Barcelona: A Trip of a Lifetime

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First thing first, my apologies for not posting a review for a few months, however, in my defence, I have a very good reason. I have been working tirelessly to make the most from my last few terms of high school, which meant giving food blogging a bit of a rest. Now I have finished school (Woo-hoo!) my mind is focused on one thing, Barcelona (AKA Barna).

Since my first work experience at Urbane at the age of 12, I have wanted to go to Barna. On that evening, Spanish chef Frank Camorra was there to promote his book, “Movida’s Guide to Barcelona” with a Spanish dinner to match. At the end of the night, the then head chef Kym Machin bought me the book and Frank signed it saying;

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“Hope this inspires you to get to Barca!” The book that started it all

Over the next year or so I read the entire book about six times. In the end I could name most tapas bars, the most popular Spanish/Catalan dishes, number of Michelin starred restaurants and every district in Barna. I was well and truly inspired to travel to Barcelona and experience the culture and food that Frank loves so much. It is fair to say, Frank, you were right!

So after a few years of constantly begging my parents to go I was finally given the opportunity, but it came at the expense of something else.

Earlier in my last year of school I agreed with a few of my mates that I would go to ‘schoolies’ with them on the Gold Coast. For those that don’t know what ‘schoolies’ is, it is basically a week or so where you hang out with your mates at an apartment by the beach and get to party, meet new people and have a great time.

Mum may have been a little worried about those few bad experiences that some people can have at ‘schoolies’ and offered me a counter proposal, schoolies or Barcelona, it was too good to refuse: A trip to Barcelona with Dad (Trip code name: PK). I had to break the news to my mates but they fully understood.

During the planning stages, PK and I told my Pop (PK’s father, Trip code name: KB) about our plans and he liked what he heard so much that he asked to tag along with us. We of course said yes and it made it a three-generation boy’s trip.

We then started booking all the important things like flights and accommodation but also restaurants. Another great thing about Barna is that it is a 1-hour train ride from the best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca. However, at the time I sent an email requesting a table, the restaurant sat number 2 on the prestigious San Pellegrino The World’s 50 best restaurants list. I received a reply saying they were unfortunately booked out even though I was requesting a table 11 months in advance! They put me on the waiting list but I didn’t expect a table to free up. So I turned to option number 2, which was another three-Michelin starred restaurant called Sant Pau. Just like El Celler de Can Roca, this restaurant was located just outside of Barna in a town called Sant Pol de Mar, which is up the coast. I was able to secure a booking for the three of us and I was happy that I will be able to try my first ever three-Michelin starred restaurant. One month later, I received an email from El Celler de Can Roca saying that a table has become free and whether I would like to take it. After pleading with PK to keep both reservations, he said if I promise to save up for my share of both restaurants then we could go to both. I accepted the restaurant’s offer and went about earning and saving as much money as I could. A month or so later, the latest San Pellegrino list was published revealing a new number one restaurant: El Celler de Can Roca. Now PK and I could say to everyone, “We will be eating at the best restaurant in the world!”

There were two other Barna restaurants that I needed to book in advance, that being Tickets and Disfrutar. I had heard how hard it was to get a reservation for Tickets and had no success booking there for our first week. Fortunately I was able to grab a booking in the second week. Disfrutar wasn’t too hard as I booked three months ahead.

I decided to email people who I knew had been to Barcelona and ask them what tapas bars were worth visiting. They were all kind in replying with many suggestions. I was able to compile a huge list for the trip. Here it is (lets see how many I can tick off the list):

Coure – at the bar
Quimet y quimet
Els casals
Els tres porquets
La cova fumada
La Pubilla
Granja elena
Matis bar
Cerveceria catalana
Bar del pla
El xampanyet
Bar Canete
Pintoxo bar – in la boqueria
Ca l’isidre

When I thought this trip couldn’t get any better, I asked my best mate Trent (trip code name: T-Rex) also finishing senior and whom I’ve known since Grade 2, whether he would be interested in coming along with us. Incredibly, he was planning an overseas trip of his own and Barna fit into those plans perfectly. Looks like it will be a four-man trip!

So, we will be leaving on the 23rd November, one day after my 17th birthday and three days after I finish school forever. I will be writing about each day while I’m there so come back and check every now and then and see what we get up to. Oh, before I forget to mention, we have tickets to watch FC Barcelona play Real Sociadad at Camp Nou!

Day 1:

We arrived in Barcelona at 12:15 midday to sunny yet quite cold (14 degrees) weather. We were driven to our city apartment in the El Gotic quarter of town and found a lady there to let us in and show us around. Once unpacked we set off to find sim cards, buy some drinks and find a place to eat later that night. We walked along La Rambla, the main tourist street of Barcelona, and soaked up our first catalan adventure.

After a lot of looking we finally found our sim cards and then found Enrique Tomas, a jamon specialty shop where we bought 100g worth of jamon iberico for €12. We then found a relatively cheap alcohol shop where PK and KB purchased some Estrella beer and red wine. Lastly, we bought some bread from an Italian shop downstairs and had it with the jamon in our apartment.

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Later on we went out for dinner at Los Carracoles, which was just outside our apartment.

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This restaurant has been around since 1835 so there were many things to look at inside including photos on the walls and this one room which had these huge wine barrels.

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We ordered anchovies, salted cod, chicken and prawns.

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We weren’t blown away with the food as there wasn’t enough cod in the dish and the chicken was dry. Saying that, the anchovies were quite simple yet tasty and the prawns were quite nice as well.

Look, I wouldn’t be coming back for the food alone but I reckon the atmosphere and historic element of the restaurant is well worth a visit in itself.

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We retreated back to our apartment and slept very well as we barely got any sleep on the 24 hour journey over here.

Day 2

After waking up we walked to La Boqueria, the world famous food market. It is just less than a 5 minute walk away from us so we will be going here a lot over our stay. After a good look around at all the fresh seafood, vegetables, meats, preserved goods, etc we found Pinotxo Bar which was recommended to me by quite a few sources. We sat up at the bench and a lovely old man started serving us. We had a coffee and PK, KB and T-Rex had a fried custard filled pastry which they said was very nice. My eyes were instantly drawn to the mushroom omelettes being made in front of us and the old man, seeing me stare it down, asked if I wanted it in a toasted sandwich. How could I say no? It was a fantastic sandwich with an earthy flavour from the mushrooms, a nice silky texture from the eggs and good crunch from the bread. Perfect!

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We headed home and chilled there for a bit before heading off on a walking tour of the old city where we saw many cathedrals as seen in the following video. After the tour, we set off to find La Cova Fumada, which was recommended to me by Frank Camorra (who calls it The Brown Door). While we were in the Barceloneta part of town we saw the beach for the first time, which is also seen in the video below.

We were following directions through google maps trying to find lunch yet we passed the bar without even seeing it. It has no signage and the only way to tell that it is La Cova Fumada is the huge brown doors (hence Frank’s name for it) and a long line of people. After a 30 minute wait we made our way in and were treated to an array of tapas dishes that our waiter chose. This place is known for being the birthplace of the legendary tapas dish the ‘potato bomba’ and no surprise it was the best dish. Saying that, every other dish was simply outstanding and very fresh and simple. After the bombas we ate toast with aioli, salt cod in a tomato based sauce, baby octopus, calamari, prawns (brain and all) and finally mushrooms, which are currently in season. PK and KB finished off with an espresso mixed with rum, lemon and sugar while I had an espresso by itself.

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We walked back home and decided that for dinner we would eat the produce we bought from the markets in the morning which include two cheeses (stilton and cheddar), some more jamon iberico and fresh bread.

Day 3:

After an early coffee and cronut from a cafe below our Barcelona apartment, we set off to find the Passeig de Gracia train station, which was quite a walk from our apartment. Today we were travelling to Girona on the train, which was about an hour and 20 minute trip northwards. The trip took us through the Barcelona countryside but there were a lot of industrial materials lying along the railway, which was a bit of an eyesore.

We arrived in Girona to 12-degree weather and I proceeded to guide the crew to the Rocambolesc ice-cream shop (I know, ice-creams in 12c weather!). But there was no chance I was going to miss trying Jordi Roca’s ice-cream shop. You see, Jordi is the head pastry chef at the world’s best restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, which PK and I were going to later that day. I decided to order the baked apple ice-cream and let the server choose three toppings that suited that flavour. KB ordered the same but in a cup. As for T-Rex and PK, well they were too cold to get one!

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We then set off to find our apartment, which was quite tough to find. Eventually we got there and oh my, what a location! It was next to the Girona castle, which dates back to before the 1000’s. We were too tired to go exploring so set off to find a quick bite to eat for lunch and have a nap at home in preparation for the huge night ahead of us.

We all ended up falling asleep very quickly and were later awoken by T-Rex letting us know that we will have to leave for dinner very soon! For a while we thought that we would be cutting it close, especially when we couldn’t find the Girona post office where the taxi’s were parked. Eventually we found it and we ended up getting to the restaurant 30 minutes early! Anyway, you can find my full review here!

We came back very late and after a few Instagram posts from the dinner I fell asleep very easily.

Day 4:

After a bit of a sleep in from a late night we set off to explore the medieval castle just around the corner from us. We looked around the cathedral, the huge castle and the Arab Baths. We later found out that some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in the castle! All of our adventure in Girona can be seen in the following video.

 

 

After our walk we made our way back to the train station and travelled back to Barcelona.

Later that night we went out to dinner at Bar Cañete, which was recommended by Suzan, a Barcelona food blogger at Foodie in Barcelona. We found ourselves sitting up at the bar with a great view of the kitchen. We let the waiter bring out some of his favourite dishes, which included a delicious green bean and parmesan salad and crunchy ham croquettes. He then brought out some little fried prawns, which were to be eaten head and all. Lastly we enjoyed a nice little cocotte of boned oxtail in red wine and mashed potato. We left very content with our meal at Cañete and could tick off another restaurant on the list.

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Day 5:

We woke up quite late and had only one thing on our mind: breakfast at Bar Pinotxo. But once we arrived we saw that every bar seat was taken up which made us look for a second option. We ended up at Barcentral which looked like a specialty seafood bar. KB and I ordered the omelete with pardon peppers while PK and T-Rex had a jamon sandwich. It was alright I guess but didn’t compare to the breakfast at Bar Pinotxo. I guess next time we have to get there much earlier!

 

 

Later in the day T-Rex and I went out to find Granja M. Viader for our first taste churros and thich Spanish hot chocolate in Barcelona. This place was again recommended by Suzan from Foodie in Barcelona. I thought that the hot chocolate would be quite dark when I first saw it but it actually wasn’t too rich and went perfectly with the crunchy, hot churros.

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That night we made our way to the Barcelona football stadium called Camp Nou where Barcelona were playing Real Sociadad. This was an amazing match where Barcelona won 4-0 with goals to all three star forwards. Two to Neymar, a great volley to Suarez and in the dying minutes, a goal to “the best player in the world,” Messi. The atmosphere was electric with many happy fans. I actually got the Messi goal on tape but it is very bad quality footage. I’ll put it in here anyway.

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Before heading home we stopped at Bacoa, a gourmet burger restaurant. I had their specialty burger which had many different things in it including smoked bacon, Irish cheddar, Manchego semi-cured cheese, pickles, spicy mustard and caramelized onions. It was a very enjoyable burger after a busy, long, tiring day!

 

Day 6:

Thinking that the La Boqueria markets were on every day we ventured down to find that they were actually closed on Sundays! Desperate to find a coffee we settled on getting one from a very average chain store that I won’t talk about any further.

Anyway with that dilemma over we set off to find El Xampanyet (established in 1929), which was recommended to me by Kate Lethlean, who is the wife of John Lethlean, The Australian food critic. Kate has spent quite a bit of time in Barcelona (her father lives here) and knows a lot of great places to eat so I’m very thankful that she gave us such a big list. Before heading inside the restaurant we made a quick stop over at the Ciutadella park which was lovely and green.

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We arrived at El Xampanyet a little early and found that the doors were closed but were to be opened very soon. A few other locals gathered around us so we knew that we were onto something good. As soon as the doors opened we bolted for a table. We ordered the house cava and then let the waiter choose the dishes for us. He split our meal into two: Cold and Hot. From the cold section we ate bread with tomato and olive oil, marinated anchovies, tuna, potatoes filled with meat, marinated bell peppers and jamon iberico. Next came the hot food, which included octopus, tortilla, grilled pork with peppers, chickpeas with prawns and even more tomato and olive oil bread. While it was our most expensive tapas meal we thoroughly enjoyed the food, the busy atmosphere and the fantastic service. I would definitely recommend El Xampanyet to anyone visiting Barna. Oh and I bought my very own El Xampanyet shirt too!

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After such a big meal, T-Rex and I waddled home while PK and KB went to the Picasso Museum, which they said was very interesting.

We had a relatively quiet night eating some food we had bought from the markets earlier. Later that night PK and T-Rex made a visit to the Christmas markets to have a look around.

Day 8:

Today we took off on our first day trip of our holiday. We went to Montserrat, which is a Benedictine monk mountain retreat about a 1-hour drive or so drive from the centre of Barcelona. We took our tour with a company called Castlexperience and the trip started by meeting at Placa Catalunya. There we took a bus to Montserrat. On the way our tour guide Simon talked about the history of Barcelona, which was very interesting. When we arrived, we looked around the Monestary and saw the black Madonna, which is a woodcarving of a black Virgin Mary. Usually our tour doesn’t include a chance to get close and personal with the carving but on this particular occasion we were able to walk up to her and touch her. Dad put together a video of our time on top of Montserrat, which can be viewed below.

 

 

We hopped back on the bus and travelled to the Oller del Mas winery located in Manresa, at the foot of Montserrat. This winery has been making wine since the 9th century and is owned and run by Frank, a 36th generation winemaker. We had a tour around the property learning about how the wine is produced, where it is stored and all about the grape trees. We then had a nice little lunch of six pieces of bread with different toppings. With the meal we tried some different wines from the winery and were given a lesson in wine tasting. Afterwards we headed back to Barcelona, which concluded our tour.

 

That night for dinner we tried out Quimet & Quimet, a must-visit restaurant that featured on every single recommendation list I received. It is located in Poblesec (check later) which was quite a bit of a walk from our apartment and as advised we got there just before opening time. We surrounded the closed doors and in minutes, many other tourists joined us in the queue. We held pole position and were able to rush in and snag a table. The first thing we noticed was that it was a tiny restaurant and that there were no seats, only stand-up tables. Another unique thing about this place was that their specialty is open-faced sandwiches, which are made using some of the best-quality tinned goods, mostly from around Spain. Knowing that, I was tasked the job of communicating to a lady who was making the sandwiches that we wanted a selection of 8 different sandwiches that she recommends. This turned out to be quite difficult and at one point she was about to make 8 smoked salmon sandwiches! Fortunately another server was able to understand us a bit more and they then let the lady know what we wanted. Anyway here is our spread from the night. I ate the prawns and the oyster sandwiches and then ordered one more, a cured beef one. All of them were superb but I especially enjoyed the prawn sandwich.

 

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Day 9:

 

Whenever you can start with breakfast at Bar Pinotxo, you know it’s going to be a good day. We made sure we got there nice and early this time and grabbed a seat in front of the legend of La Boqueria, Juanito. He looked after us very well once again despite our language barrier. He told me that I should try the chickpea dish which I was a little apprehensive about but I wasn’t going to argue with the long time owner of the place. The chickpeas came out piping hot with a nice crunchy bread by the side. The dish was surprisingly very flavoursome having a nice meatiness to it that went well with the chopped up herbs, soft chickpeas and a generous sprinkle of salt on top. I later found out that this meatiness I could pick out was actually from the use of bottufarga, which is a white Catalan blood sausage. This became my new favourite breakfast dish and I wanted to have it every day I was there. Meanwhile, PK had the sausage with salad, T-Rex had the omelete and we took home a xuixo for KB.

 

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Just after Midday, KB, PK and I took off by train to a little seaside town up the coast called Sant Pol de Mar to eat at three-michelined starred Sant Pau. You can read this review here!

 

After coming back pretty late at night we went for a drink at Bar 7 and T-Rex and I were finally able to meet the legendary Jon-Claude. After a drink we headed back to our apartment and slept very well.

 

Day 10:

 

PK and I decided to try something a little different for breakfast and went to Federal, which is a café owned by an Australian couple. We both had a fantastic coffee, probably the best we had in Barcelona. I ordered a bacon and egg burger while PK had the breakfast burger. Both burgers were delicious and reminded us of home.

Afterwards we all headed off to the Maritime museum, located in Barceloneta. We had a look at all the old boats but what I found more interesting was the building itself which was built in the thirteenth century. A nice way to spend a couple of hours I must say.

 

For dinner we went to Pittara, which is a very old restaurant which opened in 1890. We had heard that they did one of the best paellas in town and decided to give it a go. I must say that it was actually pretty average with overcooked seafood and a lack of the ingredients one should find in a paella such as calamari, pieces of chorizo, squeeze of lemon, etc. We tried the crème catalana for dessert and it was pretty decent but I reckon the Philip Johnson recipe that we make at home is much, much better.

 

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Day 11:

 

While PK and KB had a bit of a sleep in, T-Rex and I grabbed a morning coffee from Federal and then went to Granja M. Viader for another dose of churros con chocolat.

For lunch, Dad and I were booked into Disfrutar, which is a one-michelin starred restaurant, which is run by three ex El Bulli chefs. You can read this review here!

After coming back and having a snooze we all went down to Bar 7 for a drink and hung out with the legendary Jon-Claude.

 

Day 12:

Today we tried the other Runner Bean tour. This one was called the Gaudi tour and consisted of visiting three of his main architectural works. The first one we visited was the Palau Guell, the second was the Casa Mila (La Padrera) and lastly his most prominent piece of work, La Sagrada Familia. While all the sites were very interesting I preferred the tour we did earlier in the trip.

After getting back home we relaxed for a while and started getting ready for dinner. On our way to Tickets, we walked past the Magic Fountain which happened to just be starting when we got there. We watched the whole show which was very fascinating.

 

 

We then walked to Tickets which I have reviewed here.

 

 

Day 13:

We took off really early today on a whole day tour out to the country to visit three medieval villages with our tour guide Josep. We first visited Besalú, then Rupit and finally Tavertet. Lunch in Rupit was amazing – much better than I expected! Here’s a video of our tour that day.

 

 

My favourte photo of the trip was also taken during our tour of Besalú.

 

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Day 14:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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