English Menu offered to you when dining...
I always thought when dining abroad when you are given an English Menu that restaurant must not be worth their salt. When I was in Rome in 2007 my husband and I were seated in a back room and given a single pink piece of paper with a very limited menu in English...I almost walked out. I didn't and the meal was alright, nothing special that's for sure.
What do you think??
We are going to be visiting Barcelona for a week in May and I love to study up on all the food terms and words so I can read the regular menu in all it's glory. I am a little nervous about reading a Catalonia menu- Spanish food words don't seem the same (maybe it's just me) I wonder just how many restaurants have their regular menu translated in English since Barcelona and Madrid are now major foodie destinations.
I would not generalize that if a restaurant has an English menu, then it is not worh their salt. As more and more people travel with interest in food, more restaurants have their menu printed in different languages. That is especially true with the high-end restaurants, including just about every Michelin 3 star restaurants I've eaten at. Of course, if a restaurant hands one a very limited menu in English, then your worry is definitely warranted.
Since the city of Barcelona does not have any Michelin 3 stars, a few high end places will have menu translated in English. The menu will have the full menu but the translation may not always give the true sense of what the dish is. In these restaurants, there will be someone that will speak some English if one needs help. Aside from these restaurants, English menus will be limited. It is a good idea to at least know or recognize certain food terms. Many restaurants will have printed menu in both Catalan and Spanish (Castellano.). Tapas and pintxos places are exceptions.
Barcelona is a very easy city for foreign visitors. You will have no problem with many of the higher end restaurants. Knowing some Spanish will be very helpful. One may have a little problem with the menu in everyday places such as Sant Joan, Can Mano, Foxos but the staff are uniformly friendly and patient. The food is very straight forward, therefore, knowing what the term for different meats, seafood, vegetables, etc are all one needs. I find cookbooks such as one the Colman Andrew's Catalan Cuisine , Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Tables, Teresa Barrenchehea's The Basque Table and books by Penelope Casas more helpful then most food glossaries. One will find basic food words and cooking methods as well as names of the more popular dishes in Catalan and Basques cooking. I've found that many dishes in these books appear as is in restaurant menus. And cookbooks are much more fun to read than glossaries.
Generally, traditional tapas bars in Barcelona are not too difficult because many of the same items appear in just about all the places. After one or two, it is easy to recognize items such as tomato bread, salad, jamon, croquetes, chipirons, bomba, etc. By the way, Paco Meralgo has an English menu. Pintxos are even easier as they are all lay out on the counter for one to see. Seafood is very popular in both Barcelona and the Basques, therefore, learning many of the terms for them are really helpful. If you order something that is not your taste, just pass it on to your husband. You and your husband will have a great trip, two of the most fun places to eat; people are friendly, informal and welcoming.
If you speak Spanish, no one will ever give you an English menu in Spain... it's literally never happened to me in the eight years that I've lived in Madrid. If you speak another language or badly broken Spanish, you may be given an English menu as a courtesy... If your Spanish/Catalan is shaky, asking for both for comparison's sake is probably the way to go. I don't think it's possible to generalize about the quality of a restaurant based on the presence of a translated menu--though some of the translations can be pretty surreal since many Spanish food terms tend to be more specific or without direct equivalents in English.
If I am at a restaurant that I know what to expect - Spanish only is fine. When I am afraid that I will be missing out on something great I always ask for one in English and one in Spanish. A place like La Finca de Susana in Madrid comes to mind. I have a limited Spanish vocabulary - but I know my food words! Sometimes I understand the main ingredients, but the preparation style eludes me. That's where the English version helps.
It is interesting and even comical to compare the two. A lot of time something that I know to be delicious will have the most horrible sounding English translation.