“You’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than Barcelona for food, aside from it being the centre of everything” (Anthony Bourdain).
“Adaptation, inspiration, association” were the stages in the creative curve at Bulli, Ferran Adrià’s restaurant which took its place in the annals of world gastronomy: adaptation, inspiration, association. And that is what can be inhaled through the streets of Barcelona, too: adaptation and a desire to experiment, inspiration and creativity, association and exchange.
“80% of what is available today in a gastronomic restaurant is the result of our history”, Adrià loved to say. Something you can’t help sharing in. Indeed, in his restaurant on the Costa Brava, open just six months a year (the staff spent the other six months in a centre dedicated exclusively to research and experimentation), there were up to 40 staff for 50 customers plus four sommeliers on the floor. It held three Michelin stars through to its closure on 30 July 2011. And, in 2014, it reopened as a creative hub. That’s just the way Barcelona works: maximum experimentation and creativity, but always with a clear business orientation.
The destination of lovers of gourmet food, it lies among the most coveted places to eat, while also being a leading light for mixology and craft beers. This is self-evident as soon as you set foot inside the ‘Garage’ (Eixample quarter): a perfect mix of minimalist industrial décor, street art, installations on peeling walls and, at the back, the renowned spot where they produce your order right in front of you.
Here, in 2015, two friends – Alberto Zamborlin (Italian) and James Welsh (English) – opened a brewpub in a garage (hence the name), starting up their first venture. It was an instant hit, to the extent they needed to open a second and much larger brewery in Sant Andreu, some seven kilometres from the original ‘Garage’. 500,000 Euros were raised through crowd funding in just a month to finance the new place. Without reneging on its craft origins, the brand proffers a great mix between high quality beer, fantastic minimalist design and cutting edge packaging for the time (all ‘Garage’ beers are available in cans). Having become a point of reference in the beer sector, aside from these beers it also has very interesting food on offer, in addition to musical and cultural events.
Barcelona is as dynamic by night as it is by day, full of things to discover. Take, for example, the ‘Rooftop Smokehouse’: “A smokehouse on a roof; a project created among friends, alcohol, an empty wine barrel, in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood. Once we had that first ton of oak, we started to smoke everything”: fish, meat, butter and vegetables all given a unique flavour. They supply several restaurants, including ones with Michelin stars, from their headquarters in the former Lehmann factory, where they adapted an old redbrick 1850s smokehouse.
Here they ferment, make pickles and, above all, smoke sustainable raw materials from farmers, fishermen and peasant farmers they know personally. They also organise dinners and tasting events, supporting one of the many select markets at the base of many commercial activities in Catalonia of great cultural interest.
From the global gastronomic excellence of the ‘Bulli’ to the modernity of the ‘Garage’ or the top quality products from the ‘Rooftop Smokehouse’, Barcelona offers a constant affirmation of inventive genius, business and experimentation. There are things to suit any palate or taste: the elegance of the décor and delightful tapas at the ‘Vermutería del Mar’ (for a more adult crowd) to the exuberance and cocktails of the youthful ‘Nevermind’ (a point of reference among teens and twenty-somethings in the Gothic neighbourhood) where they drink till dawn in a skate rink, among fluorescent lights with music blasting out. It is impossible to stay still in a city in continuous motion.
Alessandro Di Giacomo
Photo Elisa Imperi (www.itm.srl)