Can Joan, Carrer del Lleo, Badalona

Can Joan, Carrer del Lleo, Badalona

Can Joan, Carrer del Lleo, Badalona

It’s good to travel alone as it’s possible to take the credit for every achievement but from time to time it’s relaxing to go to a place where you know people who know people. Through this network I had been given a guided tour of Baetulo (the Roman town that pre-dates anything in Barcelona) in the Badalona Museum. Not only that our guide recommended a place near-by to eat and that’s how, on a Wednesday afternoon at the end of February, I went for my lunch in Can Joan, Carrer del Lleó, Badalona.

Now none of the places I choose to eat are what could be called luxurious. Apart from being beyond my means (unless for a special occasion – and I don’t find many of those these days) I’m not really into the atmosphere and the fawning that comes with dining with the rich and powerful. I also don’t particularly like the rich and powerful. So I am happy to find those places which serve good, wholesome and locally influenced food at a price which won’t break the bank.

These places rarely are found on the main roads, in the centre of tourist areas, but you really don’t have to go that far off the beaten track to find them.

Badalona is a suburb of Barcelona, at the end of one of the Metro lines and has a beach although busy in the summer months lacks the extreme commercialisation and uppyfication around the Barceloneta district of the big city. If there’s a main tourist street in Badalona it’s Carrer del Mar, a narrow street that runs from the centre of the town and ends up at the beach on the Mediterranean. It’s a narrow, quite long, pedestrianised street but contains a number of cafés, bars and restaurants as well as the normal shops in an area where people live but which experiences a visitor invasion when the sun shines and people rush for the beach.

Carrer del Lleó runs parallel to that street, to the south, in the direction of Barcelona.

We (I was with a local friend and my brother so have not just my own ideas to call upon this time) entered the restaurant at about 14.30 and the place was full, there being just one table free right next to the serving hatch. That meant there was a lot going on around us but it wasn’t in any way intrusive.

The set menu wasn’t written down on a piece of paper, it was on a white board on the wall next to the serving hatch – and also on a blackboard outside in the street. There was plenty of choice as there were something like 10 options for all the three courses – but surprisingly no paella (although my original theory that it was there just for the tourists had been earlier blown out of the water by my Barcelonan friend, also I wasn’t there on a Thursday).

This was definitely a no frills sort of place. The idea was to provide food that was filling and wholesome. For the first ‘plato’ I plumped for the fideu cazuela, a chopped up spaghetti dish with a sauce and bits of pork ribs. One of my companions chose the same whilst the other went for the tortilla, the potato omelette. Mine was tasty but too big a portion for me.

For the ‘segundo’ I went for the ‘lomo’, thin port steaks, which came with chips. I didn’t choose well really as there was pork followed by pork. Should have gone for something lighter after the fideu, which I knew were normally quite filling. My companions both chose the salmon, which consisted of two thin steaks with potatoes and their clean plates would seem to indicate that they were happy. One accompaniment to many dishes in Catalonia is the aioli (sometimes written all i oli in Catalan) which is a garlic mayonnaise made with olive oil. If you like this as much as my Catalan friend don’t be shy to ask for some more, a half decent place won’t refuse.

My friend was on tablets so couldn’t drink alcohol so it was up to my brother and myself to keep the flag flying. We went for the red wine (as usual – white wine comes by the glass and any extra has to be paid for) and it arrived from the fridge, as is the norm. First just the one bottle but there wasn’t any bother when we asked for a second. This, as is normally the case in these basic, local restaurants, was a perfectly acceptable and drinkable wine. It wouldn’t have won any prizes but that wasn’t the aim.

The dessert choices were as extensive. By now I had turned conservative and went for the profiteroles. One choice that I really should have gone for was the ‘mel i mato’. This is a fresh curd cheese, sometimes with a slightly salty taste, over which is drizzled honey. I found it slightly bland (only trying a spoonful) but if people like to experiment look out for it on the menu if in Catalonia.

The atmosphere was good, busy all the time we were there and people still coming in as we left at around 16.00. Apart from my brother and myself as far as I could tell everyone else was a local. The staff were friendly and efficient and when told that I was from the UK I ended up having a conversation with the waiter about how expensive Britain was in general, especially London, and how it would have been impossible to get what we had had there for anything approaching the €10 per head we were paying.

I would recommend this place for anyone who had made a trip out to the seaside – or perhaps to see the Roman town of Baetulo – from the centre of Barcelona.

Midday Menu: €10 (including drink and bread)

Location:

Carrer del Lleó 46

Badalona

Nearest Metro: Badalona Pompeu Fabra, the end of the purple line, L2

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre – Barcelona

El Glop - Taverna del Teatre

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre

I had just walked around L’Eixample for three hours or so, following a route that took in various Modernist buildings, and finished down by Plaça Catalunya. I had originally planned to head off to a restaurant recommended in one of the guide books but couldn’t find it on my map and, anyway, it would have been another 10 minute or so walk so decided on one that I passed just before the end of my itinerary El Glop – Taverna del Teatre (the theatre in question being Tivoli cinema house).

The problem with eating anywhere in Spain is that there are so many places to choose from. A good few years ago I read that there were more eating/drinking venues in Spain than in all of the rest of the EU combined. That might not still be the case as the EU has got so big but the choice is still huge (TripAdvisor lists 5,514 eating places in Barcelona!) and you don’t know what sort of risk you might be taking, especially so close to the centre of the tourist area.

Here I think I should say something about the walk I had been following. Way back in the 90s when I first started coming to Barcelona I happened on a book of 5 walks around the centre of the city. These walks were so devised as to not only take you to a different part of the city centre but also in a way so you could concentrate on a particular style of architecture or historical period. I’d done the other four so this day I did the final one. The book is called BarcelonaWalks by George Semler, Henry Holt, New York, 1992. Don’t think it’s still in print but it will be available on the internet and is a good introduction to what the city has to offer. I’ve come across a few mistakes, minor errors in street numbers, for example, but that doesn’t detract from the value of the book in general.

El Glob – which means ‘gulp’, ‘swig’, ‘mouthful’ or something along those lines – was offering a midday menu for €10.70. The restaurant has a very narrow frontage with a handful of tables out on the street. These were full (although it was just at the start of the Catalan lunchtime) so I went inside and was surprised to see that it went way back, getting much wider after the long bar and cooking area. Perhaps I was lucky the outside was not available. Although it had been quite warm in the sunshine walking around I think it might have gotten a little uncomfortable sitting still for an hour or so, the air temperature still being relatively low.

There were 5 options for the first two courses. It will not come as a surprise that paella was one of them. I thought that this always appeared on a Menu to pander to the tourists but talking to a Catalan friend he said that he would, from time to time go for the paella, and that on Thursdays all places in Catalonia offering a Menu would have paella on the list – that was something I hadn’t realised before. One thing to remember about this particular dish is that it often is only available for a minimum of two people.

For the starter I chose the Escalivata with anchovy. This was something new to me. It consists of onions, sweet red pepper, aubergine and tomato, all having been previously cooked but served cold. They are presented in a line across the plate and an anchovy placed on top. Being a cold dish it was quite refreshing. I had cause to stop and think when I tried the tomato. Why is it not possible to get decent tomatoes in Britain?

I can’t remember the last time I bought a tomato that had any taste, even during the tomato ‘season’ in the summer. I don’t go chasing around so-called farmers markets to find the sweetest (shopping for me is a necessity not a life choice). Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the nearest large supermarket but if they don’t have them who does? If I can eat a decent, tasty tomato in Barcelona in February why can’t I do so in Liverpool?

I hope that changes taking place in Spanish shopping habits don’t lead to the same ‘lowest common denominator’ approach. I always used to say to people I took around Spanish cities to have a look in the markets in order to see the quality of the food on sale as compared to Britain but even those places, like the Boqueria off the Rambla in Barcelona, are being turned into tourist gastro traps rather than markets. The same happened with the Mercado Sant Miquel next to the Plaza Major in Madrid so perhaps blandness could be on the way for the Catalans/Spanish in the not too distant future as more shopping is done in supermarkets.

To drink I again opted for the red wine. This came in a half litre carafe, so I have no idea of where it came from (probably a keg) but thought it was quite good, full-bodied and fruity. Better than the wine served at Le Nou, although there quantity made up for quality. One thing that I’d forgotten about drinking red wine in Catalonia is that it’s always served cold, not just in the summer. Some might find this a bit odd, in fact I still do. Once you learn about wines and then think you know a little about them it’s likely that you come to the understanding that reds should be served at room temperature. Not is Spain. The trouble is I’ve never let the wine stand long enough on the table to test whether it improves as the temperature increases.

Sitting not too far from the entrance I was able to get an idea of the customers. Obviously a problem that all tourists face when they travel is lack of local knowledge. I was staying with friends on the outskirts of the city and could get recommendations there but for the centre of Barcelona I was like most other visitors. Having chosen ‘blind’ it was good to see that the majority of those who came in after me where obviously locals who returned on a regular basis.

How am I so sure that these were Catalans as they entered? Their form of dress. Although I had been walking around allowing the sun to caress my bare arms on Montjuic (a few days before) and L’Eixample this particular morning the overwhelming majority of locals still considered it was winter. The standard winter clothing for Catalan women is the padded, quilted jacket, together with a scarf. For the men similar long scarves with leather bomber jackets. I had confirmation of their status as they passed me. I was sitting with my jacket on the back of my chair and could read their thoughts through their looks of astonishment. To a Catalan I must have only recently escaped from an asylum which would not have been the reaction of most other foreign visitors.

Before my order had been taken I had noticed a number of plates of ‘albondigas’ – meatballs – going passed and thought to try them. They are normally a good standby on the menu. When they arrived they were in a thickish tomato sauce, in which were strips of carrot, sweet red pepper, onion and peas. The sauce was tasty but I’ve still to decide on the meat balls themselves. In consistency and taste they seemed like spam to me. I haven’t come across that before and still don’t know if I would choose again if it was on offer.

It might be worth mentioning here that you don’t normally get vegetables with the main, apart from possibly chips, so if you insist on some sort of balance think about this when ordering.

The dessert is normally quite simple and I chose the ‘macedonia’, the mixed fruit salad that came served in a small wine glass.

I thought this was quite a good place. The service was efficient and I was not hurried. The place got busier the closer it got to 15.00 but it was big enough so it didn’t seem like a crush. One touch I quite liked was the waiter asking a lone man who left to use the services whether he had left ‘alguna cosa importante’ (anything of value) in his bag at the table.

I later realised that this restaurant was part of a small local chain in the city, something that’s still quite unusual, but would have no problems trying any of the others if they were nearby at lunch time.

It was a pleasant environment – the jamones serrano were hanging from the ceiling lower down the restaurant and there were some interesting, large, Modernist-looking lamps from the ceiling

The last thing to note is you don’t pay the waiter. Take the bill that would have been left on the table to the till.

Practical Information:

El Glop – Taverna del Teatre

Casp 21

Just off the bottom of Passeig de Gràcia, near to Plaça Catalunya.

Nearest Metro: Catalunya

 

Le Nou – Restaurant – Barcelona

Le Nou - 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla - Carrer de l'Est

Le Nou – 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla, Barcelona

If you’re going to eat one main meal of the day in Catalonia the best you can do, in terms of value for money and often in terms of quality, is to go for a ‘Menu’. Although in a place like Barcelona they are used to foreign tourists the pronunciation of this is phonetic, no fancy messing around with the ‘n’ as if it were a Castilian ‘ñ’.

This is a set meal, normally of three courses, that is: starter, main meal, and the 3rd which is often given as a choice between a dessert or a coffee. Check to see if the bread (pa) is part of the deal, as well as the beguda (drink). The drink can be something soft, like the ubiquitous and disgusting sugary drink that comes in a red can, a beer, water or wine. Decide at the beginning as if you change your mind that goes outside of the arrangement.

I had been exploring the area of Montjuic, an area I had been to before but many years ago, looking for a common grave that was supposed to exist of those who had been murdered by the Franquista Fascists during and after the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

By 14.00 I was getting hungry and passed a place that was busy (always a good sign) and had a ‘Menu’ on a blackboard outside that looked reasonable. (If you want the menu, in the English sense, then you ask for the ‘carta’.) Here it’s perhaps worth while saying that you can spend your time looking for a cheap Menu – and they do exist – but you get what you pay for. Pay little and the main course will be a hamburger and your drink will be served by the glass.

I chose Le Nou, at 93 Nou de la Rambla, a long, narrow street that runs west from La Rambla. It’s the street that has the Palau Güell at one end, the London Bar somewhere towards the first third and, if you keep on this road, just after passing Refugi 307 on your left, you’ll eventually pick up a path and then steps that take you alongside the diving pools of Montjuic – which older readers might remember from the 1992 Summer Olympics – (now sadly left to go to rack and ruin and with seagulls being the only patrons but I suppose that’s better than the situation in the late ’90s when dogs and children were swimming in the stagnant water).

The 1992 Olympic Diving Pool in 2014

The 1992 Olympic Diving Pool in 2014

But back to the meal.

I choose the fish soup as a starter and lamb cutlets for the main, which came with potatoes strongly influenced by garlic. There’s a lot of fish served in this restaurant so there’s no excuse for an infinite supply of good, fresh and strong fish stock, and that was what this soup was all about. Added to that stock were some shellfish, mussels and clams, as well as a large king prawn/Dublin Bay prawn/Langostine, choose your definition – I can’t always keep up with the gradations.

As I sat there waiting for my food what convinced me that my choice of restaurant a good one was the fact that although there were a few tourists, including myself, the majority of people were locals having their lunch break. If a place can provide a silent recommendation it can do much worse than indicate that local people keep on coming back. Whilst waiting for the first course, and during it, I heard a number of paella orders being called for the starter. This also seemed to go down well but as I make one of the best paella’s outside of Valencia (the home of the dish) it made no sense for me to go for it here.

As a drink I chose the red wine. This came as a bottle opened in front of me and basically you can drink as much as you want. One or two glasses, or the whole bottle, the damage when it comes to pay is the same. This used to be the case when I first started travelling around Spain/Catalonia 20 years ago but wasn’t sure if this was still the case now that we’re in the middle of the supposed ‘economic crisis’ but was glad to see that the tradition still continues.

Not that it was a great wine. Let’s be real here. We’re talking about a bog standard house wine and at 11% it was a bit young and thin and I won’t be looking for it in the shops in the future – I’ve already forgotten the name – and it tasted no more appetising at the bottom as it did at the top but I had to try for the sake of the blog (how I sacrifice myself for the internet?).

For the main course I had three thin, lamb cutlets – but not that thin you felt yourself being given short change. Well done, so if people like their lamb a bit raw perhaps this should be mentioned on ordering (don’t know what would be the result but my experience at this restaurant gives me the impression they would at least consider what was asked for) and the dish was more than adequate for my needs at midday after 4 or so hours walking around.

(It was my misfortune to sit next to a couple of young tourists. That’s not really a problem but they were of the generation that takes a picture of their food and posts it on some of the social networks. That’s not really my scene so you’ll just have to take my word about the food. Sorry!)

These places are also good for people watching, especially if you travel alone, and it’s fun to work out who are the regulars and who the newbies and perhaps one-timers. However the staff were quick and efficient without rushing the diners. They understood when the next course was needed and the orders were processed in an unhurried and competent manner.

A TV was showing music videos in the corner but not obtrusively. For me it was interesting as although I might know the names of these groups/individuals not having a tele I wouldn’t recognise them if the walked past me, in the same way as I wrote about the politicians I saw on the TV when I was just about to start the Coast to Coast walk at St Bees Head. The jury’s still out about whether I gained from seeing the tele during my meal or not but the experience hasn’t encouraged me to get one on returning home.

I went for the dessert instead of the coffee and was presented with a slice of cheesecake. Perfectly adequate.

I wasn’t rushed. I entered at about 14.00 when it was busy and left about an hour and a half later when it was quiet. A few people were coming in for the Menu and still getting, at least as far as I could see, the same options quite late in the afternoon – from my experience most Menus will finish around 15.00.

Menus (in the English sense) were in English for those who were obviously not Catalan/Spanish. I came in wearing a short-sleeved shirt so that put me in the camp of the foreigners right away as it was the middle of February. Although it was a pleasant spring day to me it was still winter for the locals.

If you’re up this end of the city, not exactly in the centre of the tourist attractions, I think you could do much worse than taking in the ‘Menu’ at Le Nou.

Practical Information:

Menu €9.90 – lunch time, more or less, 12.00 – 16.00

Address: Le Nou Restaurant and Bar, 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla/Carrer de Santa Madrona