Sally Davies, The Daily Telegraph, May 7, 2014
Eternally popular with tour groups, Barcelona has masses of reliable restaurants, but finding venues that are truly special can prove tricky. Here the Telegraph's Barcelona expert Sally Davies presents her guide to the best fine-dining restaurants in the city.
Visitors often ask me where they can get the "elBulli experience" in Barcelona, and the answer is nowhere, but there is certainly a similar kind of alchemy going on at Alkimia, which comes a good second. Its deconstructed, theatrical takes on Catalan standards certainly show Ferran Adrià's influence, and the opening salvo of deconstructed pa amb tomàquet (the traditional bread rubbed with tomato) in a shot glass is just the beginning. Jordi Vilà is a serious chef, with a Michelin star to show it, and his restaurant is not what you'd describe as convivial. Dress smartly and don't let the unsmiling staff stand in the way of enjoying a great meal!
Big Fish, Born
The gorgeous interior by hotshot local designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán at this New York-meets-The-Med fish restaurant features artfully mismatched tables and chairs, Chesterfield sofas, ship figureheads and a cascading mother-of-pearl chandelier. The menu offers a mixture of Mediterranean, Japanese and fusion seafood cuisine, and might include anything from traditional suquet (Catalan seafood stew) to sashimi, udon or ceviche. Grab a table out on the pavement terrace to enjoy the great value set lunch (weekdays only) and a spot of people-watching. There’s a small bar area, where you can enjoy a pre- or post-prandial cocktail as well as occasional DJ sessions, which attract a lively local crowd.
Named for the enormous incense-burner which hangs in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, this is one of the city's top traditional seafood restaurants. The restaurant 's wood-panelled walls, crisp white linen tablecloths, and flotilla of long-aproned waiters make it an elegant and convivial place to dine. The freshest seafood on the market is collected each morning from harbours in Catalunya and Galicia, and served up just hours later. You’ll find no fancy foams here: this is Spanish seafood at its freshest and most traditional. It’s worth ordering the mariscada, a heaped platter containing all manner of delicacies, from percebes, the highly prized Galician barnacles, to razor clams and oysters.
Can Solé, Metro Barceloneta
An excellent paella restaurant that is more upmarket than most in the city, Can Solé also impressive with high levels of service – there can't be many restaurants that provide reading glasses to diners. There are two specialities: paella in various forms, and what is known as "grandmother's spoon food" – steaming hotpots of chickpeas with chorizo, lentil and potato stew, onion soup with a poached egg and Emmental stirred through it, and so on. There is a quiet dining room upstairs, but the best place to sit is downstairs by the open kitchen where you can watch the action.
Cinc Sentits, Eixample
Every accolade has been deservedly heaped on Cinc Sentits and its haute take on Catalan cuisine. To maximise the diner's experience of what chef Jordi Artal can do, these days the restaurant only serves fixed menus – the five-course Essència for €65, the seven-course Sensacions for €79, or, at lunchtimes, the yet more elaborate Gastronòmic for €109. Expect dishes such as pigeon served three ways, including a paper pouch containing 'false rice' made from its thigh, and some table-side theatre. The restaurant is also known for its wine selection, and wine pairings are available for each menu. The Gastronòmic menu is served to only eight diners a day, so be sure to mention that you'd like it when you book.
Set Portes, Barceloneta
An elegant old paella and seafood restaurant, under an arcaded walkway down near the port. It's been around since 1836, and the great and the good to have graced its tables are immortalised in little plaques on the backs of the chairs. Despite its vast size – there are several dining rooms – and history, sympathetic lighting and accommodating waiters make it feel both cosy and friendly, something quite unusual in a restaurant of this stature. The food is excellent, respecting old recipes while occasionally adding a new twist. If you want to indulge, go for the zarzuela – a tasty casserole with lobster.
Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellan describes this little side venture as "classic tapas", but that is only half the picture. Although it's modelled on tapas bars of yesteryear (its glass frontage is painted with menu items and jolly prawns, as those of all good tapas bars used to be) and it does serve Russian salad and ham croquettes, it does them like nobody else. It also has the odd more outré offering – my personal favourite is the McFoie Burger, which is heaven in a minuscule bun. The bar does not take reservations, so it's best to avoid peak times if you can.
Tickets, Poble Sec
First things first – it can be absolute hell to get a table at Tickets, but if you never made it to elBulli and you want a taste of what Ferran Adrià, or, more accurately, his team, can do, then it's worth a shot. The place is a homage to what Avda Paral.lel used to be – a kind of 1950s Broadway – and the theatrical allusions are everywhere. The food is tapas with a difference – a classic such as bread rubbed with tomato and topped with ham, for example, is turned on its head to become an impossibly light stick of bread with the ham coating the outside. Do not plan a trip around a meal at Tickets unless you've secured a table – and even two months in advance it can be tricky to do so.
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