Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bar del Pla

UK tapas has got a bad rep.  Probably deservedly so based on past performance.  In years gone by I've sat in tapas restaurants and regularly heard the unmissable ding of the microwave moments before my overpriced, tasteless, soggy squid is slopped on to the table by a minimum wage teenager.  Bad atmosphere, bad food, bad service.  These were the cornerstones of British tapas until recently.  Now in Manchester we have the delights of El Rincon de Rafa, the surprisingly high quality of La Tasca as well as the well recommended Pinchjo's and Bar Suan Juan.  The UK has dramatically turned around its heinous record for serving small plates of Spanish food.  Well done UK, well done.

That said its never going to be as good as the tapas you eat while you are in fairer lands!  There is nothing that the UK can do to capture the sunshine and the warmth of eating on a terrace in Barcelona, nothing.  These things really don't cut it.  Stone cold cast iron purveyor of Barcelona recommendations Jules' brother had described Bar del Pla as 'THE BEST TAPAS IN TOWN' (his capitalisation, not mine) therefore we were duty bound to pay it a visit.

Location wise Bar del Pla is located in El Born within walking distance of the beach, the very centre of Barcelona, the gothic quarter or Park Ciutadella (the very best location to sit and watch the happy dogs of Barcelona hanging out).  Tucked away in an easily navigable alleyway (where all the best Barcelona locations are tucked away) the only reason that you might miss its classic black and white sign is that it could be obscured by human beings.  Bar del Pla is one of those annoying places that is both populated by loyal locals as well as being a destination for visitors causing a double whammy of popularity meaning it is highly likely that you are going to have to wait for a table.  On the first night we got there just before 11pm thinking we would waltz in for a late table.  We were simple fools.  The place was heaving and we were politely told "no hay posibilidad".  We returned a couple of days later at 7pm (very early to dine in Barcelona) and we walked in to claim our table.

The interior of the cavernous bar can only be described as simply beautiful.  There are no luxuries to be found in the decorations here, the bar surface is a simple marble, the wooden shelves behind the bar are a little makeshift, a functional clock lives at the far end of the room, plain tables and chairs line the walls.  The reason it feels amazing to dine here is that it all feels honest and authentic, it feels like this bar has been here forever and nothing has ever changed because no one wanted it to change in any way.  There is only really one eye catching element of the bar and that is the wonderful tiles that adorn the floor and the bar.  Jules was a big fan of the random assortment.

As I've said elsewhere before I do love a good tradition and it seems the Catalan people do enjoy drinking cava with lunch and dinner served in an ice bucket with perfectly chilled glasses (not too cold).  I will not stand in the way of this tradition.  When it came to ordering the food we thought we would start with the big hitting traditional tapas dishes of tomato bread, patatas bravas and padron peppers.

Tomato and bread.  How good can it be?  It was phenomenal.  Minds were blown.  The concept of tomato bread was delivered perfectly.  The top of the bread was a salty, oily treat but the tomato flavour was never lost.  The texture of the top of bread was deliciously moist and countered by the ever crusty, blackened bottom.  Chips and tomato sauce.  How good can it be?  Well they can be as good as that darned tomato bread.  Bravas come in many forms and everybody has their favourite combination of crisp or soft potatoes with spicy or sweet bravas sauce.  This plate fell firmly in the soft potato and sweet bravas sauce camp.  Easily one of the most perfect bravas plates we've ever tasted.  Alongside these came the padron peppers which brought a much needed salty, fiery hit to counter the richness of the other two plates.

Because we are English food gluttons it really didn't take us too long to dispatch our plates of food despite our best efforts to savor every mouthful for as long as possible.  For round two we opted for fried artichokes, squid ink croquettes, ham & roasted meat croquettes and we couldn't leave without a second hit of those bloody tomato breads.

There isn't really anything fancy about the presentation used.  Much like the room itself the plates are functional and clean, the food has been assembled with care but absolutely no pretentiousness.  The fried artichokes came in a very light batter which made it all too easy to demolish the crunchy but soft on the inside delights.  We did say that they could have done with a bit more salt but we are salt fiends always looking for our next big hit.

The croquettes both delivered huge hits of flavour and the exteriors were audibly crispy.  Once you'd crunched through the super crust there was loads of rich filling escaping in to your gob.  The meat one might not be to everybody's taste as there was an element of 'tripeyness' to it but I loved it, loads of salt and meatier than meat flavours.  The squid ink croquettes delivered the same strong, rich, luxurious flavours on the inside but the texture was a very light mousse that was shockingly black.

The service throughout was brilliant.  The waitresses managed to pull off that very difficult trick of providing bang on service to everyone whilst also looking like they were never in a rush while at the same time appearing to be having a good time of their own.  The manager/owner also swung by for a chat but not one of those horrible awkward chats you might expect a proprietor to engage in with an obvious tourist, he seemed genuinely happy to enter in to a bit of discourse with us but at the same time he didn't outstay his welcome.  We explained that Jules' brother had claimed his tapas bar was the best in Barcelona and that we agreed, with a wry smile and a nod of the head he graciously said "it is one of the good ones".  He made us smile.  The whole bar made us feel very welcome.

To me Bar del Pla is the perfect example of what authentic tapas should be.  The food is humble but still exceptionally good, the bar is plain but beautiful and the service is simple but welcoming.  I love Bar del Pla and I understand why Jules' brother loves it.  I pledge that every time I visit Barcelona I will make sure I pay it a visit.  I promise that if I know you personally then at some point I am going to tell you that you should visit Barcelona just to go here.  I swear I've never had better tapas.

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