Day 3. The sun rose high and bright, prodding us out of bed in search of coffee and breakfast. The locals don't seem to go for anything other than sandwiches for breakfast, I had in mind churros and chocolate but in the neighbourhood behind the Cathedral leading to carrer Avinyo we didn't come across any so we settled for some milky coffee. The shopping was good, the sales were still going on and we had a profitable haul.
By noontime I was seriously hungry, so we randomly chose Cafe Ferran on the street of the same name. The tuna salad was a good call, the mayonnaise lightened up with vegetables and judicious addition of chopped green olives. Miam mian before we knew it the plate was scraped clean. Tortillas & paella were not so good, the tortilla burnt on one side and the paella a sad case of frozen ingredients and oversalting. By the time we finished our lunch it was nearly 2 p.m. and all the shops started to close for siesta so the only thing left to do was to go back to the apartment for some airconditioned respite.
When I woke up from my nap I was hungry, the tummy reminding me that it only digested some tuna salad and pan con tomate, so we made our way down to El Caf9 which is owned by the people who run the service apartment we were staying in. It was quiet, and as soon as we studied the menu we understood why. Prices are at least twice or thrice as expensive as other tapas bars in the city. Still, it was blazing hot outside and we had a voucher for 30% discount so we decided to stay for some drinks and simple tapas. Pan con tomate was excellent, patatas bravas was just about OK but croquettes and tortillas were misguidedly modernised. From our perch on the narrow chest-high tables we could look out onto Plaza Antonio Lopez and await the arrival of the Very Famous Food Blogger i.e. Josh Tse of Chaxiubao.
Yes my friends it was chaxiubao who managed to get a table at El Bulli and he had kindly asked us and our mutual dimsum blogger friend Sui Mai to come along for the ride. Flashback to October 2007. Josh and I were sitting side by side at the counter of L' Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris for lunch. It was the beginning of the crucial two-week reservations window for El Bulli, Josh's blackberry was busy with anxious messages on how to maximise their chances of getting a table. Me, I was not really bothered because I am not really the type to scale mountains and swim across shark-infested rivers to eat somewhere famous. Still, when he casually asked when would be a good time for us, I told him 'anytime', no point narrowing our options right?
Just then a most unbelievable thing happened, it was true and yet so hyper-surreal. Who walked in and sat two seats away from us? Who had the restaurant staff going up to him respectfully and shaking his hand and posing for photographs? No other than the man himself, Chef Adrian Ferria, with his wife of course but she looked used to the attention showered on her famous husband. Josh wasted no time pressing our case, and he must have made an impression because voila, here we meet in Barcelona, three days before our Very Important Dinner.
From the moment he arrived, we all synced into Eating mode. Josh had made an Excel spreadsheet of all the foodshops, markets, patisseries and restaurants that we would cover together, something along the lines of visit 3 gourmet shops within first hour of arrival. Don't worry, in reality we paced ourselves and managed to visit quite a few places without busting our guts.
First stop: Dos Pallilos. We were late, partly because Josh's plane was late and partly because I was already in Spanish time and was moving about really slowly from the heat and stupor. We were told that we had less than an hour to eat our dinner and it was true, just after the last savoury course we were hustled out to the bar counter to finish our desserts under the ugly fluorescent lights. Which would have been forgivable if the food was fabulous. Unfortunately it was not, hardly so.
Josh chose Dos Palillos because the eGulleters loved it. The chef, Albert Raurich, worked in El Bulli for 11 years. His wife is Japanese and he himself had also spent time in Japan to learn about its cuisine. The restaurant-bar is housed in hip hotel Casa Camper; upon entering through sliding doors with slogan "I heart Fengshui" we found ourselves in the too-bright, no frills fluorescent bar which serves as a kind of reception area and of course doubles up as a depository for wayward late diners who exceed their welcome. Honoured guests are ushered into the other dimension of the main dining area which is a three sided long counter wrapped around an open kitchen. Flurorescent gives way to darkness, on the counters are scattered small study lamps and the seated diners face the fluorescent kitchen, its suction hood covered with the a giant version of a red fringed curtain that divides the dining zone from the bar. The lighting was not conducive to photography and I was happy to let Josh take pictures using his serious camera; please visit his flickr set for the pictures.
We all chose the long degustation menu. The chef himself presented many of the courses. We ate appetisers of candied walnuts and Japanese pickles, then fried wontons, marinated sardines with shiso leaves, grilled peppers topped with bonito flakes, summer rolls, ankimo, razorclams, tempura-ed cherry tomatoes, steamed dumplings, jiaozi, stir-fried vegetables, yaki chicken skewer, onsen tamago (above), anise flavoured fruit salad, mango pudding and mock mochi with gelatin skin and red bean filling within. Only the grilled peppers, summer rolls, ankimo, cherry tomatoes and razor clams stood out for me, the other half of the menu was like a bad joke to all of us especially the so-called mango pudding and worse of all, the cha xiu bao which was as flat as a fried egg with a filling that included pinenuts. Josh is a person who talks animatedly when he is enjoying his food, here he spent most of the time with a puzzled expression on his face and saying very little. All of us were thinking, we came all the way here to eat mangled Asian food?
When the chef and his staff asked us if we were happy, we nodded yes, dumbly; from start to finish there were so many wrong turns where do we we begin to tell him why we were disappointed? The other diners were not in the least bothered, our neighbour told us that this place has only been open a few weeks and it is very trendy, and him and his friends absolutely enjoyed their experience. Barcelona folks find his food very exotic and they love it. Until recently they had not ventured far beyond their already famous cuisine. Still, other restaurateurs are expressing their disbelief at the the silly money sunk in to pay for the decor, the logo of a chopstick (erm, hello stock photography?), the dumpling folding machine and goodness knows what else. Then again, after 11 years of El Bulli, where does one go on to?
Day 4: we woke up early to go look for breakfast. Tapaç 24. We thought it was open 24 hours. It does not. It runs from 8:00-24:00. What it does is serve 24 types of pasta, I think, but don't quote me on this. The fact was, at 8.30 a.m it does not serve tapas, only typical breakfast items like sandwiches. No thanks. We moved on to Mercato Santa Catarina, a covered marketplace in my favourite neighbourhood of El Born. Tapas, yay!
Then we walked around the neighbourhood. Many fantastic bakeries, as well as famous cheeseshops and charcuteries, not to mention where an outlet of Vila Viniteca is located (where I got some ham only two days previously), one example of wine shop which husband and Josh couldn't be pried out of. What is it with men and wine shops, they walk the aisles, study the labels, check the prices and count the bottles, and then they walk out without buying anything. How satisfying does that get? Me, I was trying to buy eyemake-up base but none of the pharmacies understood what I wanted, they helpfully offer me mascara, foundation, even contact lens cleaners but no base. I also found time to buy a dulce de leche gelato at Tomo II and spent time at the internet cafe while the men studied the wine scene. Then it was time to go for lunch. But before that, one important destination which was, ta da, another wine shop, this time it is called Lavinia. Lavinia is huge and they also have many, I'm told, lustworthy bottles.
Finally the lunch hour arrived. We walk along Avinguda Diagonal to the shopping centre L'Illa. Josh says we have been invited for lunch at this very good restaurant. He leads us into a food court! I was starting to doubt his food cred but decided to give him benefit of doubt which was good because we ended up at Fishhh! The host of the lunch is Annette Abstoss of Abstoss World Gastronomy, a food consultant with all the important connections to the local food scene. Her boyfriend Lluis Genaro heads the kitchen of this place, a bright and very white space serving properly cooked premium quality seafood. With philosophy of seasonal eating and no salt added in the cooking process; Maldon sea salt is available at every table for diners, they mean serious business. Again, for more pictures, see Josh's flickr set. Everything we ate were yummy. Canapes of barbequed seafood, an intriuing spring roll with crunchy pliable skin and my favourite, little plates of fideua which is a pasta version of seafood paella which reminded me very much of seafood beehoon. They served seconds and thirds of this and I whacked them all. When I was already full from the starters, the real food came. Mussels with foamy aioili (we're in Barcelona, no getting away from foams), little Venus clams, grilled sardines at its best since it is peak season for this fish now, pasta with crab, fried cod, grilled peppers and two desserts, also not forgetting a wonderful seared tuna which husband, full as he was, seriously considered eating a second portion of.
(image taken from Chaxiubao's flickr set). The tuna. It was perfection.
While we ate, various food personalities walked in and out of the restaurant. Annette and her colleague Laura, both originally from outside USA & Colombia respectively, have settled here and loved their lifestyle. There was a chef hailing from Sicily, another chef whose family owns a famous cheese shop in the 17th arr of Paris and other happy transplants who came and fell in love with this city. A representative from Joselito came bearing a leg of "the best ham in the world". We shared food talk, food news, gossip, lots of wines and basically had a rocking good time. Right past teatime and nearly into dinner service when we remembered we also have another appointment so back to the apartment for showers and dressing up.
Cooked in Barcelona. There's an outlet of this cute food-inspired clothing shop in L'Illa.
(Image from Josh's flickr set)
Dinner was at Moo restaurant, in Hotel Omm. It has one Michelin star and is hyper-chic but that's not why Josh chose it, no the real reason is that one of its four (seriously, it has FOUR sommeliers how OTT is that?) sommeliers is Roger Viusa Barbara. Roger is very dashing with melting eyes and a killer smile, he also happened to be the Best European Sommelier WSA 2008 all of which just makes him like, God of Sommelier. He is also very nice and gracious when I informed him that husband and Josh are his Fans, also patiently going through the menu and giving wonderful nuggets of information about the food. By the end of the evening I too became his secret fan.
(Image from Josh's flickr set)
The food. It is served in smaller than usual portions, the idea is that diners choose 3-4 courses to get a sense of the cuisine. We did just that, with their recommended wine pairing.
This is what we ate for first course:
Me: I'll start with the Bobal salad
Josh: Hah, call yourself a food blogger, just a salad?
Me: Yah, how do you think I can fit into my (Tara Jarmon) dress if I continue to eat and eat?
Bobal salad: Violet lettuce, turnip, blackberries, pork scratchings, violet potato, liquorice, truffle.Wine: La Casilla 06. Bodegas y Vinedoes Ponce/T/ Manchuela/bobal. A bit too fussy and way too much liquorice.
For husband, a beautifully plated Mackerel with vegetables and oranges, a perfect marriage of flavours. Wine: Insolite 06. Dom Roches Neuves /B/ Saumur chenin blanc. The wine was insolite alright, very nice.
Josh ordered Dublin bay prawns with curry, roses and liquorice. Wine: Furtentum 03 V.V. Paul Blank /B/ Alsace Grand Cru/ gewurztraminer
I had Prawns with Pig Trotters. They studded fresh succulent prawns with the skin, jelly and fat of pig trotters. It was fun and very tasty. Wine: Bassots 06/white/ Conca de Barbera/ chenin blanc.
Husband enjoyed his Salmon with fennel smoke and brown bread. It was paired well with Uhlen "L"04. Heymann Lowenstein/white/ Mosel-Saar-Ruwer/ riesling.
As for Josh, he had Rice with pig trotters and sea cucumbers. I had a taste, it reminded me of claypot rice, in a good way. Of course wine matching of Ctonia 06. Massia Serra/white/ Emporda/ garnatxa blanca was perfect.
Now we're onto Course 3:
"Secreto de Fées "06 is pork done two ways. Iberian pig. It wouldn't be a Catalonian meal without it no? Wine was Vons de Pays des Cotes Catalanes/garnacha blanca y gris.
Husband had Veal fillet with hazelnuts, rosemary and thyme. Paired with Artigas 05. Mas Alta/T/Priorat/ Garbatxa i carinena
Josh ate Red Mullet with "samfaina" and green pepper. Don't know what samfaina is but he enjoyed his dish. At this meal he was a lot more vocal than the previous night. The Cote de Mer 05. Dom de la Rectone/red/Colliure/ garnacha may have helped too.
Finally, desserts. Josh ordered and we picked at his dishes, not before teasing my lack of endurance. He can really eat this man.
Then A Trip to Havana: Rum sponge cake, lime soup, peppermint granite ice and cane sugar served with a Frozen Partagas Serie D No 4 Cigar with spice ash. There was also, later, Chocolate & Chenin blanc, almonds and apricots served with Ch de la Roulerie 96-97/ Coteaux du Layon/chenin blanc but all we will probably remember best is the Frozen cigar. The 'cigar' is a chocolate log with white cream inside, it sat on an 'ashtray' which has some ashy bits at the bottom of the dish. Eaten together it has a rich smoky cigar-like taste and aroma. We all thought the cigar flavour came from the spicy ash, but no, the ash was only burnt sugar. Roger explained how the chef put the white creamlike stuff in a bag and then they pump real cigar smoke into the whole contraption to infuse.First hand smoke inhalation. So desu ne. We could only nod in marvel.
Finally, some house-made chocolates which they offered with coffee, one type had popcorn inside which was a delightful surprise. The meal had proceeded very well. The restaurant is vast, and tables are spaced far apart so it felt very luxe. Service was attentive, music very cool, lighting was flattering but terrible for photography and the clientele was very hip. It lived up to all its hype, and for a place that I know not the chef's name it delivered very good food too. The wine pairings showed intelligence as well as a sense of humour. All in, a terrific night out and a perfect cap to a marvelous day of eating.