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Big Fish

The essentials

Prime-time for dinner reservations is 10pm. Any sooner, and you’ll be done with your coffees before the bars open at midnight; much later, and you’ll still feel bloated by the time it’s time to show off your hard gym work in the clubs.

Late dinners translate into late lunches, between 2-4pm, or you’ll be starving late afternoon. Set price lunch menus are offered on workdays in most restaurants and, priced at EUR 10-15, including three courses and a glass of wine, these represent great value. If you’re reigning in your spend, this is the wrong place to save.

Tipping

Tipping is modest and locals will usually leave around 5% and never more than EUR 10, even for a big group. Note, however, that tips should always be left in cash (gratuities can’t just be added to credit card slip), so always bring some change.

Haute cuisine

Barcelona is home to fifteen Michelin-starred restaurants within its city-borders, and that does not include the three-starred El Bulli, Can Fabes or Sant Pau which are only a short drive away, or the other 20-odd eateries in Catalunya that have fallen in favour of the French gourmet inspectors.

These encompass both proponents of traditional French-based gourmet cooking, of which Abac is the finest example, and of molecular gastronomy, the experimental, often foamy, cooking that was pioneered by Ferran Adrià, that is served at places like Carles Abellán’s Comerç 24, Jordi Vila’s Alkimia or Jordi Artal’s Cinc Sentits.

The bistronomics

The latest trend in the local restaurant scene should be a welcome respite for foodies who don’t benefit from a company expense account. Small, with young ambitious chefs, and dedicated to high quality gourmet cooking, but at more affordable prices, the bistronomics are thriving in defiance of, or perhaps thanks to, the lacklustre economy. They solve the low cost-high quality conundrum by keeping costs in check by using primarily local market produce and staff to a minimum (most of the places are owner-operated). The first wave of bistronomics that include Coure, Gresca and Hisop (with a brand new Michelin star), are already established names among local gastrohounds.

Back to basics

Another recent trend among top chefs has been to revisit the traditional dishes of the region, refining them with top quality ingredients and diligent techniques that grandma probably wouldn’t see wort hwhile. Places like Freixa Tradició or Fermi Puig’s Petit Comité are excellent places for this.

Tapas

Almost any bar will have a small tapas menu that will take the top off your hunger, but to make a meal of it, then we recommend a place like Paco Meralgo, La Flauta or Tapería Lolita. Tapas, of course, are not a single dish. Ordering  a selection of the below is a good start, then supplement by pointing at other diners’ plates if something strikes your fancy. Forget the carb-counting and don’t deny yourself these small pleasures.

  • Pá amb tomaquet (pan con tomate): the classic, bread with olive oil and fresh tomato rubbed on top
  • Patatas bravas: Fried potato wedges with 'brava' (spicy) sauce
  • Chipirones: tiny deep-fried squid
  • Chorizo:  Spicy Spanish pork sausage
  • Gambas al ajillo:  Prawns with garlic
  • Chocos:  Battered strips of squid. Often a better bet than the calamares a la romana (squid rings fried in batter)
  • Croquetas: Small fried balls of bechamel with virtually any mixture of food. Don't ask…
  • Jamón serrano: Spanish cured ham. Tastier than any Italian prosciutto
  • Pescaditos fritos: Small deep fried fish. Yes, you can eat the heads
  • Pimientos del padron:  Small green peppers, spicy with rock salt
  • Pulpo a la gallega:  Boiled octopus seasoned with paprika and olive oil
  • Boquerones: Anchovies in vinegar
  • Tortilla: The classic Spanish recipe of potato omelette. Ask for the vegetable kind (e.g., de espinacas) if available

Paella

A good rule of thumb is to never have a paella in a restaurant which has a picture of it on the menu. Variants are fideos (with noodles instead of rice), in which Can Costa excel, and arroz caldoso (with more broth than usual), excellent at Catamarán.

Coffee

Basic java brews come very good in Spain, but go to a Starbucks if you're dying for a non-fat, extra coffee, sugar-free, vanilla Frappuccino. Here you order a solo (single expresso shot), a cortado (expresso with a little milk), a café largo (expresso, made with more water), a café con leche (expresso with lots of milk), a café americano (regular coffee), a cappuccino, or better, a carajillo (with whisky, brandy or Bailey's, of your choosing).

Eye candy

When what’s sitting at the table next to you matters more than what’s sitting on your plate, then the Andilana Group’s restaurants like Flamant or Miu Japonés are usually good bets, with their agreeable decór and prices that are affordable even for destitute Barcelona boys. Other restaurants in Gayxample like Iurantia or gay diner El Berro will also be easy on the wallet if unremarkable for the palate. Outside the ghetto, places in El Born are usually easy on the eye, with Big Fish among our current favourites.