The first time we spent time in Barcelona was on a 10-month backpacking trip in 2002. My first time to Spain, a room somewhere in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and several days traipsing the city; filling up big time on Gaudí-everything and whatever else tourists do in a fab town such as this.
We fell in love with the city and its lifestyle so much that, over cold beers at an al fresco restaurant, we were convinced we’d retire there in years to come.
Second time ’round, some fifteen years later in 2017, our once beloved Barcelona may no longer be on the retirement cards, but it still holds something dear to our hearts.
Home was on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, close to the bustle of Plaça Catalunya and all of the shopping, sights and transport that make this area popular with visitors and the city’s residents.
The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic, in Catalan) is one of the city’s most visited areas, and rightly so because its labyrinth of narrow winding alleys and hidden squares is a delight to get lost in.
Stunning cathedrals with towers and spires that soar skyward, buildings dating back to Roman times, medieval monuments and an incredibly diverse array of shops, boutiques, eateries and bars.
My favourite time to explore Barri Gòtic is in the early morning. As that golden sunlight peeks behind weathered façades and casts shadows across cobbled squares, residents scurry around picking up their morning coffee en route to work.
No work for us, however, as I was navigating the passages to locate our own morning coffee.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Is there anything even down that lane? . . .”
. . . were questions I heard as I led us to Satan’s Coffee Corner.
Forget those commodity blends you see all over the place and focus on the single origin beans that draw punters to this joint. Cold brew, Aeropress, V60, plus your usual espresso-based concoctions.
The menu has a distinct Japanese vibe running though it – think yoghurt with daigakoimo, sesame, dates, hazelnuts & arbequina oil or a chousyoku or kimuchi don breakfast.
I tried to ignore the glazed donuts peering at me from the cabinet and settled on the red bircher with coconut yoghurt, apricot, pistachio and bourbon syrup (5.2).
There’s a second Satan’s outlet inside the Casa Bonay design hotel on Gran Via.
Satan’s Coffee Corner – Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call, 11
Black Remedy Café – Carrer de la Ciutat, 5
Nømad Coffee Lab & Shop – Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt, 43
Another coffee joint worth poking around in Barri Gòtic is Black Remedy for its excellent espresso and slow-cooked and slow-smoked meat sandwiches. Service is very friendly, the fit-out is easy on the eye and it’s somewhere you could easily while away the morning in – especially with their comp wifi.
Five minutes walk away is Nømad Coffee Lab, a spot for all your Third Wave requirements. It’s a small place with that’s very lean on seating, but you’re only there for one thing, after all – a dose of caffeine.
Cathedral of Sant Euialia
La Boqueria – Rambla, 91
Its narrow passages may be frequently clogged with annoying tour groups, but just off La Rambla is La Boqueria, one city icon not to be missed. Your senses are bound to be overloaded at this mecca of food; one of Europe’s oldest marketplaces.
Take in the colours, smells and flavours in multiple rows of fresh produce, sweets, charcuterie, cheeses and much more in this historic foodie paradise.
The barrio in which La Boqueria can be found is called El Raval. It may not match the Gothic Quarter in terms of historic buildings and cute laneways, but it does offer a more edgy, arty, bohemian vibe peppered with small bars, cafés and design stores.
La Monroe – Plaça de Salvador Seguí, 1
The more you head into the barrio, the more you discover; even if much of the area is residential. Places like La Monroe are what make El Raval so appealing. The area is saturated with tapas bars, but this one has an added ‘community feeling’ about it due to being housed in Filmoteca – a bustling Film Archive and cinema.
La Monroe is a social space, with large tables and plenty of room to move – inside or out on the cobbled terrace. Whether it’s a morning coffee, a lusty salad, burger, grilled seafood or a cold beer or afternoon cocktail in the sun, it’s a great spot to kick back and enjoy the chilled vibes.
Not too far from La Boqueria – notice how I use the city’s premier food market as a point of reference? – is another eating institution called Caravelle. These guys seem to do it all. From baking their own cakes, pastries and bread, churning their own ice cream, smoking their own meats, making their own pickles and even delving into craft brewing.
Breakfast is where things were at for this pair of travellers, kicked off with coffee sourced from Nømad. Coconut French toast with cherry curd (9.95) for him and huevos rancheros (9.95) for me. So many other great edibles on the menu too, like the salmon poké bowl, quinoa & ricotta falafels or Turkish eggs.
Huevos rancheros at Caravelle – Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 31
Stepping out of El Raval and across Gran Via you end up in Eixample Esquerra, a barrio that has a very different feel. Things on this side are a tad more high brow, with beautiful manicured streets, big shady trees and plenty of impressive Modernist architecture.
And then you have all of your high end shopping, delightful neighbourhood cafés, chic restaurants and plethora of craft beer joints.
For a great value lunch in this affluent barrio, there’s the ever-popular La Polpa with its €11.35 set lunch menu. Three courses with bread and a small glass of vino in posh, pressed-linen surroundings and professional service by smartly dressed staff.
Each course has several choices – think tuna cannelloni, vitello tonnato or the incredible fried cod with allioli & sanfaina – some of which attract a supplement of a few Euro.
Fried cod at La Polpa – Carrer d’Enric Granados, 69
The Fish and Chips Shop – Carrer de Rocafort, 70
Barcelona is a gastronomic destination without a doubt, and you needn’t spend too much to get a decent feed. Even us budgeted backpackers can find delicious food under €10.
One place definitely worth trying is The Fish and Chips Shop, just in case you want a break from Spanish fare. With three outlets about town you don’t have to travel too far, but the one in El Raval did us just fine.
The fish & chips (8) is what we rocked up for – some absolutely divine chunks of hake in perfect golden crust, and some lightly spiced and deliciously fluffy chips. Vinegar, homemade tartare and mango chutney are also there for any dipping or splashing, and you can cool down with a house vino, imported beer or cocktail as you savour the food.
A few other edibles you can sample are fried padrón peppers, ceviche, tuna & aubergine curry or tempura cocochas – the fleshy underpart of a fish’s jaw, a delicacy of the Basque region.