Mixing business with pleasure can be great fun. Especially when you are visiting a new city for work meetings, but you also have a bit of time to explore and find new places. This is how I found myself in Barcelona for two days this week. Unfortunately, my meetings were quite far from the city centre and I didn’t really have much spare time to make my way to the gothic quarter or the centre of town, nor to visit some of the famous sightseeing spots. However, I was staying in the outskirts of the city, close to the Parc Natural de la Serra de Collserola, where I found some really lovely places for walks as well as some tasty food.
My first find was on my first evening in Barcelona when I had a couple of hours in the evening. The weather was miserable so I opted for exploring the neighbourhood instead of heading down to the sea area. I did some searching for suggestions on the internet (usually use Lonely Planet, Google places, Yelp) and I saw people raving about a nearby seafood restaurant.
After a short 15 minute walk, I found La Freiduria De Pauli on a little side street. It was really small, only had about 6 tables and most of them were reserved. Luckily, I had come in just as they had opened so they managed to squeeze me in. The menu was full of various grilled and fried fish and seafood, but there were also some meat and vegetable options, all served in tapas or main courses. It’s no secret that the Spanish know how to cook delicious seafood and being so close to the coast there was no way I was missing out on delicious fresh seafood.
The menu was only in Spanish but the owner’s sister who also works at the restaurant was excellent at finding out what I liked and suggesting options from the menu. At the end, I opted for some of my favourites: gambos (prawns) cooked in olive oil, garlic and chilli – which arrived still sizzling at the table, calamari, fried padron peppers and also some delicious bread to mop up the sauce from the prawns. If you have eaten tapas before, you know that most things are prepared fresh to order and served when ready… so not only was I getting served with dishes that were cooked one by one for me, but as the place was quite wee, I also watched them being prepped. The owner’s sister (head-chef) cooked all the food with ease, while also chatting with me and her brother, serving wine and welcoming more guests.
There is something truly fantastic about the ease with which Spanish food is prepared and cooked, and a great reminder that simple dishes can sometimes bring the most fantastic flavours. Take the ‘gambos’ for example, a few simple ingredients: fresh king prawns, olive oil, garlic, dried chilli pepper and some seasoning and voila – you have one of the best dishes on Earth.
I also took some time to chat with the owner of the restaurant and his sister and it was really nice to see their passion for their family-owned restaurant. The restaurant was more on the expensive side (tapas dishes between 5euro to 15euro) but it is worth it for the fresh and tasty food and the lovely atmosphere. My bill came to 37 euro for 4 tapas, dessert and drinks.
On my second day I had even less time to explore but I met with some colleagues in the evening and we had a walk towards the coast area. We still stuck to walking near our hotel so we didn’t venture too far out. We stopped for a quick bite in El Tomás de Sarrià, a very basic looking tapas bar which, according to Yelp, had the best patatas bravas in Barcelona. There are certain things you just have to eat when in Spain: like garlic and chilli gambos, calamari, padron peppers and patatas bravas with delicious aïolli. Having had the other three recently, I concentrated on eating the only one left on my list.
When we entered Bar Tomas, it was packed with people and ALL of them, and I do mean everyone there, was having the patatas bravas. We ordered a few portions to see what the fuss was about and we were not disappointed. They were messy, fresh, covered in hot chilli oil and delicious, garlicky aïolli just as they should be. I can’t confirm if they are indeed best in the city but they were darn good, and everyone who visited knew it.
It was also really cheap – a portion of patatas bravas was less than 2 euro and most dishes didn’t go above 5 euro. Our bill came to 20 euros for three people, including drinks and a couple of other tapas.
I’m signing off with something a little different. By chance, I met one of the founders and a couple of people from the Spanish NGO NASCO. I wanted to mention this because I heard their story and what they do and it resonated with me, seeing how my day job is in education and I am very passionate about making education more accessible to all. NASCO aim to provide equitable access to educational resources and supporting lifelong learning within a sustainable framework and their initiatives provide stepping stones to opportunity and equality for disadvantaged children in Sub-Saharan Africa. They will be holding some events in Barcelona, including a foodie fundraiser there soon. And if you are not local but interested in their mission of providing computers to 9 million people in Africa, like me, you can also check their website to see how you can get involved.
I hope to come back to Barcelona for a proper exploration, but until then I leave you with my two recommendations of where to eat if you are visiting Barcelona and staying a bit away from the more popular part of town.