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Photo by Richard Lee Owens
I like going to Sarrià. It always feels like going to a classy, quiet country town somewhere; provincial without being prissy and good for browsing the kind of stores that sell organic kids clothes, tea from Fortnum and Mason, and hand-stitched patchwork quilts. It’s genteel, in other words, and a far cry from the throngs that mob the Rambla this time of year. It’s true to say there are few tourists of any kind in Sarrià and it’s a charming place to escape to a sunny plaça and quietly watch the world go by and, of course, get some good eating done, which is the main reason I go anywhere.
So it was myself and a couple of friends who headed uptown one sunny evening in July to check out the newly-opened Bar Canalla —one of the new breed of Quimet i Quimet-style places that put emphasis on resurrecting a distinctive Catalan style, as opposed to the ‘designer’ sameness of so many places that look identical from Bangkok to Bognor—and headed by the reassuring pedigree of chef Ignacio Saibene, formerly of Comerç 24 and Tapas 24.
On first inspection, it is a proper bodega with wine bottles lining the walls and old tin lanterns hanging over a bar laden with conservas. Only on venturing further into its depths do you realise there is a small, informal dining room at the back, papered with yellowing newspapers, while upstairs is a more glitzy affair with dark wallpaper emblazoned with magnolias, a leather Chesterfield against one wall and abundant candles: great for a date or a gathering of friends.
My favourite place when eating tapas, though, is at the bar, so we squeezed into a corner and ordered vermut, only to discover they only stock Martini rosso. A bit odd for a place so clearly focused on preserving the Catalan spirit, frankly, but it did the job, especially with a side of boquerones and anchoas.
Since moving to Barcelona 10 years ago, I’ve become passionate, verging on obsessive, about both these versions of the humble anchovy since my only experience of them prior to this was of the thin, hard, slimy and greyish variety you got in tin cans back in England. My first L’Escala anchovy was a revelation and so I urged one of the friends I was with—a self-confessed anchovy-hater—to at least try one.
“They’re not bad,” he agreed with a tight smile, which coming from someone who is anti-anchovy is high praise indeed. I’m here to tell you they were excellent: plump, pink, not too salty, dense and fleshy, just as they should be and the boquerones weren’t bad either. The oysters, I’m assured (alas I’m cursed with an allergy to them so can’t report on these), were just the right balance of richly creamy textures and ozoney juiciness.
We had some more Martini. After all, when things begin this well in a tapas bar, your only option is to keep ordering and so we called for croquetes (jamón), which had satisfyingly crunchy shells and a wickedly unctuous hammy middle that felt quite decadent to eat; they certainly had more initial ‘wow’ factor than the patatas bravas. “Are those crinkle-cut chips?” says I, eyeing the dish in front of us that was drizzled with brava sauce and allioli. “I haven’t seen them since the early Eighties.” I can report they’re not, though they were definitely chips in the British sense, nicely fried, hot and golden and better, I’d argue, somewhat controversially, then those of the legendary Bar Tomàs down the road.
I ordered two tomato salads, one with sweet onions, the other with ventresca tuna, which wasn’t the best move. The tomatoes weren’t massively flavourful though the oil was excellent, but really this is the kind of dish you only want lots of if the tomatoes are in tip-top form.
Still there’s no doubt this is tapas that’s a cut above with lots of appealing stuff to go back for: aubergine with honey, coal mussels— whatever they are, they were off the menu at the time of my visit, unfortunately—tomato tartar (as seen on the menus of both El Bulli and Tickets this season), eggs with foie, wild turbot and Palamós prawns, all making another trip uptown well worth the effort.
Bar Canalla—Major de Sarrià 95 (Sarrià). Tel. 93 205 8806.
Open: Tues-Sat, 1-4pm and 8pm-midnight; Sundays, 1-4pm.
Tara’s rating: *** (Worth a visit)