A British take on a Catalonian dish and some Barcelona restaurant recommendations
I’ve just returned from a cheeky week long trip to Madrid and Barcelona, in the first part of this post I’m sharing a recipe inspired by my trip and in the second some worthy restaurant/cafe/tapas bar tips!
On my first night in Barcelona, my friend and I decided not to search for a recommended restaurant, but to just find the first decent place we could, and settle there. We were epically tired having just arrived in the city on a train from Madrid (we’d had very little sleep the night before having spent the weekend at a hen party!), and it was also pouring with rain (huh Spain?) . Our apartment was in the El Born district of Barcelona, a trendy little enclave of very narrow streets and traditional Spanish buildings. We didn’t get far before we landed in a pretty square, and walked into a tapas bar. We sat down, they gave us a menu and we realised we’d made a poor error in judgement. The menu was a bit Brits-in-Spain for my liking, and we (I) made the brave decision to get up and leave before ordering anything. I apologised profusely to my friend for the embarrassment, but this is what happens when you eat with me, I can’t waste a meal on a short holiday! Anyway, we quickly settled on another place called Tantarantana after having a quick glance of the menu outside. As we sat down a waiter in a trendy denim apron, sauntered across the chequered floor to give us our menu. Much better.
Squid is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods, I wish I could put my finger on why. So naturally, we chose a squid dish to add to our plethora of tapas. The simple dish was sautéed squid served with Santa Pau beans (a bit like haricots vert) and asparagus – local & seasonal, si! Such an interesting combo I would never have thought to put together. I could not for the life of me work out what was in the sauce, so I asked the waiter to find out, and he kindly confirmed there was balsamic vinegar. I now definitely had enough knowledge to recreate this at home.
I’ve been thinking about that squid dish ever since I tried it, despite all the other wonderful food I also tried on my travels. There was no doubt, that a recreation had to be the first dish I put on the blog post holiday, with all the memories of Spain fresh in my mind. However, my recreation comes with a British twist. There was no squid available in the fishmongers on the day I visited, so I was offered cuttlefish instead – caught off Cornwall I was assured when I asked. I’ve eaten cuttlefish before (indeed in Spain last week), but not cooked it, so was reassured when the fishmonger kindly confirmed that the cooking process is much the same as squid; cook quickly at high heat, or low and slow.
For the beans I could have used haricots verts or cannellini beans, but decided to use tinned British Fava Beans (from Hodmedods) – Oh how excited I got about my entirely British recreation of a Catalonian dish! Also my first time trying them, and the flavour was really rather good.
This dish cooks in minutes and is best served alongside other tapas dishes, such as ubiquitous patatas bravas (which we tried in about 6 different restaurants over the trip, each one serving them up separately), Padrón peppers (as I have done), anchovies, prawns, jamon, Manchego cheese with Spanish almonds, meatballs, roasted garlic, tomatoes and chorizo, and all other manner of dishes. The Spanish don’t tend to do do veg with their tapas, which is why I always love to have the peppers. It pains me so, but then I’m assured tapas is a treat and not at all how the spanish eat at home.
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 150g asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off and chopped into small pieces
- 400g tin of fava beas, drained and rinsed
- 3-4 cuttlefish (depending on size), cleaned and sliced into strips,
- 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbs chopped parsley
- Olive oil
- Warm 2 tsps of olive oil in a medium frying pan, medium heat, and saute the garlic for a few seconds before adding the asparagus spears (don't let the garlic burn). When the asparagus has softened or charred a little add in the beans, with some salt and pepper and cook through for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the pan and set aside, then and add another 1-2 tsps of olive oil to the pan and turn up the heat. Add the cuttlefish strips and cook for 1-2 minutes, they will become translucent as they cook, and the tentacles will crisp up.
- Now add the bean and asparagus mix back into the pan with the cuttlefish along with the balsamic vinegar. Stir well then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the parsley and take the pan to the table or transfer to a tapas-style dish.
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I quickly discovered that its impossible to take good photos in restaurants in Barcelona, because they are all so dark, even when visited in daylight. Cosy cavernous buildings are great for keeping the heat from the sun at bay, but less for me to capture food memories. So, I made a list anyway and etched the memories in my brain!
If you’re visiting the El Born district I would recommend;
- Tantarantana, Tantarantana 24 – Where we had the above dish, and also the best patatas bravas and aubergine chips.
- Bormuth, Plaça Comercial 1. – Great atmosphere, trendy, lots of aioli on patatas bravas and grilled cuttlefish too.
We also eat in a few other places, which were decent enough, but these two were top notch in terms of atmosphere and food. If only we’d stayed longer, we could visit them all!
We also sought out some healthy food eateries to try in other places across the city for daytime eating;
- Green & Berry, Carrer d’Enric Granados, 153 – A granola, acai bowl, avo toast kind of place (and also next door to a ceramic artist I visited)
- Quinoa, Travessera de Gràcia, 203 – A vegetarian cafe in Gracia, perfect to fill the lack of vegetable void.
- Brunch & Cake, Carrer d’Enric Granados, 19 – (See above). A trendy cafe that had the vibe, but the food for me was a bit wacky. I still can’t quite believe they served granola on the same plate as fruit salad, avo toast, and purple dyed hard boiled eggs (shared on instagram)!
Do you have any Barcelona tips that fit the bill? What would be your perfect tapas combination?