Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a rabbit warren of narrow streets and alleys, lined with small shops and houses, washing strung over balconies to dry in the Mediterranean sun. Every so often, the claustrophobic streets open up into large, open squares, with tables, chairs and a generally continental buzz.
Back in the alleys, there are some excellent little bars tucked away, just small places serving coffee, wine or beer with tapas.
These are the heart of Barcelona’s cuisine.
Yes, the city has an exploding number of top end restaurants, but some of the best cooking and food is to be found in the small tapas bars dotted all over the Gothic Quarter, in the bars and small restaurants in the markets and in the neighborhood restaurants in the northern quarters.
Bar Celta is typical of this type of place. It’s small, unpretentious, friendly and has a fearsome reputation for turning out some first-rate food.
The house specialty is octopus, cooked until tender, the tentacles chopped into thick discs with a pair of scissors then seasoned with coarse sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and paprika.
There’s a lot of seafood on the menu, most prepared in typically Galician ways. We had some beautiful prawns, butterflied, breaded then fried, tender and tasty. Rings of calamari were crisp and delicious, a million miles away from the vaguely fishy tasting rubber bands normally served in Britain.
Chorizo sausage, the best quality, with chunks of pork and fat still visible in the sliced pieces, paprika laden oil smearing the plate, disappeared in seconds, followed swiftly by a clutch of excellent croquetta and a plate of cod fritters. Patatas brava accompanied the lot, crispy potatoes, floury on the inside with a hot sauce confined to one corner so as not to scare the kids.
The idea of tapas appeals to me enormously. Small taster plates – and lots of them – let you try many different things and still feel as if you’ve eaten a decent meal. Above all, though, it’s a fun and engaging way to eat. There’s a novelty to sitting at a bar and choosing your food from the platters laid out in front of you that never really seems to wear off.
One tip – our kids enjoyed the whole experience and tried far more than we expected them to. If you have young children, don’t be afraid to take yours to similar places. They loved sitting on the high bar stools and eating bite-sized chunks of food with toothpicks. As with nearly all restaurants in Spain, the presence of a some young ‘uns was no difficulty at all.
Bar Celta is often spoken of as one of Barcelona’s secrets. It’s an excellent tapas bar, serving some superb food, simply but brilliantly prepared.
The fact that it’s normally packed with Barcelonians should be no surprise at all.