The purists believe that a true “tapa” is a collective way of eating, whose very essence depends on the “verticality” of the eaters: in other words, this mini-agape, decidedly informal in nature, is a ritual that must be undertaken while standing up. The aesthetics of this ritual – il tapeo – is commonly agreed to centre around a kind of indifference towards the table and even certain nonchalance towards the food, which of course should be delicious and refined, but consumed in tiny portions.
The Spanish verb to eat, "comer", should be substituted with picar which means “to pick” or “to nibble”. The priority is on the gesture itself and the companionship. Any display of gluttony is shunned, and art of nourishing oneself in public, while standing, is almost sacred.
And yet, there’s an exception: as opposed to the rest of Spain, the tradition in Barcelona is to consume tapas, purposefully and willingly, seated at a table. Starting in the late ‘90s, many chefs in Barcelona have applied their creative talents to the elaboration of tapas, taking inspiration from the essential characteristics of these “tasty bites” and reinterpreting them in a unique way. Following is an up-to-date list of some of the city’s tapas restaurants and barssome that are guaranteed to give any customer a memorable tapas experience.
Opened in March, one of the latest projects from the ingenious mind of Ferran Adrià, which is, unsurprisingly, already in the spotlight and generating a great deal of buzz. This is not only a modern tapas bar, which he opened together with his brother Albert, but a place where customers are encouraged to revisit their childhoods. The circus-themed décor is a delightful, unexpected surprise and yet utterly appropriate: like the marvels that reveal themselves under a big-top tent, here the amazing feats are culinary in nature, with a wide variety of flavourful attractions ranging from the dazzling range of Iberian cold cuts and salumi – starring the world-famous Joselito ham – and proceeding all the way to the sweeter nibbles and the final bites.
For the most complete experience, diners should try as many of the dishes as possible. The delicate “tapas dance” could start off with a – fried fish and spiced tomato tartar – and perhaps white tuna with sea urchin and a particular pan aéreo de manzana verdemade with dehydrated meringue. Move from the sea to the land with smoked “al dente” artichokes with a crunchy prosciutto dust and mint peas.
Little pastries filled with crema catalane and an intense orange givrée are the perfect finish. Worth mentioning is their unpasteurised Damm beer, which is without any carbonation and pleasingly consistent and doughy. Costing, on average, around 50 euros per person, this is one experience no fine dining lover should miss.
Tickets Tapas Bar Avinguda Parallel, 164 Barcelona Tel. +34 932 92 42 50, Website Tickets Tapas Bar
Remaining in the area of the Ciudad Condal, and once again in the presence of a chef who’s been devoting his talents to the tapas renaissance for around a decade, Carles Abellán now oversees four different restaurants in the city, of which Comerç 24;is his particular pride and joy.
While these modern, emblematic offerings have earned him a Michelin star, they are lacking in any excessive extravagance or pretension – like his tapas à la minute served in tin containers that evoke the concept of homemade preserves, an integral part of traditional cooking.
Sardines marinated with blood orange, wasabi and carquiñolis, a kind of sweet, toasted almond bread is a highlight of his “Festival” menu, and is described by the chef as «A simple dish of mixed contrasts: no aesthetic distractions and the freshness of the fish is guaranteed because I choose my sources independently.»
Among the sweeter options, there’s bread with chocolate, oil and salt – a variation on the flavours that hark back to childhood and which have been re-created with a 70% cocoa ganache, Maldon salt crystals to add bite, and then the smoothing effect of extra-virgin olive oil.
LOLITA TAPAS BAR
The heir to Inopia, the bar he co-fonded with Albert Adrià, Joan Martínez’s Lolita Tapas Bar;offers perhaps the most typically regional representation of Spain as a whole, and he does it with an entertaining spirit and expert hand.
Anchovies, mussels, patatas bravas, the familiar and longstanding croquetas de jamón (croquettes of ham) are as tempting as ever with superbly fresh ingredients and masterful execution. Creamy and crunchy, Martinez explains the secret to his croquetas: «What makes them outstanding is that we use an excellent ham broth and add a touch of fresh cream to our béchamel».
Martinez serves his joantonics to a numerous, loyal and varied clientele that includes both celebrities and “regular” folks, gourmands, hungry foodies, or local residents who want to give tripe another chance.
And the name: why Lolita? «It has to do with the expression tía Dolores, which is how we describe a hangover» answers Martinez. And so it’s no wonder that at 11:30pm, becomes a touch more naughty, with music and cocktails in abundance well into the late night hours. Magic is served!