Tag Archives: best tapas

Restaurant Cal Pep, Barcelona

Assorted fried seafood – crispy deliciousness

An absolute must-go for tapas when in Barcelona. Get to Cal Pep early – you can’t book, and the word is out – the 20 stools in the front room were full as soon as the doors opened for lunch at 1.

We chatted to the waiter at the counter, asked for our favourites (pimentos, clams) and then left it to him to recommend, based on what produce they had that day. There didn’t seem to be an enormous range – the waiter explaining that ingredients are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis on freshness. Just the way we like it.

Every dish was a stunner. Josep Manubens Figueres, the chef and owner (“Pep” is a common Catalan nickname for Josep), ensures the seafood at his tapas bar is the freshest that is available every morning at the fish auctions along the nearby Costa Brava every morning.

Cooks wait patiently until the first order comes in, and then they come in flying, thick and fast, with no reprieve, and what I can only describe as “organised chaos” ensues.

Chick peas with fried spinach and jamon

The dish of deep-fried seafood – lightly floured small fish, squid, calamari rings and small prawns – came out crispy and tasted of each individual piece of seafood, not just randomly of oil. The chick peas and vibrantly green spinach (not at all overcooked or gloppy) had bits of fried jamon, imparting the dish with its flavour and providing a nice contrast in texture.

There was just one meat dish – a speciality of the house – botifarra de porc amb foie d’ànec fresc, pork sausage with foie gras and port wine, served in inch-long slices over white beans.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms cooked on the grill

We also tried for the first time some mushrooms we saw at the Boqueria, the saffron milk cap. Bright orange in colour with deep green stains (which apparently appear when the mushrooms have been handled) – the flavour is mild and the texture is almost “crunchy”.

Simplicity is the key to the beauty of each dish – with every plate, there was nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there.

Remember to get there early – or be prepared to stand impatiently behind diners like us. Their schedule is complicated, so check their website to find when they are open.

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8, Barcelona
Tel: 011-34-93-310-7961

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Bar Alfalfa, Seville, Spain

Provolone al horno – molten baked cheese

Seville is a compact town where walking around is feasible, and for us, preferable, as you get to appreciate and soak in the atmosphere of new cities faster. As we walked to and from our gorgeous hotel AlmaSevilla – Hotel Palacio de Villapanés to the sights around Seville, we passed by many, many tapas bars, of which one was always full, with people spilling out on to the street late into the night (which was probably just normal for the Spanish as they really do eat late).

Chicharrón – deep-fried pork rinds

On the corner of Alfalfa and Candilejo, and with the easy-to-remember name, it was easy to see just to be there.

In Bar Alfalfa we found a few dishes which we hadn’t seen as often in other bars. A Moroccan-inspired pork belly stew with apricots and raisins, artery-clogging (and of course delicious) chicharrón – seasoned and deep fried pork rinds, and a simple dish of marinated sardines on toast, dressed with a good glug of olive oil. And the amazing Provolone al horno – baked cheese.

Marinated sardines on toast

Add funky tunes and ice-cold beer and sherry and that was a happy afternoon spent in Seville.

Bar Alfalfa
Corner of Calles Alfalfa and Candilejo
Seville, Spain

Open: around lunchtime till late


El Rinconcillo, Seville, Spain

Hand-carved Jamon Iberico Bellota and our tapas bill in chalk on the counter

So last year’s European trip for D and I was Spain.  We have heard so much about this country – and when we started doing some research into where we wanted to go, the first thing I realised was how much I underestimated the size of this country.  With just two weeks we decided to eat our way through just three cities, Seville, Grenada and Barcelona.

Coquinas – small clams cooked on the grill with garlic and flat-leaf parsley

My previous experience of Spanish food has of course been tapas, of which there seem to be many, and if you think about the basics of tapas, shouldn’t really be that difficult – good produce, simply cooked. But similar to my experiences of tapas outside of Spain, even in Spain, there’s a clear divide. If it’s good, then it’s GREAT. If it’s not, well then it’s pretty disappointing – there wasn’t really any inbetween.

We started in Seville. The city where there are over 4,000 tapas bars. Home of sherry and from where apparently tapas originated. Our first night we went on a recommendation of a friend to visit El Rinconcillo – the oldest tapas bar in the region. The tavern is packed to the gills with tourists and locals. Family-run, the men that run the bar (and I assume those in the kitchen – all we saw were hands) are ultra efficient – turnover is the key to this place. Not a lot of smiling goes on here – this is serious business. The interior is dimly lit, lots of dark wood and barrels for people to gather around, and the ubiquitous legs of Iberico ham hanging from the ceiling. We were lucky to score some space at the counter, and there, as each of your order is served, they write the cost down on the counter in chalk.

Slow-cooked pork cheek

Guidebooks tell you that you should go from tapas bar to tapas bar, sampling different things at each, as each will specialise in one or two things. We had so much fun at El Rinconcillo that we racked up a ridiculously long tab, what with all the food we kept ordering while the ice-cold cerveza (beer) and fino (sherry) kept flowing.

Bacalao – battered salt cod

Our favourites ? Coquinas – small clams, simply cooked a la plancha (on the grill) with lashings of garlic and flat-leaf parsley, slow-cooked pork cheek, bacalao – salt cod with a crispy light batter and of course, hand-carved jamon Iberico bellota. This is the best ham in the world, made from free-range pigs which feed on black acorns, cured for five years, giving it a deep, rich, intense flavour that seems to get better the more you chew it.

Definitely a recommendation if you want to get a true experience of Spanish tapas – the atmosphere, service and of course, the food here is excellent.

El Rinconcillo
40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St. 41003 SEVILLE.
Tel: +34 954 223 183.
Email: info@elrinconcillo.es

Open: 1 p.m. to 1.30 a.m daily