Surely there is no phrase more comforting in the English language than "all you can eat" (with the possible exception of "chips with everything"). So it’s not surprising that while many of Barcelona’s fashionable restaurants and bars are closing down faster than the shutter over the Mortgages and Loans counter at the bank, the cheapo buffets are going from strength to strength.
Buffet empire Fresc Co. (www.frescco.com) now has over 20 outlets in Barcelona. They specialise in salad buffets accompanied with pizza-and-pasta-type main courses and although they may serve food that is only one chromosome away from an airline meal, the queues are out onto the street at lunchtime. And no wonder, when you can stuff yourself to the gills for €8.95 and kids under-5 eat for free. I went there recently at the weekend when the food gets a little fancier and was happily surprised to find their paella vastly more edible than that served in some of the Sunday seafront joints in the Barceloneta for triple the price. And if you find the machine coffee a little watery, you can always pay a small supplement for a Nespresso. Yes, the atmosphere is a bit school dinners but just take earplugs and close your eyes if it all gets too much (oh, and stay away from the pizza at all costs).
Like any successful business idea, Fresc Co. has spawned various clones, the most obvious among them being Latuca (www.latuca.com) and Ovni (www.ovni.es), who have plagiarised Fresc Co. right down to the green colour scheme (although Ovni has gone a bit kitsch with a white Sixties spaceship look). The two are much of a muchness in terms of price and food while La Vaca Paca’s (www.lavacapaca.com) buffet has the added lure of grilled meat, (although, to be honest, once you’ve seen the trays of dried-out butifarras, hockey puck beef and lacón curling up at the edges, you’d probably pay to stay away).
If you’re not too grand to do a bit of queuing, two places that serve two very different variations on what we might call a 'raw buffet' are:
1. Wok Chiew (C/ Pau Claris 139, 93 487 0404) where you get a great deal for a tenner: a vast array of meats, fish, seafood and vegetables displayed raw, which you take to the teppanyaki counter to be sizzled on the grill with one of around seven different sauces. There’s also plenty of salads, cooked noodle and rice dishes, dim sum (for a small extra charge) and a bizarre dessert buffet that looks more like a sweetie shop with flumps, fizzy strawberry laces and liquorice allsorts.
2. La Paradeta (www.laparadeta.com) which now has five joints across Barcelona and Sitges. This is basically like a seafood stall in the market where you point at the wriggling lobsters, prawns and crayfish and a nice lady in a rubber apron scoops them into cones and sends them along to the kitchen to be cooked as you like (I’d say a la plancha is best). You order a salad, bread and drinks at another counter and then bag a refectory-style table and wait for a muffled voice to shout your ticket number over the loudspeaker. It’s not glam or romantic but it is an undeniably economical way to dine out on good quality seafood—expect to pay around €20-€25 a head for a huge feast.