Not quite a snack, not quite a meal, the tapa is all about sociability, whether that involves ordering a parade of little dishes to share over a bottle of wine and a long chat or whether your objective is a much more civilised version of the bar crawl.
Catalans have never really embraced the tradition in the way that the rest of the country has, but if you know where to go, you can tapear till you drop.
Recently moved from one side of the road to the other, Bar Celta (Carrer de Simó Oller 3) has kept its bright, rambunctious feel and modest but warm decor. It specialises in all things Galician, and the house dish is pulpo a feira – octopus served on a wooden board and sprinkled with paprika – though most every other kind of sea creature is also available. Take a seat at the bar, order a bottle of Ribeiro – here served the traditional way, in little white ceramic bowls – and tuck in.
La Plata basically does two dishes – a plate of fried sardines or a tasty tomato salad – but the queues sprawling out on to the pavement are testament to how well it does them. A proper slice of old-time Barcelona, with barrels on the wall, marble tables and brightly coloured tiling, it makes a good stop pre- or post a trip to the nearby Bar Celta.
Bar Centric (Carrer de Ramelleres 27) is a handsome old bar, recently taken over and spruced up while retaining its touches of yesteryear – low beams, an antique wooden fridge, a chequered floor. The tapas are a cut above and run from ‘vermouth’ (those that you would eat mid-morning with your traditional glass of vermouth), which include patatas bravas, fresh anchovies, cockles and Russian salad, to more outré dishes, such as mussels with coconut milk, chilli and coriander.
A welcome new addition to the barrio, Bormuth is never less than lively. Chunky wooden tables, candles, friendly waiters and a funky soundtrack keep them coming, along with some familiar and less familiar tapas. Try the ventresca (tuna belly) salad with tomatoes and onions, the aubergine chips drizzled in a honeyed sauce and the morcilla (blood sausage) with chargrilled red pepper.
El Vaso de Oro
A long, skinny bar, rammed at peak hours with a cheerful stein-clinking crowd jostling to get their tapa orders heard. The favourite dish is the dados (cubes) of juicy solomillo, with the deliciously rich sautéed foie coming a close second. Beer is also a speciality, and the nautical-jacketed barmen take a pride in how well it is kept and pulled.
La Cova Fumada
A little gem of yesterday’s Barceloneta – crammed, noisy, steamy and with food to die for. It’s a family-run place and only open until 4pm, though in reality it’s best to get there by 1pm for any chance of a table. The humble setting gives no clue as to how good the food is – the sardines, chickpeas with black pudding, grilled artichokes are all recommended, and the spicy potato bomba is a must.
Its largely tourist clientele makes it easy to be sniffy about the Cerveseria Catalana, but its tapas are consistently good, with a huge variety. It’s a barn-like place, run with military efficiency by a fleet of walkie-talkie bearing waiters carrying trays of montaditos (bitesize tapas sitting on slices of French bread). Be warned that the range is a bit more limited outside meal times.
De Tapa Madre
A few tiny tables line the window of this crowded and chatty tapas bar, but you’ll need to head upstairs, or deeper inside past the bench with the ham legs, for more space. Up here is the gallery, which hovers above the array of tapas on the bar below. The arròs caldós amb llagostins (a hearty rice dish with king prawns) is especially delicious.
Carles Abellan, master of Comerç 24 in La Ribera, runs this basement tapas haven known for its gourmet versions of old faves. Specials include the bikini (toasted ham and cheese sandwich – here the ham is cured and the truffle makes all the difference) and arròs negre de sípia (squid-ink black rice). The McFoie-Burger is fantastic, and, for dessert, choose xocolata amb pa, sal i oil (balls of chocolate in olive oil with a touch of salt and wafer). You can’t book, but it’s worth the wait.
Bar Bodega Quimet
A remnant from a bygone age, Bar Bodega Quimet (Carrer de Vic 23) is a delightfully warm and atmospheric bar, with barrels on the walls, marble tables and a burnished wooden bar. The list of tapas and seafood is almost exhaustive, while another house speciality is torrades – huge slabs of toasted white bread topped with cured meats, fresh anchovies and sardines every which way. In summer they’ll served you a refreshing glass of chilled gazpacho.
One of the more recent ventures from the unstoppable Adrià brothers, Bodega 1900 mimics an old-school look but gives its tapas a creative twist – witness, for example, the ‘spherified’ olive, a dish born in the outlandish kitchen of Ferran Adrià’s mythical El Bulli, now closed. It calls itself a ‘vermutería’ and you’ll find vermouth in many of the dishes, particularly the desserts. Try the mandarin and vermouth sorbet for a tangy finish.
Quimet i Quimet
Quimet i Quimet is a family-run business that has been passed down from generation to generation. There’s barely space to swing a squid in this bottle-lined, standing-room only, place, but it is a treat for the palate, with montaditos (tapas on a slice of bread) made to order. Let the folk behind the bar advise you, and order a drop of fine wine to accompany the food. If you’re brave enough, they also specialise in ‘conservas’, seafood preserved in tins. You’ll see it stacked high behind the bar.