Barcelona’s food lovers have a soft spot in their hearts for the good old restaurants that have been passed down from one generation to the next. here the owners and waiters are often on the firstname basis with their regulars, who sometimes don’t even need to open the menu to place their order. But what really matters is that the food is cooked with genuine passion and that the cozy atmosphere makes everyone feel right at home
Some seventy years ago this place — it was called Los Billares back then — had green velvet on the tables and clouds of cigar smoke hanging in the air. Its fortunes, name and even the smells changed in the 1960s with the arrival of Adolfo Herrero Villanueva and his wife Pilar Salvador Ibáñez, whose sons Adolfo and Carlos and daughter Cristina run what is these days among the most authentic and interesting restaurants in the neighbourhood. As a nod to its glorious past, their heirs have preserved the Modernist interior with its two dining rooms and an interior courtyard and its collection of drawings by famous Spanish cartoonists. And they’ve kept alive the tradition of meeting and greeting their customers in person. As every regular here knows, asking Adolfo directly what’s good today is a much better bet than reading the menu. Your host might recommend the baked lobster, or cod with samfaina sauce, but usually it will depend on what’s in season, from artichokes farmed in the fields of El Prat de Llobregat to young eels from the Ebro delta or white truffles that come to Barcelona straight from Italy’s Piemonte region. Adolfo has worked in his family business for thirty-four years, and his brother Carlos, the chef, has been here nearly as long. Like their father before them, the two brothers insist on the very best quality of produce. They are extremely picky about their suppliers, seeking them out from all over the country, even as far as distant Galicia, a region famous for its superlative seafood.
Where: Sant Gervasi de Cassoles, 103, FGC El Putxet / www.restaurantebonanova.com
You really can’t go wrong here, whatever you order, be it grilled vegetables, seafood fideua noodles or a homemade crema catalana, not to mention the tender goat ribs. It must have been the ribs that brought Peret here, the famous Catalan rumba star; it’s well known that he was one of the restaurant’s most faithful and passionate regulars. And if you browse the seven guest books overflowing with signatures, you’ll find not only local stars, but also international celebrities like the Arctic Monkeys and actor David Schwimmer (best known for playing Ross Geller on Friends). The current owner of Can Lluís, Ferran Rodríguez, saw most of these celebrities with his own eyes. He started working in the family business in 1965, when he was barely sixteen. His father and aunt ran the restaurant until Ferran took over, but the founder of the place and its first owner was his grandfather Lluís. Lluís was killed in 1946 when the anarchists set off a bomb right in the restaurant — you can still see a small crater in the floor as a sad reminder of the event. Located right in the middle of the immigrant communities of the Raval district, the restaurant has survived to see the twenty-first century thanks to its commitment to basic down-home popular Catalan cooking. And even though the city’s bohemians were always fond of the place, the men of the Rodríguez family never so much as flirted with trendy fads in gastronomy. Their faith in the culinary instincts of their women who always ran the kitchen has never wavered. In fact, some of the recipes at Can Lluís have remained unchanged in their repertoire since the days of the first owner’s wife.
Where: Cera 49, Metro Sant Antoni / www.restaurantcanlluis.cat
This restaurant has been serving Barcelonans since 1786; the Guinness Book of Records lists it as the oldest in the city. And it is to the past that it owes its quaint name — literally, the “Teaspoon House.” According to current owner Susana Agut, in the beginning the place served only hot chocolate and crema catalana, everybody’s favourite dessert. Sometimes there were so many dessert lovers that the restaurant would run out of cutlery and waiters would have to call out “Teaspoons! Teaspoons!” Incidentally, they still have a few of those original teaspoons — they are kept in the restaurant as relics of its venerable past. Its home-made desserts have been a beloved favorite for many a generation of Barcelonans, who often gather here for weddings or christening parties. Can Culleretes has also been consistently popular with politicians, artists, bullfighters and other assorted celebrities, whose photos now adorn the walls of the restaurant, along with three enormous paintings by Francisco Tey. The very length of the menu, listing fully twenty-nine home-made desserts, is enough to tell you how very serious Can Culleretes remains about its postres. But it would be a mistake to skip the main dishes like suckling pig or wild boar stew. And the canelones is always a sure bet, generously stuffed with meat or spinach. Even though the place can sit up to two hundred and fifty guests at once, it is worth calling ahead for reservations: tables here are snatched up, as they say in Spain, like hot churros.
Where: Quintana, 5, Metro liceu / www.culleretes.com
Local fishermen took a liking to a tavern on this pretty square in the Poblenou neighbourhood as early as the mid1800s. Over the years the square has gone through a number of names, but it was and is a lovely little spot, a quiet haven of tiny white houses with green shutters that look like they were transported here straight from Cadaqués. That’s what it looked like forty years ago, too, when Josep Maria Maulini and Toia Durán first saw it. The couple transformed an unassuming watering hole into a sophisticated seafood restaurant. If the place was good enough for Woody Allen when he came to Barcelona, it’s definitely worth giving it a try. Particularly if you’re in the mood for fresh fish. Sea bass, sole, sardines, eels or anchovies, you’re guaranteed to love the catch of the day, especially with grilled vegetables straight from the fields of Catalonia. Chef Rafa Medrán has been giving traditional Catalan recipes a slight modern twist here for twenty-two years here and he knows what he’s doing. The culinary wizard seems to have a particular respect for the virtues of cod, judging by the five different dishes on the menu in which cod is an ingredient. The wine cellar alone is worth the trip to Els Pescadors. And the terrace seating right on the square, shaded by the ombú trees, is the perfect spot for that bottle of red, white or rosé if the weather is fine. With their roots firmly clinging to the soil of Poblenou, these giant trees seem to be shielding this unique little spot from the hubbub of civilization.
Where: Plaça Prim 1, Metro Besòs Mar / www.elspescadors.com