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Oct 22, 2012 11:42 AM

Barcelona trip Report: Tickets, tapas & general thoughts

Hi All,
We were in Barcelona for four days. We had more reservations than we actually kept, but here are some reviews/thoughts:

TICKETS: Had a birthday dinner there. I reserved exactly two months in advance, and if you're online at the right time, you should have your pick of times. I hesitated for an hour too long and wound up with 7:30pm. That's's buzzing inside anyway.
My general feeling was that the atmosphere is lively and celebratory, but that the food didn't blow my mind. That's not to say I would recommend against it. On the contrary, the service is absolutely spectacular, the kitchen is very fun to watch in action, and it would be hard not to have a good time. If you don't like being around tourists, don't come here.
We had some very good tempura seaweed with its own reduction, iberian ham sliced in front of us, some tuna in a seaweed cone (basically a hand cone), the machego airbags, their famous olives, a wild mushroom fricasse, some tomato-rubbed bread, and probably some more that I've forgotten. The neighbourhood around the restaurant wasn't my favourite in Barcelona (Poble Sec). Our dinner with lots of wine and beer came out to about 115 Euros.

CATA 181: This was one of our favourite dining experiences. Do I have PBSF to thank for this recommendation? This is a great, laid-back but modern Catalan restaurant, with very good food and service. Foreigners were in the minority here. It was tapas-style, but very fine food. My standouts included a dish with wild mushrooms, iberian ham and white beans topped with a fried egg. Also, a wonton style dessert filled with honey and yogurt. The wine list was very good. One of the best things about this was the surrounding neighbourhood (Eixample). We incorporated a bit of a crawl into our dinner that night. I will explain more below.

El VELL SARRIA: Most travellers might not make it up to the Sarria neighborhood, but it really is lovely. You can fit in a trip to the Pedralbes monastery at the same time. It is a leafy, wealthy area with fun shops, including the very old Foix de Sarria pastry shop. We came to the Vell for the paella, which we were told was among the best in the city. The restaurant is in a very old building, with dark wood beams. When we were there for lunch at about 2pm, it was entirely filled with local families/business diners. The paella we had (which has a funny name like "The paella that reminds me of the forest and the sea), was very tasty, and different than the Valencia kind -- this one made with squid ink. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare, so don't come if you're in a hurry.

TAPAS and general eats: We were staying in the Sant Pere area of the Born, which is a perfect area to rent an apartment BTW. The Santa Caterina market is just around the corner, and so much more enjoyable than going to La Boqueria in my opinion. There are some good places to eat in the market, includes Las Cuines de Santa Caterina, and the more local Sant Joan counter inside.
In terms of tapas bar hopping (and please keep in mind that I'm 40 not 20), we vastly preferred the areas around the Santa Maria del Mar church than the streets around the Barri Gotic (around the Placa Real). We wound up going to Euskal Etkea a few times because it was just so enjoyable and the pintxos yummy. Plenty of spots to move on to from there. The Gothic area (say around Carrer Ample) was just too packed with drunken foreigners for my taste.
But the exception to that thought would be La Placa Real, which is really worth a visit. We had a lovely drink at Ocana...a newish bar/restaurant that has to be seen to be believed. This spot is incredibly beautiful.
When we went to eat at Cata 181, which is near the corner of Muntaner and Valencia in the Eixample, we found a lot of very hopping spots, that were decidedly less touristy than either the Born or the Gothic. We stopped first at a place called Lexington on Muntaner, which made a mojito just as good as any I had in Havana. After dinner, we stopped into a hopping tapas bar called Taktika Berri (on Valencia). Finally, we wound up at a cocktail club called La Martinera. Very stylish and one of the best cocktails I've ever had (the Golden Kraken). It had about 10 ingredients, and the bartender took great care in the preparation. (Excellent theatre!)
Not sure how well this is known, but the Palau de la Musica, a stunning Art Nouveau concert hall, has a gorgeous bar and terrace that are open on concert nights. If you can...go to a show. You won't regret it.
Down Sant Pere des Alt from the Palau is a very cool bar called El Passatje, sandwiched into a passageway between buildings. Worth a drink there just for the hipster atmosphere.


EL MERCAT DE MERCATS: Why didn't anyone tell me about this before?! Just by chance, we stumbled on this "Market of Markets" which spread across from the Gothic Cathedral, across Laeitiana to the Santa Caterina market. Happens once a year. It was dozens upon dozens of stands from market vendors and vintners from across Catalonia selling their wares and small tastes of their products. This was a foodie dream! They actually handed out real glass wine glasses so you could move around and taste all the different wines. There were cooking shows and formal wine tastings in larger tents. Easily could have stayed there the entire day. I would plan travel to BCN just around this festival.

I think it's possible to get too wrapped up in where to eat/reserve while in Barcelona. I had all these plans for eating at this place or that place, but really, it's a drag to have to leave whatever neighbourhood you happen to be strolling through to take a cab or metro to another section of town. It's fun to wander into the local place with bright florescent lighting and just tuck into a piece of "truita" with "pan a tomaquet." I got a good piece of advice to pack a picnic and eat it in Parc Guell.
When I go back to Barcelona, I'll definitely spend more time in Gracia. This was a very cool part of the city, with many happening, hopping bars and restaurants that are worthy of a second look.
I wasn't that taken with the Barceloneta area personally.
I was very happy with how cheap and good the coffee was...I'll never understand why people bother with Starbucks in cities like that.
We went to a wonderful concert
And one last note on attire: I'm one of those people who likes to be well turned out (and not stick out like a tourist). My husband always fit in wearing a buttoned up shirt and black denim and black boots. Women were not wearing bear arms or legs at this time of year, even though it was deadly hot (this out of style more than modesty of course!).

Hope this is of use to someone!!!

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  1. It was certainly of use to me!

    I share many of your reactions to specific neighborhoods and places in Barcelona, and in my last trip to Spain a few weeks ago, I definitely felt " it's possible to get too wrapped up in where to eat/reserve" in the country as a whole.

    When you spoke of there being real wine glasses for tastings at El Mercat de Mercats, was it the kind of scene where they give you one glass with a neck strap so you can wear it around your neck?

    4 Replies
    1. re: barberinibee

      We also enjoyed our food in Barcelona. We were really happy with the places where we reserved, but we also had excellent experiences without any planning. So many places to chose from.

      I did find Barcelona much more casual (in terms of clothing) than Madrid. In Madrid, it seemed as though many of the women were well dressed or at least wore a scarf around their neck. Not so much in Barcelona. Maybe because of more tourists or maybe because it just felt so much hotter and more humid. (My hair definitely looked better in Madrid.) I wouldn't wear shorts downtown here in Toronto, but sure saw a lot of shorts wearing people in Barcelona.

      But loved the food in both Madrid and Barcelona.

      1. re: barberinibee

        No neck strap, just a nice glass. All very North America you'd probably get a dixie cup!

        1. re: Chicas

          In Italy, the next strap with a wine glass holder is pretty common at feste where wine is the focus and there are lots of vendors. Partly they do it, I think, so that people have their hands free to write comments about the wine. There are usually index cards nearby so you can do that. Maybe they also don't want people to keep setting down their wine glass and getting it confused with somebody else's or asking for another.

          Did you get to the Poble Nou neighborhood in Barcelona?

          1. re: Chicas

            PS: Here's a food festival in North America that gives you a glass for wine tasting -- and a neck strap! (The picture is of the Italian section of the food festival -- I just discovered the picture on the web looking for a way to show you neck straps).

        2. I enjoyed el Vell Sarria as well when I was there last week.
          Excellent seafood Paella.

          1. Thanks SO much for this post. I saved it before I finished reading it!!! I'm not the sort that's going to make a lot of resos. As you say, who knows where you want to be and what you want to eat. While food is a big part of our traavel, it's not the only big part. Also thanks for mentioning some places that fly a bit under the radar. Our style definitely. We're leaving for Barcelona two weeks from today !!!!! and will be there nine days. Can barely stand the wait.

            1. Thank you for the wonderful post. Glad you made it to Cata 181, Tiktika Berri (one of the best pintxo bar in Barcelona and pretty good Basque food in their dining room) and El Vell. I love the Sarria neighborhood.