, rosemary, etc.) to give these green pearls the essence of a traditionally cured olive. And voilà! Perfection.