Barcelona, City of Culture. Sounds about right. City of Architecture. No question! But City of Food? Not so much. Or is it? I mean, El Bulli was just a few miles away and that was voted the Best Restaurant in the World for years, until they decided they’d had enough. And it was voted World Capital of Sustainable Food last year, if that means anything.
Or ‘tapes’ as they write it in Catalan, just to be contrary
One of the confusions when it comes to food and Barcelona – and Catalonia in general – is the Castilla/Catalonia thing, which means so little to anyone outside Spain and means everything to anyone inside, especially inside Catalonia, where they’re prepared to go to jail to underline the difference. So, while they can pull off a croqueta to rival anything the rest of Spain can do in Barcelona, you do still think of croquetas in general as Spanish. Same with tortilla española. Though tomato bread is definitely Catalan, pa amb tomáquet, it’s even written in Catalan. Besides there’s more to Catalan food than tapas. Or ‘tapes’ as they write it in Catalan, just to be contrary.
One hotel that’s trying not only to clear up this confusion but put Barcelona on the map when it comes to gastronomy is the all-new, all-delicious Almanac, on Gran Vía, a few paces from the Gaudí-tiled, Gaudí-building-lined Passeig de Grácia (that’s Catalan!) Paseo de Gracia if you insist on Español, or Castellá as they call it round here.
Slap bang where you want it to be, with the beach and the port (and Soho House!) walkable in one direction, the Gothic Quarter in the slightly to-the-right same direction and the Ramblas, if anyone still needs Ramblas, just a little to the right of that, the five-star boutique – but big boutique – Almanac has re-purposed a grand old Eixample (Ensanche in Spanish, the grid-system bit of Barcelona) building and added a modern chunk to it. Upstairs in the rooms of this modern chunk, you get the choice of a room – beautiful, wood-lined, vaguely mid-century mod – with a balcony or a room with a cube out over the street where the balcony would be. Tough one. Nice air-conditioned loveliness or outside. It’s your choice, you make it. Oh and look, there’s one of those Gaudí tiles in a frame!
Downstairs in Virens, the main restaurant, the first sign that they know what they’re doing is that they don’t wince when you mention you’re vegan. They even call themselves ‘plant forward’. Unheard of! I’ve lived in… let’s just call it the Iberian Peninsula for years over the decades and it’s always been the case that if you mention you’re vegan you’ll get an omelette maybe with some very finely sliced ham to go with it. The one time I stayed with a friend’s family, I sat his mum down and explained that I didn’t eat fish, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese or ‘carne’, which is meat, literally flesh… So I got liver! Such a treat for a vegan!
Well, not here, where Michelin-starred chef Rodriguo de la Calle is calling the shots. Here, even a fairly casual meal was designed to be ‘inclusive’, which means it can all be turned in the right direction whether you’re carnivore, fish-eating, vegetarian or vegan. And we love a pivot. ….
The hotel has also struck a partnership with Torelló, a vineyard a forty-minute drive from town, where not content with producing Cava – Catalan, not Spanish – they are forging ahead with a whole new type of sparkling wine, because they thought the quality threshold should be higher. Yes, higher and never mind there are some excellent cavas out there. Take a tour of the vineyard, see the cellars and the old presses and the new presses then tuck into some of that Corpinnat. You’ll be sold. In fact, the more we drank, the more sold we were.
Another thing they’ll do at the Almanac as part of their campaign to convince you of Catalan gastronomy is hook you up with a local foodie, who’ll help you discover a bunch of venues signed off by Sr. de la Calle where you’ll discover turrón, you know that gorgeous nougat stuff that’s so big here (and in Castilla), taste local olive oils and visit food markets that are literally world class. The Boquería off the Ramblas has to be seen to be believed, a huge cathedral of a covered market that not only sells meats and fishes and vegetables, the quality of which you will have never seen before, but also serves them up at little counters and pop-up prop-up restaurants amid the hustle and bustle and shouting.
There’s also Santa Caterina, apparently older but which has had such a funky make-over with its multi-coloured camouflage-tiled roof that it seems even fresher than the produce. It’s here you need to come for seasonal delicacies like calçots, a particularly Catalan ceremony of a vegetable somewhere between a spring onion and a baby leek that you dip in Romesco sauce, tilt your head back… and get all down you. There’s also La Veganeria, a stall which has everything – Spanish, Catalan – in vegan form, from chorizos to quesos.
But if you get this far downtown, you’re laughing as far as gastronomy is concerned. The area around Carrer (Calle) Montcada, where the Picasso Museum finds itself, is loaded with ancient groceries and tapas bars including Vila Viniteca, a foodie paradise where you can sit in and try the wines and hams and the chorizos and – for we vegans and perhaps my favourite thing in the world – white asparagus out of a jar. Even committed carnivores were dipping into that as carnivores often do after haranguing you over why anyone would be a vegan.
But you’ll be itching to get back to Almanac, especially seeing as it has a cute little rooftop pool and bar with views up to the Sagrada Familia and down to the sea, where they serve nibbles. Think we’ve had enough for one day though, so just a glass of Corpinnat for us. C
Almanac Barcelona, Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 619, 621, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 930 18 70 00; almanachotels.com