When I told people I was traveling Barcelona for a quick vacation in November, the reaction was very similar – a sharp intake of breath, a purse of the lips and a quizzical “Is it a good time to go?”
And you know they didn’t mean the weather.
If you know me, you know that I can sometimes be slow on the uptake. So it took me until well into my (ahem) 40s and my traveling life to visit Barcelona(and of course I had to visit during one of the most turbulent periods in the city’s recent history!). A serious omission on my part. The people. The location on the Mediterranean. The culture. And of course, the food.
It’s hard to whittle down a week’s worth of excellent food and unforgettable experiences to just five meals. But these are the dishes that I keep coming back to…
Tapas at El Quim de la Boqueria
It’s basically a counter in the city’s heaving central market, but a seat here is one of the hottest tickets in town. Serving up tapas and heavier dishes from breakfast through to dinner, the menu ranges from the predictable (calamari, patatas bravas) through to the more challenging (baby squid with fried eggs, caramelized foie gras and Korean style pork belly). Brave the crowds and the wait, this place is worth it.
Lobster Eggs Benedict at Brunch and Cake
Take a walk on the hipster side of the street and check out the Eixample branch of this chain for massive plates of breakfast for lunch style food. The lobster eggs benedict comes with chunks of lobster and prawns, a rich hollandaise and purple potato chips. Hustle for a seat at the communal table, order a beetroot latte (tastes better than it sounds) and give your order to the man-bunned server. This is a must visit (if only for the insta!)
I am not one to seek out Michelin Star restaurants, but the seafood-focused 10 course tasting menu at this restaurant was hard to resist (also, it was in my hotel). A bright and airy dining room and a menu devoted to the freshest of produce, this place is unpretentious and even charming. One of the highlights of the menu for me was wafer thin ribbons of sea cucumbers served with a “carbonara” sauce, and the razor clams (seriously, where have these sweet morsels been all my life?).
You can’t leave Barcelona without at least one meal of paella. 7 Portes is the THE place to try the legendary rice dish – studded with fresh lobster, squid and prawns, it had the right “crunch” on the base to denote its authenticity. I had mine with a squeeze of lemon, a pitcher of sangria and a big serving of people watching.
The is no dish that personifies tapas to me more than patatas bravas. But not all patatas bravas are created equal. This version at the small bar in the Born area of Barcelona has the right amount of crunch to sauce ratio. The sauce was just the right side of spicy (probably the spiciest dish I ate in Barcelona all week).
Barcelona – The Essentials
Getting there: Qatar Airways flies direct to Barcelona and uses its sleek and sexy 787.
Stay: I stayed at two fabulous hotels in Barcelona. The Mandarin Oriental is located just off Las Ramblas and is luxury personified. With just 120 rooms, the hotel is wonderfully personal. The rooms are plush but chic – I had a terrace room which overlooked a courtyard and the hotel is close to shops, sites and restaurants. For a completely different experience, you can also try the beach-side Hotel Arts. A Ritz Carlton property, you can expect their trademark quality service. Book a Club Room for access to their spectacular Club Floor (floor to ceiling windows and five food presentations a day).
Must Visit: Foodies should make a beeline to the La Boqueria Food Market. While sometimes touristy, locals still head there for their daily shop and of course, the food counters!
Insider’s Tip: I was given a great introduction to the food and history of the city by the Devour Barcelona team. Their tours are informative, fun and delicious. Check out their tapas and wine tour – 10 wines and six bites (sooo good).