Cal Pep, Barcelona

The words Tapas, Spain and Barcelona evoke emotions of long lazy lunches in the sunshine, perhaps washed down with ice cold glasses of wine or if you’re feeling more adventurous, a pitcherful of Sangria.  It’s memories of the smells of sunshine, the tang of the sea and the rising spires of Catalan architecture.

But when you’re day tripping in Barcelona, you gotta choose.  Tapas or sightseeing? The choice is obvious, they’d take away my Food blogger status if I didn’t pick the right option.  And so I choose Tapas, specifically a little spot called Cal Pep.  It’s a leisurely stroll to Cal Pep from the Plaça Catalunya, taking in the sights and sounds of life in Barcelona carrying on.

Cal Pep is at first distinguishable by the long line snaking outside, but it transpires that it’s only just opened, a little peculiar for 1pm, but Cal Pep is a restaurant that beats to the rhythm of its own drum.  It’s a small narrow restaurant, a bar at the front seats a hungry line of diners and by the time we walk in, they’re already tucking into mouth-watering delights.  Just as I think we’re in to wait for the long haul, a magical back door opens and we’re ushered into the back room, where a more formal arrangement of a restaurant lives.

The menu is simple, there is no menu.  You outline anything you don’t like and they’ll bring out 5-6 dishes for you to eat.  When they’re finished, you can ask for more and carry on or you can leave it to them to judge.  Our charming waiter explains the sorts of dishes they’re going to bring out and I ask for one change – I’m not a big fan of clams and without a beat he’s switched them out.

First up, a selection of snacky bitey things – we start with freshly grilled baby sardines on toast, with a tiny amount of tomato and red pepper to offset the richness of the fish.  The tuna tartare is light and again so fresh, I could have happily dived in without paying any attention to the toast that accompanies it.  The fried artichoke steals my heart away, never before have I had something so simple executed in such flawless fashion.  Because that’s what it is, the lightest crispiest batter encasing sweet, flavoursome artichokes.  They were addictive, we kept popping them in our mouths, even before we’d finished the previous bite!  And the Padron peppers, not a new dish but one so well done.

So far so good, we’re patting ourselves on the back with this marvellous find (and by that I mean making mental notes to email a friend who recommended this place!), our appetites are whetted and it’s time for the slightly larger dishes to come over.  The toasted ciabatta lets the side down a little bit by being too dry and without any discernible flavour but they almost immediately redeem themselves with the deep fried crunchy squid and the tortilla.

The squid with a squeeze of lemon is just as it should be although I wouldn’t have said no to a bit of mayo or aioli to dunk it in, not terribly Spanish though! I’m not a fan of Tortilla so I was a little disappointed when it appeared but that just goes to show even fussy little food bloggers can be totally and utterly wrong.  I was expecting an omelette, the sort I might rustle up for a weekend breakfast, but this was totally different.  It was rich, it was gooey, it possessed the sort of flavour I couldn’t dream of replicating in a million years.  I can’t explain why it was covered in a layer of butter, but after the first bite I was beyond caring.

The thinly sliced octopus came at a time where stomachs were stretched but it wasn’t worthy of a grand finale, being a little too cold to really work for me and ok, I admit it, a little too extra adventurously gooey.  Even I, who will eat just about anything that moves, was mildly squeamish.

If I come back again, I’d forego the seats in the restaurant and opt for the fun bar front, there seemed to be a more interactive fun vibe there although I can not fault the service, it was top notch and smooth!  Given the mysterious nature of the meal, there was some trepidation when requesting the bill but happily it was entirely reasonable, top quality food, a few glasses of vino and we’re back out into the world happy and full.

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Best of all, there’s a few hours left and we can sneak in a little walk around the harbour and a trip to my favourite Barcelona sight – Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.   There’s a lot you can do with just one day in Barcelona.

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