No matter your budget, one of the unbridled joys of travelling is the anticipation of the culinary coquettes that lie in wait. When it comes to Spain, tapas is firmly at the top of the list. With a ‘share and share alike’ mentality, this pick ‘n’ mix of portions lets you sample the very best – cheaply – that Iberian cuisine has to offer.
Away from the tourist traps in the centre, Barcelona is sloughing off its skin. Nowhere is this more evident than in the district of Poble Sec. A sliver of a thing on the map, the up-and-coming ‘dry village’ is an inconspicuous neighbourhood, lacking the signature sights that draw the travelling hordes to Barcelona year round. It is, however, an authentic nook of the city with a strong community spirit, and has been busy carving out a name for itself as a gastronomic hotspot over recent months.
[Also see our travel article “24 Hours in Barcelona“]
A good place to get started and get your bearings within the barrio is the sociable square of Plaça Sortidor, the animated heart of the district. You’re unlikely to see tourists here, but you will see old couples sitting on benches, kids playing football and spirited groups of friends enjoying an evening beer. The main luminary on the tapas trail is the long, pedestrianised Calle Blai, which is fast becoming a place of pilgrimage for those in search of a succulent snack.
1. La Soleá on Plaça Sortidor
The first stop on our tapas crawl is arguably the most colourful resident of Plaça Sortidor – La Soleá. There’s limited space inside, but follow its faithful group of regulars and grab a table on the reliably sunny terrace outside on the square. You won’t wait long to be served, and the staff stand out for their rare execution of the values stated on their website – an empathetic bond with clients, and a genuine interest in making sure you enjoy your meal.
The food itself has a strong Mediterranean influence, with classic tapas such as marinated anchovies, cured ham and ‘wrinkled potatoes’ from the Canary Isles all putting in an appearance. Of the main dishes, the spinach gnocchi cooked in a ‘cabrales’ cheese sauce (a cheese made by rural dairy farmers in the north of Spain) is particularly good.
Open till midnight every day throughout the summer, La Soleá is the perfect introduction to life in the barrio. It’s also the ideal spot to indulge in some people-watching on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Address: Pl. El sortidor nº14
Phone: 93 441 01 24
2. Celler Cal Marino
Once you’ve had your fill of the sunshine on Plaça Sortidor, round the corner onto shady Calle Margarit, and look for the ‘Cal Marino’ sign. Cal Marino has a somewhat sophisticated feel, with exposed brickwork, Havana-style ceiling fans and wall-to-wall wine barrels. Locals come to refill empty containers from the barrels, similar to the ‘vino sfuso’ phenomenon in Venice. Take your time picking a wine, as it’s a crucial part of the whole experience. Eduardo, the amiable owner, will be on hand to help.
When it comes to the tapas themselves, the list of mouth-sized morsels is overwhelming. Anchovies, cockles, clams, croquettes…don’t be put off by the names chalked up in Catalan, as Eduardo will explain exactly what everything is. Try the excellent assortment of cheeses washed down with your favourite wine (Eduardo will insist it’s to your liking beforehand), or the smoked salmon rolls stuffed with cream cheese in a caramelised balsamic vinegar. The desserts are also worth a look, if you can fit them in.
Address: C/ Margarit, 54
Phone: 93 329 45 92
3. Sundry spots on Calle Blai
Once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from Cal Marino, head down Margarit and take a right onto the arterial Calle Blai. This is where the traditional tapas trail really kicks in. Around a dozen bars fringe this pedestrianised street, giving you plenty of scope to tapas hop to your heart’s content. That’s really half the fun of being out ‘tapeando’ – don’t feel restricted to just one place. Down your drink, munch your tapa and then move on to the next enticing locale.
Of course, there are a few joints on Calle Blai that stand out. The first is Koska Taverna. A newcomer on the Poble Sec scene, Koska is a friendly, eager-to-please place with just a little more space than many of its standing-room-only neighbours. It’s run by the two owners themselves, one Basque and the other from Buenos Aires, and specialises in vermouth, beer and gin & tonics alongside the mouth-watering selection of tapas.
Choose from stuffed peppers, chorizo stewed in cider, hefty slabs of Spanish tortilla, baby squid in ink, tomato and anchovy salad, or any of the creative ‘montaditos’ (tapas served on a slice of bread, a bit like tiny bruschetta) that bedizen the bar.
A hop, skip and a jump across the road is Bodega La Tieta, whose eponymous founder (‘tieta’ is Catalan for ‘aunt’) is a reassuring presence in the décor itself. A former owner of a chiringuito beach bar in Barceloneta, Pepita is honoured in robust gastronomic fashion in this diminutive bar, whose claim to fame are the tasty, well sourced ingredients of its gourmet tapas. Wine’s on sale by the glass or bottle, but it’s worth sampling the vermouth (something of an obsession in Barcelona) if you’re aiming to fall in line with the locals. From here, it’s just a short walk to our final destination – the quintessentially Barcelonan Quimet i Quimet.
4. Quimet i Quimet
There are many who would argue that by leaving this Poble Sec stalwart till the end, we are indeed saving the best for last. In fact, if you’re from Barcelona, you typically speak the name Quimet i Quimet in reverential tones. One of the city’s oldest bars, this atmospheric hole-in-the-wall has been in the family for generations, and its clientele appreciate the continuity of expertise. A tiny wine cellar, stacked on all sides with tipples, Quimet i Quimet is a den of liquidity you will be glad you made time for.
So what on earth do you plump for, in the presence of legends? The answer is – anything and everything. Jostle your way to the bar and chinwag with the chef for the best picks of the day. Bread smeared with peppers, prawns and caviar, salmon with truffled honey…the list goes on. Lip-smacking good and a great way to get up close and personal with the good people of Poble Sec, who will always be glad you came.
Address: Poeta Cabanyes, 25
Phone: 93 442 31 42
Photo credits: Julie Sheridan, Niklas via Flickr