When researching restaurants and bars for my Barcelona trip, Cal Pep was probably the one recommended to me the most. Bar some naysayers, I was told it was the best tapas in town, and I should get there early if I wanted a coveted seat at the bar. Indeed, I believe Barrafina's owners took inspiration from Cal Pep when opening their own place.
Barrafina is better.
That's not to say Cal Pep isn't good though. I rocked up on a Monday 15 minutes before opening time, and slotted into the queue at fourth place. As I was alone, I was instructed down to the far end of the bar; meanwhile larger groups who had booked carried on through to a dining room with tables. I will never choose a table over bar seating if I can possibly help it.
My waiter asked me a flurry of Spanish, at which point I gathered there was no menu. He barked words at me - "fritto misto?" "almejas?" I nodded enthusiastically. "Tortilla?" I made a face. The older chap sitting next to me was also alone and caning the white wine like it wasn't a Monday, and so our dishes came out in tandem. Clams, cooked with tiny slivers of jamon, white wine and garlic were gorgeous, plump little things. A chef working behind the counter tsked at both of us, ordered us to put our forks down and slurp directly from the shells. I did as I was told.
I very much enjoyed watching the chef behind the bar constantly tossing seafood through seasoned flour and dumping it into the fryer - toss, toss, fry, dump, repeat - and I wondered if that was his job all day. The fritto misto itself was fairly unremarkable; well fried, sure, but some of the small fishes I assume you're supposed to eat whole, like anchovies or sprats, were too big and after almost choking TO DEATH on a fish bone I came to deboning each with my fingers. It was a bit of a drag.
So despite the face I got the tortilla anyway, and I'm glad I did as it was really delicious. The top was smeared with ...mayonnaise? And the insides were creamy and ever-so-slightly liquid. A whole tortilla for one was a bit much though (which I anticipated, hence my face) and I wish I'd been able to share it with Grandpa to my left who was ploughing gamely through his, onto his fourth glass of wine.
By this point I was roundly stuffed as well as feeling incredibly vegetable-deficient but I wasn't quite ready to call it quits yet. Around me people who weren't alone had tuna tartare and sausage with beans (botifarra, not Heinz) and I wanted just one more thing. When asked, I told them I liked prawns, and I was offered two. What then ensued was a good fifteen minutes of what looked like the head chef attempting to weigh them, take the battery out, bash the scales around a bit, find another battery, weigh them again... I suddenly became slightly nervous that I had no idea what these (or anything else) cost, and if they're weighing them then...
The answer is €17. Two big red prawns (not carabineros) were €17. Baked in salt on the plancha, they were juicy and just cooked - a second less would have rendered them undone. As I peeled the prawns the chef approached, ripped the top of the prawn's head off and proffered the brains to me to eat up. Luckily I was going to do so anyway - anyone more squeamish might have quailed under his expectant gaze. An espresso and a bill of €55 later, I gave up my seat to an extremely pushy woman, sad that I wouldn't be able to watch the spectacle of her ineffectual rudeness. Tourists, eh?
Plaça de les Olles, 8,
08003 Barcelona, Spain