Barraca must be the only hot new opening in town that isn’t pushing vermut. “Vermut!” cried Jorge, the restaurant’s maitre d’, aghast. “What about my pineapple mojito?”
“It is very good,” shrugged Ismael, an off-duty waiter I’d been chatting to while waiting for friends coming in from London to arrive. “Maybe later,” I suggested, thinking, as the time ticked on towards 10.30pm, that at this rate I’d be plastered by the time they got
here. Fortunately, Barraca is a very welcoming place to get merry in. By the time you’ve been there half an hour you start thinking of them as friends, which meant that by the time my actual friends arrived, I was thoroughly at home.
We ordered another apero (vermut, of course) and moved reluctantly from their cute little terrace on the street, to a more glamorous upstairs dining room where we ensconced ourselves at a spacious table by a wide open window, air-conditioned by the breeze and from where, if you peer very closely, you can just make out the boats bobbing along the inky horizon.
When the emblematic Can Fabes restaurant in Sant Celoni went up for sale earlier this year, their head chef Xavier Pellicer (formerly of ABaC) decided he’d had it with posh. “I’d been doing fine dining for years and I wanted a break, a change of pace,” he told me with a smile as wide as the Cheshire cat. “Now I’m gardening and cooking and I have time. It’s bliss. I’m deliriously happy.” When he was asked to create this restaurant for the folks behind Wokimarket, he also got the opportunity to fuel his passion for biodynamic and organic farming.Seventy percent of their product base falls into one of these two categories, and Barraca—an upmarket xiringuito—also uses sustainable fish supplies. Unusually for Barcelona, the largely organic wine list also proffers a handful of carefully selected natural wines. These are wines that have had no mechanical intervention and don’t use sulphur; Roman-style wine if you will. The whole place just feels, for want of a better word, happy.
On this visit we ate our way through all the starters. It was too late, I felt, for rice, though as with the pineapple mojitos, our waiter’s disappointment was palpable. “But the arroces,” he protested, “are wonderful.” As, indeed, are the snacks: light-as-a-feather buñuelos de bacalao that come upright in a glazed egg-box; the crunchiest Andaluz-style calamari rings—southern Spaniards are, after all, lords and ladies of the frying pan; and an enamelled cauldron piled high with bright and briny mussels, clams and cockles wrapped in the gentle heat of a garlic and chilli broth. We had patatas bravas, which I feared might be the silly cubed variety, lined up along an oblong plate, but these were the real deal, and a bomba (those golf-ball sized croquettes of mashed potato and pork) lavished with proper spicy bomba sauce. Heaven. We drank a bottle of natural wine—S02—from the Costers del Segre, which was among the best I’ve had. Natural wine is an acquired taste, often bordering on the dour, but providing you brace for something unfiltered, a little cidery and big on personality, this is most definitely friend, not foe.
Two weeks later I returned with other friends for paella. It was Monday, the most decadent day of the week for lunch, the sky was an impossible blue, the sea glittered like sapphires, the world was in fine fettle. To add to that sense of celebrating nothing but a lovely day at the start of autumn, we drank a bottle of silky fizz—Privat from Alella—and ordered the sweetest of navajas no bigger than my pinky and looking uncannily like white asparagus, while waiting for our rice: an ‘arroz bomba’ with squid, rock fish, mussels and clams, finished with a drizzled of garlic-parsley oil. It arrived looking darkly seductive—they finish the rice in the oven here to achieve what Pellicer describes as a ‘very special kind of dryness to the crust’—in a pan as wide as the wheel of a car. The thin layer of rice cooked to perfection with each separate grain fresh and chewy and bursting with flavour.
Over a shared crocanti (ice cream encrusted in crunchy nuts) topped with a dollop of chocolate ganache and a shot of whisky, I thought of a few more people I needed to bring here. I made another reservation on my way out the door.