B'FST, Barcelona styley

Friday, 25 January 2013

Right, so it's fairly obvious that 3 days in Barcelona was never going to be enough. It was our first destination in Spain and already a favourite. So, harking back to one of my first entries on Melbourne back in 2011 (I'm getting on!) I've decided to continue the "B'FST styley" tradition. Here I'm sharing with you some of the cafés in fair Barça that I've pencilled into my address book (& you should too):

Cornelia and Co.

Calle Valencia 225, 08007 Barcelona

Okay, so I got a little help (from my friends), with a stellar recommendation from the Wallpaper* City Guide Barcelona (highly recommended). This café-food store is very reminiscent of Jones the Grocer in Sydney and Dean & DeLuca in the States (on which Cornelia and Co. is apparently modelled on). Inside the double shop front is a bona fide foodie heaven: spacious shared tables, a deli, cake cabinet and fromagerie - all to ogle whilst you sip your coffee, waiting for your pastry.

Show and tell: one of the window displays, they call themselves the "Daily Picnic Store" with good reason.

You only need step through the doors to feel an instant 'calm' settle over you. Barcelona has nothing on the bustle of New York and London but I'm always looking for a place that suits my 'lady of leisure' sensibilities. Cornelia gets a big tick!

The ham display. Basically a pre-requisite if you want any cred at all around here. Even better if you have an employee stationed here, carving it all day. There are plenty of nibblies you can pick up before heading off on a day trip (but why would you want to leave?!) or picnic lunch at Parc Güell. Right next to  this display is a unit full of homewares including some copper pots...*drool*

Looks can be deceiving. As you probably know, I am notorious for my high standards in coffee and I have to be honest, this coffee fell way short. I think the concept of coffee in Spain is entirely different to their Italian neighbours. Mostly hot water, the milk ratio was all wrong. The coffee had an unpleasant bitterness and there was too much foam. Oh you fusspot. 

Again we met some linguistic obstacles - however we managed to get our hands on english menus. I ordered a 'set menu' for breakfast consisting of a coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and a lovely sandwich. Check this out:

Definitely a picnic lunch sort of an affair, but it would be rude not to give it a go. Here was my sandwich with Iberian ham, tomato & brie (surprising they took a French cheese here!). It was a bit of a shock to the system, but this kind of calorie munching puts you in good stead for a full day of sight-seeing/taste-testing your way around Barcelona. Totally.
In search of some kind of dietary balance, we added a plate of fruit to the order which was delicious and fresh. I can't imagine where they'd be sourcing papaya and pineapple from (I was thinking S. America?) but it was yum nonetheless.

Cacao Sampaka

Carrer del Consell de Cent 292, 08007 Barcelona

This is a little kept secret, across the world in fact with Cacao Sampaka's sprouting clones in Saudi Arabia, Lisbon and Tokyo. Founded and co-owned by Albert Adría, Ferran's younger brother (boy are these guys running amuck!) this is a Temple for Chocolate; to which I have come to worship. Damn.

Just for kicks, he wanted a cacao tree in the café - and so there was. The interior feels lovely and modern and the cafe is tucked in the back, nice & cosy.

The smell of chocolate wafting through the shop as you walk through is simple divine, even at 9:30 in the morning (mind you, the rest of the country is fast asleep). In the shop you'll find every possible variety/flavoured chocolate you could think of. It is Mecca (I am possibly the least religious person I know, and yet I call on it when I think of this place!).

This ain't no joke, this hot chocolate or 'Chocolate' as they simply call it is flippin' amazing. I'm excited just writing about it, I mean seriously. This is the Azteca chocolate, about 80% cacao & delicately spiced.
The hot chocolate was such a win, it was essentially 'just' melted chocolate (who needs milk when it's this good?) and super high quality. My crispy croissant was made for dippin'. Here was one happy camper!


Carrer Petritxol 2, 08002 Barcelona

One thing that you come to understand in Spain is the heritage of some their eating/drinking establishments. It is quite common for the year that they opened to be proudly shown right under the restaurant's name. I think that makes it even more special, often they have been passed down from generation to generation, sharing precious recipes to be shared with their loyal customers. I came from halfway across the globe to sample ;)

Okay their website might be a bit old school, but hey they are over 80 years old!! Since 1930, the Mach family have been serving chocolate y churros here. They certainly deserve praise for that achievement alone, in an age of constant openings/closures at a pace that I even struggle with. Taking their name from a female character from Don Quixote and meaning 'sweet' the house specialty is...well, you know.

The chocolate was hyped and though it looks the part, it wasn't exactly what I'd expected. It was rather thick, almost gloomy and not as chocolatey as I would have liked. I'm not painting a pretty picture here am I but that's what I reckon. I find the Sampaka version much more to my taste.
Inside, you can feel the history emanating from the walls. We were whisked up the creaking stairs to our table overlooking the ground floor. It is actually quite spacious, allowing for the organized chaos to take place. Waiters bustle with trays full of orders and there was a lot of chatter from the full house (I can only imagine this is normal, perhaps even quiet for them). Then churros and chocolate hit the table like rapid fire!

The churros on the other hand were quite nice, I say this - not being a 'churros expert' or anything. They were crispy as a.k.a. FRIED, but not oily. The light dusting of sugar was perfect and the dipping factor a bonus! Chocolate y churros was like is a national past time. Whenever, wherever chocolate & churros is always on the cards. Amongst us were families of 6 or 7, couples looking for a sugar hit and us - the (token) tourists!

There is one other place that has been recommended by the Barcelona guide by the Tourism Bureau called La Pallaresa. Conveniently, it is located on the same street as Dulcinea (C/ Petritxol 11). Be warned, there were queues down the street for this one (all Spaniards too which is a good sign). So if you are so inclined you can do a 'Chocolate y Churros' crawl all the way into a food coma. Hello diabetes!

Thanks for reading gang!
x Gourmand

TICKETS: La Vida Tapa

Sunday, 13 January 2013

When Ferran Adrià announced the closure of El Bulli two years ago, I don't think I was alone in feeling I was missing out. No doubt I was! Tickets, his venture in Barcelona along with brother Albert would go some way to fill the culinary void. Yes, it is totally geared for tourists, especially dining so early in the evening (amateurs) but I just couldn't refuse.

Dining at such an early hour (7:30) by Spanish standards, was perfect for me to sneak a pic in. I thought the bright orbs hanging around the place were rather neat

Tickets is the tapas bar and adjoins bar 41° where you can have a pre-dinner tipple. The first things that you'll notice about the place are the vibrant interiors. Everything about it lends itself to a festive, circus-going atmosphere which you have been invited to attend (by booking online precisely 2 months prior!). You are even welcomed by the 'Ringmaster' (read: maître d') wearing a gold embroidered, red coat. The heavy presence of coloured tiles, a tribute to more traditional Spanish stylings (they really do love a good tile here). 

Excuse the blur, but I couldn't leave this one out - dodgy as it may be! The Iberico ham, displayed on its stand right next to our table. I LOVED when the chefs would come out and carve it right in front of us. The ham is left there all the time, uncovered. Imagine the fat content! WaH!

Sat at a banquet table by the window, we were able to admire the place and of course had a view of the kitchen (so me). At each place setting was a share plate, but also a set of tweezers which I thought was quirky. Not knowing when or how to use them when feeding oneself I often resorted to using my fingers, but I'm okay with that. Faced with the lengthiest tapas menu I had ever seen, in Catalan we were somewhat at a loss. And surrendered ourselves to the whim of our waiter, the affectionately known "Special suggestion". In doing so we traversed the menu several times over and before we knew had chowed down on 19 (!) different tapas, in the quickest succession. We were trying our darndest to keep up in order to comprehend the next dish (spoken in lispy Catalan). It was like a tornado. What just happened?! 

Here's the pictorial checklist of some of the highlights:

The charity Tickets' olives. An Adrià classic appropriated from the kitchens of El Bulli. Only seven (!) Andalucían olives are used to make each sphere. You can't even imagine how intense that olive flavour was, incredible. A must to start. For each jar of olives sold, a donation is made to El Casal dels Infants, an initiative helping young people in need.

Seasonal seaweed tempura with its vinaigrette jus. With local produce they have made a Japanese inspired snack that is utterly addictive. The tempura batter is so light.

Mini airbags stuffed with manchego cheese. Warning: if you are lactose intolerant, you better say so! These unassuming fried parcels were filled with molten manchego cheese. Pungent but delicious in that serving size.

Slightly spicy tuna belly cone with lime zest. This one was unbelievably pretty, delicious, everything. The freshness of the tuna here was paramount and the flying fish roe tops it all off. Massive tick.
Being such a fan-girl of artichokes (crazy person), I knew they couldn't go wrong with this dish. Slightly heavy on the cheese, giving it an extra richness the artichoke hearts were cooked so well. I probably ate most of this one. Teehee!

Avocado cannelloni with crab and cream sauce. Ah! This was so divine, we had to divide it to the millimetre when the waiter told us there was crab involved. Perfectly rolled, the avocado was the perfect accompaniment to the creaminess of the crab. Sesame seeds in the mix are a perfectly suited aromat.

So good they should be illegal, oysters with sherry vinegar, tarragon and olive oil caviar (nice molecular touch). Props to the chef these were the best oysters ever. So fresh they really need nothing done to them except to be shucked. That vinegar gives you a little kick and left us smiling even wider.

On a custom designed plate sit the gorgeous razor clams in escabeche, saffron pearls and soy sauce shards. Scarcely seen in Australia, they are adorable to see sold in the markets, in cute little netted baggies. These were really yummy with the saltiness from the soy. The texture is much firmer than most other shellfish but still tender. 

It was a big ask but we couldn't help compare this to the oysters we had just eaten. Oysters with its pearl and sea lettuce water. Up to his usual tricks, the pearl was edible and bursts in the mouth with sea-saltiness. Though it looks a treat, I found this one rather salty. It needed lemon or some other tang, but I'll just shut up now.

Staring at that bloody Iberico ham all night, I was busting to try some of it! We finally had our chance: confit potatoes with pork rib jus and boiled iberian ham. Delicately shaved slices of ham on a bed of soft potato, topped with pimentón. This ham was exquisite - literally melt in the mouth. A ham to remember, let me tell you (can't believe I just wrote that).

Pretty much the greatest taco ever, the new stylings of the 'mollette with double chin'. The suckling pig filling was so lush.  You know what I mean.
In case you hadn't already, you should probably be renouncing vegetarianism about now. 

Cheesecake with lemongrass sorbet. It took us the longest time to figure out what the sorbet flavour was, but it was so good! The cheesecake, disguised as a fruit had a lovely delicate cheese flavour. It's all about the cake's density or lack thereof. The amount of crumb was just enough.

Et finalement chocolate cake (tribute to Antoni Escribà). A nod to schmancy Michelin starred plating, the chocolate twigs are a familiar and welcome sight. The cake was more a light mousse disguised in cake form. Light in texture and of   DARK chocolate it was an obvious winner. The young strawberries provided a nice contrast. On the table next to us, a couple had ordered the cotton candy tree, literally fairy floss adorning a branch (let's hope it's a clean one). So adorable, like something from Alice in Wonderland.

By the end of the evening we were royally stuffed. We eventually had to pull the plug as we were eating our fill. No, OUR FILL. After demolishing 19 tapas plates we needed a good hour of rest and to process the delicacies we had just eaten. Though on the pricier side, Tickets is definitely an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my days. The seafood tapas here are a triumph and is a testament to Adrià and his team. I wouldn't expect any less from such a world class chef and master of Catalan cuisine. The execution of each dish, 'tiny' as they may be is so perfect it leaves you wanting more. And boy did we indulge! Roll up!

Signed, sealed, delivered! I so wanted to take a pair home with me!

Thanks for reading!
Love, Gourmand.

Snapshot: Iglesia Convento de la Merced

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

You know with a title like that, I'm not writing about home (Aus)! Feliz año nuevo (Happy New Year)! I arrived back from my Spanish odyssey 3 days ago, jet lagged and delighted. And being such a sweltering day today, is just the icing on the cake (coming from 2 degree temps in some towns). Spain is such a culturally rich and varied country, I have loads to share with you. So buckle up and enjoy the piccies!

Today, I'm writing about the basilica in Ronda. A small town in the Andalucia region, 2 hours train ride out from Cordoba. A cathedral you say? Well yes, but stick with me a second! This place and town got some air time in Jamie Oliver's show Jamie Does... a few years back. In the Spain episode, he paid a visit to Ronda (the only 'white town' accessible by train). During his time there he went to this very cathedral and shared a lovely and cute foodie experience. I followed in his footsteps...

Frontage: Iglesio Convento de la Merced. We were stoked to get a blue sky day. The palm trees really give it a summery feel, even in the middle of winter!

Around the side of the main church (to the left when facing the front), there is a side entrance where nuns of the Carmelite order sell biscuits and pastries that they have made, with TLC. Apparently, this is quite a common practice in the area, and I find it intriguing! Nuns need to make a buck too! 

The shop display, a window shows what you are able to order and the revolving wooden 'window' (in fact, fully covered at all times but more on that in a sec)

Being complete novices in the practice of convent biscuit pur-chasing (and Spanish for that matter), we were lucky to have a local couple in front of us so we could see how it was done. Much to our horror, quite a long banter in Spanish went on as the order was placed with what biscuits, the quantities and the payment total and you can't see who you are talking to. Apparently, they are an Order that choose not to show their faces...PANIC! In this instance, we wouldn't be able to point, use finger numbers or act out what we wanted. Double frick!

Magdalena, anyone? Sort of like sweet muffins with a generous dusting of sugar on top. Yum!

Lucky for us, the couple ahead of us did the introductions for us to the nun, so she wouldn't abandon her post by the window, leaving us floundering. This is roughly how the exchange went:

Us: "Hola...English?"
Nun: "No!" Sounded pretty good to me, but not a promising start :S
U: "Uno pastas teresitas eeeee...(how do they say um?) uno tortas de la virgen por favore" I'm pretty sure that was a complete abomination of Spanish grammar and all that but I've never learnt before! Ask me for french and I'd be a touch better
N: Proceeded to ask us in fairly rapid Spanish whether we wanted 1/4 or 1/2 a kilo. Uh oh, FAIL
U: "Si, si, si"  On tenterhooks
N: Tells us the total and disappears off for a moment 
U: Place money (who knows how much it was?) on turntable and begin to spin it around and voilà! Our two baggies of biscuits appear. "Gracias, mucho gracias!!!!" Like some miracle, we did it!
N: "Mucho gracias, adiós" 
All: Much laughter all round, the relief!

And here we are :D

A pastas teresita. These were deliciously addictive. I believe an almond shortbread type of biscuit, that is lovely and crumbly. Believe or not, I haven't bitten into this one yet :P They came in all sorts of weird and wacky shapes in the bag

What felt like a mini victory was properly affirmed when we tasted these little beauties! The tortas de la virgen where thin, crispy discs dusted with sesame seeds, sugar and had a lovely aniseedy flavour. Very different to anything at home :) This was a completely memorable experience. Somehow we bumbled through and it definitely paid dividends!

What. a. view. This was the main event, the bridge crossing the 100m gorge that Ronda is famous for. Shame about the massive diagonal shadow cast but nevertheless a feast for the eyes!

Thanks for reading, I'll post some more soon! xo


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