I think we all dream of one of those places like in Cheers—the American sit-com based around a popular bar in Boston—just around the corner, but the reality can be elusive. One of the downsides of living in a city like Barcelona that is so heavily peopled by expats, and a fairly transient bunch at that, is that places seem to come and go so quickly. There are, of course, the classics, but these days they tend to be expensive, and just a shade too formal to go to regularly. Others are too trendy to quite hit the mark, and then you’ve got that rare breed of place like Mam y Teca (C/Lluna 4, Raval, 93 441 3335) that gets it just right.
A tiny little bar painted canary yellow with a forest green trim and just eight tables plus a vast bar stocking just about every alcoholic concoction your heart could desire (the more obscure the better), the crowd is a healthy mix of regulars, regular expats like me, as well as foodie travellers, for Mam y Teca’s fame has spread halfway round the world in the form of glowing reviews in the lifestyle sections of the world’s most powerful media.
Yet little has changed since the day I first ate there five years ago or more. A still chalkboard communicates the daily specials, a short-but-perfectly-formed menu the regular dishes, a brief wine list champions the Catalan regions. There are Catalan cheeses from tiny farms in the hinterland and organic charcuterie from Pallars, there are lamb chops bought from the Halal butcher down the road that owner-chef Alfons prefers because they are slaughtered just that little bit later, making a tastier cut of meat. He serves them with piping hot chips scattered with sea salt. There’s a superb steak—I might argue the best steak in Barcelona —that’s butter tender and perfectly seared from a butcher in the Mercat Sant Antoni and sold only as long as she has the goods (he never replaces it with a cut from elsewhere), and there are rich, slowly cooked stews generously garnished with wild mushrooms, and occasionally a mar i muntanya* of rabbit and crayfish.
You could of course go all out on the starters, mains and desserts, but for me, it’s the plato combinado that brings it into its own as a bistro in its most honest form: a place to go to fuel up on a generous plateful of something cooked with love and a respect for ingredients. What can I say: as a destination for tasty Catalan home-cooking for a mid-week supper or a Sunday night treat, nowhere beats it. I’m just glad it’s my local.
[* lit. sea and mountain, referring to Catalan dishes that combine elements from each ]