Sunday, 19 April 2015

Onward from 'Maltby Street 2011' - the strength of the Tintype image

Golden beets
Tintype photograph
© Tif Hunter

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for The Foodie Bugle magazine titled 'On Maltby Street' celebrating the work of photographer Tif Hunter.  It was a piece where my triumvirate of passions - food, photography and art - came together in one ideal package.  The recent release of the Toast menswear Lookbook Spring/Summer 2015, shot by Tif using the Tintype process, prompted me to review and update my earlier article and reproduce it here.  I hope you like it and that it stirs an interest in the medium for you too.

All images are the copyright of Tif Hunter.

My first sighting of Tif Hunter, the photographer, was in a dank alley alongside Victorian railway arches in South London.  Hunched over a wooden box set on a tripod, his concentration was total.  Clearly this was a camera but one belonging to another era.  He drew curious glances from a few early morning shoppers.  Over the following weeks I registered the man’s quiet presence as I worked my way around my regular Saturday morning haunts.  Intrigued but mindful of disturbing his concentration, I walked on by.  Then he was gone and I’d missed my chance to discover just what he was up to.
Several months later a blog post from my favourite local social historian popped up on my computer screen.  ‘The Gentle Author’ blogs each and every day about life, past and present, in and around his beloved London borough of Spitalfields.  Photography is a favourite means of expression for him and once you discover this wonderful blog you become hooked on a daily dose of prose and, often haunting, images.   This particular day brought moody, arresting portraits.  Each subject held the eye with a strong, confident gaze; but were they contemporary or from a time past?  It was difficult to say at first glance.  Yet I recognised every single one of them, each captured in a pause in the working day.  They were the food traders I buy from every Saturday.

Polaroid photograph
© Tif Hunter

These photographs were the work of my mystery man, Tif Hunter.  By talking to the traders I learned there were more wonderful portraits and they shyly shared some of them with me.  There was a quiet pride, shared vicariously by those of us who knew the subjects.  Appetite by now thoroughly stimulated, thankfully Tif Hunter opened his studio in Bermondsey to show all of the portraits.  Alongside these hangings was another of his enthusiasms, ‘still-lifes’ using the Tintype process employed by early photographic pioneers.  The show was called ‘On Maltby Street 2011’ and was a project documenting the Saturday morning shopping scene in this Bermondsey food haven.  Nigel Slater has described Maltby Street as “A slightly secret and hidden place, where supply goes with the ebb and flow of the seasons, where there is a constantly evolving group of traders bringing things to tempt and delight”.  For Tif this exactly describes the area and its inhabitants that he knows so well – his perfect High Street

The studio sits just in the unfashionable side of Bermondsey, away from the Fashion Museum and the hip White Cube Gallery.  A wonderfully understated space with grey plaster and exposed brick walls.  On entering, you can’t miss, centre stage, the beautiful 10x8 specially-made wooden camera with antique brass lens. This is the camera on which the Tintypes were shot.  Alongside, and sharing exactly the same overall technology,  is a 5x4 Sinar precision Swiss made, large format, camera with a Schneider lens dating from the 1970s.  This very different beast allowed Tif to achieve his striking portraits using scarce Polaroid Type 55 film. 

The Type 55 film produces an instant positive print and a fine-grained, long tonal range, extremely high resolution negative.  The negative needs to be dipped in fixer to protect it from scratching before the final prints can be made.  Tif rapidly got to know, intuitively, when he had the shot he wanted.  After a few attempts at carrying chemicals to do the fixing ‘in the field’, he began to dash back to his nearby studio.  By peeling back the film here, he was able to minimise damage to the negative image before fixing it in a more controlled manner. 

Polaroid photograph
© Tif Hunter

Begun in Spring 2011, the portraits on show included butchers, bakers and, yes, even a candlestick maker (Steve Benbow, otherwise known as The London Honeyman, who sells beeswax candles as well as honey).  Most subjects look intently and confidently straight into the camera, their faces full of character.  No instructions were given, other than to look into the lens and keep very still when asked.  Most of the faces register curiosity in what’s going on beyond that lens.   All are shot in natural light and the results are unsparing in their detail.  Tif talks passionately about the photograph of Emma – calm, self-contained, hair blowing in the breeze, her spotted dress echoed in the weather-pitted backdrop to the shot.

So what is it like being the subject of one of Tif’s portraits?  None of the sitters could imagine what the outcome of their few moments in front of the camera was to be.  There was a certain amount of reticence.  Lucie just remembers being “pulled outside” without any time to think about it.  Standing for a full 5 minutes gazing into the lens, Archie felt the nearness of the camera, a little too close for comfort, but was fascinated by the mystique of the old-style techniques. Harry recalls the cold and thinking he couldn’t really spare the time in his working day for this.  These portraits show the affection of the photographer for his subjects and a reciprocated admiration of traditional skills.

Green Tomatoes
Tintype photograph
© Tif Hunter

We move on to the Tintypes.  Dating from 1856, Tintypes are a variant on the wet-plate collodion method invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851.  Although not used much in this country, tintypes were valued in the USA into the early 1900’s for their affordability and durability, and the fact you could create a unique photograph almost immediately.  We’ve all seen those images of American Civil War soldiers posing proudly in their uniforms.  Tintypes were the medium of choice where a blackened sheet of metal is coated with collodion, sensitised in silver nitrate, and, whilst still wet, the sheet is placed in the camera.  Developing and fixing follow immediately after the picture is taken and the image is then washed, dried and varnished.   

This is the process Tif used for his still-life photographs of the produce he was buying from these artisan traders.  Since the Tintype is a camera-original positive, all Tintype images appear reversed (left-to-right) from reality.  This is particularly evident in the writing on an oatmeal tin filled with fresh flowers, which is one of the still-life images.  From the Tintypes he produced, Tif made printed enlargements of some which proved a fascinating addition to the ‘On Maltby Street’ project. 

It was intriguing to find that a group of red tomatoes appear very dark with highlights provided by natural light, yet a similar group of under-ripe green tomatoes appear similarly dark.  This is because the camera picks up the red pigment which is also in the unripe fruit; it’s just that the eye cannot see it as it’s at the UV end of the spectrum, not the red.


Q. You’re a professional photographer working with the latest equipment so what inspired you to go back to basics and shoot with a large format plate camera?
A.  After a number of years of shooting only digitally I felt that I needed to return to the magic of the analogue and the darkroom.  Embracing both the craft and the unexpected in these methods was how I had started in photography.  In the Tintype medium, the alchemy and physical textural qualities of the results is that much more amazing than the black and white methods that I had already known.

Q.  We’re now so used to being able to check immediately what the image we’ve taken looks like, but how much idea do you have of the result when you’ve taken the photograph?
 A. Polaroid 55 Film is very scarce so you can’t afford to waste it.  Consequently I limited myself to a maximum of 2 sheets per subject so I have to know by instinct when it’s right.

Q.  What drew you to the subject of food traders?
 A.  Obviously I have a love of good food.  I feel so lucky to be able to ‘shop local’ and have my own village High Street here in Bermondsey.  This project is very close to my heart and it was an opportunity to celebrate the artisans and the medium.

Q.  What, or who, influenced you to work with the tintype process?
A.  I came across Tintypes when doing some research on the Internet.  Finding John Coffer, the father of Tintypes, was the catalyst.  I’m now completely addicted.

Q.  I know artists are rarely completely satisfied with their work but how do you feel about this project and do you plan to continue with it?
 A.  You’re right, it’s hard to be completely satisfied but I’ve loved doing it.  I may add a few more portraits and will definitely shoot more food related still lifes but I regard the project as complete.

Q.  Do you have any other personal projects planned?
 A.  Yes, but they are only thoughts at the moment.  I do want to continue to shoot portraits but I’m interested in Tintypes this time.

Before I leave, Tif shows me a Tintype portrait he has taken of a fellow photographer.  With Tintypes the pose has to be held for longer so who better than a sympathetic fellow photographer to sit for you.  The subject is framed standing to the left of centre, as if he has just entered the room, paused, and is weighing up the situation.  Highly atmospheric, it’s a beautiful example of what can be achieved when you go back to basics.  Tif mentions the sitter, on seeing the result, commented “you’ve brought out the Irish in me”.  If these forays into Tintype portraits result in an exhibition, I for one will be first in line for a viewing.

Update on the traders ‘On Maltby Street 2011’ at April 2015:
Most of the original artisan traders ‘On Maltby Street’ have now moved 10 minutes East but can still be found occupying the Bermondsey railway arches in an area known as Spa Terminus

About Tif Hunter
Tif Hunter is an award-winning advertising and editorial photographer who has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London. His extensive body of work includes a collaboration with Stephen Bayley on “Cars – Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything”.
In October 2012 Tif Hunter’s Tintype of a Romanesco vegetable won Best in Category for Non-Commissioned Object at the AOP (The Association of Photographers) Awards.  Tif Hunter was elected a member of The Art Workers’ Guild.  In 2014, as part of the Negativeless exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, he exhibited an intriguing piece called Rochambeau, a combination of skilled carpentry and inspired tintype images.  Among Tif Hunter’s latest work is the Toast Spring/Summer 2015 Lookbook employing the Tintype portrait methods I’ve been lucky enough to see him use at his studio. 

See also:

About The Gentle Author
The Gentle Author writes a daily blog ‘Spitalfields Life’

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Birdsong and Broccoli

Broccoli - mainly purple, some white

The birdsong gets louder, and more diverse, by the day.  When that first 'crack of dawn' appears on the horizon the concert begins, progressing from adagio to crescendo in the space of a couple of hours.  I wish I could say I know this because I am experiencing these recitals first-hand but, in truth, it's a vicarious participation for me right now.  This Spring I know about the dawn chorus like I know about the beauty of the sunrise - from friends lucky enough to live by a green space, or have windows facing east.  For the lucky ones, both of the above apply.  Aspect and sound are all important when you live in a city.  Sunrise or sunset, green space or an easy commute. Compromise is certain for the vast majority.

I am a committed townie but, much as I love urban life, the absence of birdsong outside my window is a nagging loss.  I'm not a life-long Londoner, so I know what I'm missing out on.  Birdsong is out there amongst the brick and concrete but most city dwellers have to seek it out in the park, the community garden or city farm.  The lucky few find it in their own little patch of green, or for those fortunate recipients of a key, in the garden square.  The luckiest of all, in my view, find it on the allotment.  Once derided as only for the retired, now lusted after as a must-have accessory for our times; the allotment is what makes it possible for me to survive in a city of 8.3 million people.

Allotment:  A  small piece of, usually, public land rented by an individual for cultivation

Wild violets

Through the creaking oak gate I go, past the sooty-tipped Ash tree where white violets are lifting their lavender-tinted heads.  Their perfume is kept secret from anyone who's not prepared to kneel down and  nuzzle the bosky depths playing host to them.  Stepping onto my allotment is like stepping into another world.  The sound of birds singing their hearts out is almost shocking after the dull hum of the city.  It's the Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Wood Pigeon that are most at home here.  Happy to tolerate humans, happy to take advantage of our digging, our sloppy housekeeping, and very happy at our forgetfulness to safeguard berries and brassicas.  In return we get to hear their songs.  A more than fair exchange, I think.

A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute.


Broad Bean Grando Violetto

If my allotment neighbours hadn't come to my rescue last summer there would be nothing at all to harvest right now.  In mid-Spring a carefully prepared seedbed had been sown with broccoli, cabbage and kale, watered gently and diligently, and scanned obsessively for signs of germination. Faint signs of growth had appeared, fingers were crossed that the little green spikes were brassicas rather than bedstraw.  Then the freak rainstorm hit.  Rivulets gouged pathways through the soil, fragile roots were exposed and delicate seedlings carried off like paper boats on a river.  By the time I accepted that every single one was lost, the time for starting from scratch had passed.  News of successes and failures travels fast on the allotment and, soon, spare plants were proffered and gratefully accepted.

Broad bean seedlings - Wizard & Grando Violetto

This year will be different. I will not put all my eggs in one basket.  An £8 propagator has already produced seedlings of broad beans, broccoli, cabbages, kale and celeriac.  This year I will have plants to spare to come to someone else's rescue. Now it's early April and we are itching to get on with the new growing season.  Broad beans, peas, spinach and early potatoes are planted but without those donations of cabbage, broccoli and kale seedlings there would be no reward for our day's labours.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli seedlings

So, what to do with my harvest?  Anchovies are an invaluable store cupboard ingredient for lifting any number of dishes from salads to roast lamb.  They're particularly good with salad leaves or green vegetables.  Italians like to use them in a sauce with puntarelle, chicory or spinach.  It's hardly original, I know, but I love them with Broccoli and I just happen to have a fantastic crop right now. I have a preference for Purple Sprouting but an anchovy sauce also works with White Sprouting and most spring greens.  Salted anchovies are wonderful but, the more widely-available, tinned ones in olive oil are fine.  Quantities here are just a guide.

Purple (or white) Sprouting Broccoli with Anchovy butter
(Serves 2)

2 good handfuls of Broccoli (or other spring greens)
60g (2oz) unsalted butter (or good olive oil if you prefer)
1 tin of anchovies (I drain the oil as I'm never happy with using it)

Steam the broccoli until just tender. 
Melt (warm through) the butter (olive oil) in a frying pan.  Add the roughly-chopped anchovies and cook, stirring, until the anchovies melt into a sauce.  Remove from the heat.
Add the steamed broccoli and toss in the sauce to coat.

Serve with crusty bread.


London is blessed with its green spaces but let's hear it for more trees for cities. Meanwhile, thank goodness for 'Tweet of the Day'.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Return to Rochelle Canteen

Hake, Monk's Beard & butter sauce
at Rochelle Canteen

I've written about Rochelle Canteen before but, hard as it is for me to believe, that was almost three years ago.  I liked it very much then but now Anna Tobias is in charge of the kitchen and cooking so beautifully that I have to take you with me on a return to Rochelle.

Confit Duck Leg with Lentils
at Rochelle Canteen

It's not the easiest place to find.  You're looking for a former bike-shed in an old school yard with walls too high to see over.  You do a circuit, or two, of lovely Arnold Circus and look for a door set in the wall marked "Boys".  Press the bell and you're buzzed through to the partly-lawned yard.  It's a space that used to echo to the cries and laughter of the children of the surrounding Boundary Estate.  These days the school has retrenched to a building diagonally across the Circus and the old Victorian brick building has a new lease of life housing arts and media businesses and exhibition spaces.  Rochelle serves as a "Canteen" for them and for those intrepid good-food hunters amongst us who don't mind sharing bare tables and, sometimes, high decibel levels.

Hake with laverbread butter
at Rochelle Canteen

Head Chef, Anna Tobias, arrived at Rochelle Canteen in 2013 from Rose Gray and Ruth Roger's The River Cafe.  Anna's cooking stays true to the style of Rochelle's owners - Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold - but there's a new confidence and a particular sympathy in the handling of fish. You can expect 5 starters and 5 mains.  There's often a dish of rillettes or a terrine; maybe smoked cod's roe or brandade; when the season is right there may be a perfect plate of asparagus with hollandaise or samphire with brown shrimp.  Mains might be a gutsy Rabbit Stew; a Smoked Eel, Leek and Parsley Pie; maybe some Sweetbreads; a vegetable-based option or two; and, possibly, a simply cooked Sole or Fillet of Pollock.  Vegetables are highly valued - some of the veg, as well as herbs, are grown in raised beds in the schoolyard.  Puddings are often classics, so you might find a Lemon Posset; an Eton Mess; a Chocolate Tart; or their might be a Lemon Sponge Pudding.

Apple Fritters with Caramel Ice Cream
at Rochelle Canteen

On recent visits I've enjoyed a bowl of Brandade with a soft boiled egg and sourdough toast; a Crab and Little Gem Lettuce salad; a perfectly cooked fillet of Hake served with Monk's Beard and butter sauce; meltingly tender Confit Duck leg with lentils and watercress; another fantastic piece of meaty Hake, this time with laverbread butter; sweet/sharp Apple fritters with caramel ice cream; an Apple Galette with vanilla ice cream; and a heavenly Rhubarb trifle.

Apple Galette & Vanilla Ice Cream
and Rhubarb Trifle
at Rochelle Canteen

Being located in a former school, Rochelle Canteen is restricted to opening for breakfast, lunch and tea Monday to Friday only.  Restrictions also mean there is no drinks licence but you can take a bottle  with you and pay a very reasonable £5 corkage charge.  Handily you can pick up a bottle at Leila's Shop, a half circuit of Arnold Circus away on Calvert Avenue.

Turkish Coffee Cake & Espresso
at Rochelle Canteen

Service varies from briskly efficient to deliciously relaxing depending on how busy the room is but you never feel less than welcome.  If the weather is kind you may get a table in the schoolyard and, if  you're lucky, you might find this joyous Turkish Coffee Cake on the menu to finish with an Espresso. Expect to pay around £25-30 a head including service (excluding drinks).

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
London E2 7ES
Tel +44 (0)20 7729 5677 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini

Egg in the Middle
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

There seems to be no let-up in the trend for cookbooks based on one prime ingredient.  In recent years we've seen In Praise of the Potato by Lindsey Bareham, Le meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre by Joël Robuchon, Bacon by Michael Ruhlman, and The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford.  Ruhlman followed his Bacon book up with the 2014 publication Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient.  But before Ruhlman turned his pen to the egg came Jan Arkless with How to Boil an Egg in 1986. Within the past decade we've seen The Good Egg by Marie Simmons; Michel Roux's Eggs; Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Fresh Egg Cookbook; Lara Ferroni's Put an Egg on It; A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor; and the latest addition to the pot, Blanche Vaughan's Egg.  The egg's protein-packed versatility makes it the perfect food and so the books keep on coming.

Rose Carrarini's How to Boil an Egg, hit the bookshelves in 2014.  The choice of title surprised me as I had fallen for the media myth that Delia Smith had got there first with that one.  In reality, Delia devoted the first three chapters of her 1998 How to Cook book 1 to the subject of eggs, including instructions on exactly how to boil an egg. The fact she had the audacity to suggest anyone might not know how to boil an egg brought a degree of media ridicule not shared by her grateful readership and Delia had the last laugh with phenomenal book sales. Whatever you think, her advice "If you want to learn how to cook, start with eggs" remains excellent advice, I think.

My favourite of the clutch, Rose Carrarini's book is truly all about the egg and shows just what an essential role it plays in our cooking. Whether it's the star or has a supporting role, here the egg carries the dish.  Based on the cooking for her Anglo-French bakery and restaurant Rose Bakery in Paris, means she offers some more unusual recipes and twists on the expected classics.  Continuing the theme of her first book, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, this book is presented in chapters.  'Eggs for Breakfast' offers Chocolate Orange Muffins and Lemon Pancakes as well as Egg in the Middle and Eggs Baked in Dashi.  'Eggs for Lunch' range from Poached eggs in Tomato and Fennel Broth through gratins, tarts and salads to Japanese inspired 'Chawanmushi' savoury custards.  'Eggs for Tea' offers treats like Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, Green Tea Genoise, Îles Flottantes, Deep Custard Tarts and a Semolina Pudding that might just banish all memories of school lunches.  Low sugar and gluten-free are something of a passion too.

I've tried several of the recipes in this book and I have to say it is not without the odd editing error or omission - one recipe forgets to mention the essential component in the ingredients list, another doesn't supply the oven temperature.  It's not a hand-holding kind of book in the manner of a Delia but the small mistakes are pretty obvious so you can't go far wrong.  In another of the 'Egg' books the instructions for 'scrambled eggs' extend to a page and a half, so I'm relieved to say that here they take up a mere three sentences.

Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

And if you're thinking how beautifully photographed the dishes are, look again.  Illustrations are by
Fiona Stricklanda botanical artist who has made an intriguing diversion into food illustration. Different painting techniques had to be explored, including the use of opaque watercolour mixes and a lighter weight of paper.  Shades of white had to be painted-in rather than Strickland's usual technique of allowing the white of the paper to shine through colour to provide highlight and contrast.  The results are, mostly, astonishing.  From the moist crumb and sticky glaze of Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, to the luscious dish of caramel-drizzled îles Flottantes, you can't quite believe what you are seeing.  My favourite illustration, perhaps, accompanies a recipe for Egg in the Middle (at the start of this piece) where the crispness of the fried bread and the just-cooked egg are so perfect you want to reach for a knife and fork.

Eggs Baked in Dashi
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

Here's my adaptation of A Simple Apple Flan.  I like it particularly because rather than being predictably encased in pastry, it's held together by eggs, a touch of corn flour and a layer of caramel. It's light and, despite the caramel layer, slightly tart from the lemon juice which is there more than to simply prevent the apples from oxidising.

A Simple Apple Flan
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini

A Simple Apple Flan
(Serves 6)

150g (5½oz or ¾ cup) Caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
60g (2oz or 4½ tablespoons) butter, diced
1kg (2¼lb) cooking apples such as Bramleys
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)

Pre-heat the oven to 140C(fan 120C)/250F/Gas(oven temperature was missing from the printed recipe so this is my advice)
Heat 100g caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy-based pan over a high heat, gently swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar.  Then boil without stirring for 4-5 minutes to achieve a smooth caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat, add half the lemon juice and 25g butter and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a round ovenproof dish (or smaller dishes) to cover the base and set aside.
Peel, core and slice the apples.  Put them in a stainless steel pan with the rest of the lemon juice and cook over a low heat to a soft purée.  Stir in the remaining sugar.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the beaten eggs, the remaining butter and the cornflour.
Pour the mixture over the caramel and bake for about 30 minutes until it has firmed slightly.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool then refrigerate overnight.
Just before turning out the flan, place on a low heat for a few minutes to release the caramel base then invert onto a serving dish.  
Serve with custard or double cream.

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini - Published by Phaidon

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Barcelona Spring 2015

Barcelona roost

Late February in Barcelona and the citrus trees are festooned with heavy fruits, leafless white-barked plane trees soar into blue skies (maybe we were lucky) and a few delicate blooms of purple bougainvillea cling on gamely.  The squawks of the Monk Parakeets vie with the roar of traffic around the City, sending you scuttling for the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic when the noise gets too much.  Here, I find the most ridiculously picturesque feral pigeon roost I'm ever likely to see.

Breakfasting in a hotel rarely appeals to me.  Early mornings are, I think, the best times to dive into unfamiliar streets and simply follow your nose.  The aroma of eggs being cooked, bread baked and coffee brewed draw me down the streets and alleyways of cities.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad and, if you’re lucky, it can be revelatory.  

Nømad Coffee - Barcelona

I know Barcelona pretty well and this time I’m staying close to the best place for coffee.  I was introduced to Nømad Coffee soon after it opened in 2014.  Starting off its life as Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), which I wrote about last year,  I'm glad to see it has now settled on an easier name to remember.  The place has only got better, serving up, for my money, the best filters and cortados you will find in Barcelona.  The staff are lovely, it's hip without trying and it sits in the rare haven of peace that is Passatge Sert in El Born.  What's more they'll now serve you the best croissant in Barcelona too, from nearby El Born bakery Hofmann.  

Satan's Coffee Corner

Another recent arrival is Satan's Coffee Corner in the Barri Gotic.  It's very close to the Cathedral de Barcelona but hell to find.  Worth seeking out too for Ken's great sandwiches and salads.  If you prefer your coffee more traditionally Spanish, the best place for that is the institution that is El Magnifico at Career de l'Argenteria 64

Sardines & Anchovies
at Monvinic

When lunchtime comes around, I make no apology for yet again recommending Monvinic in the Eixample district.  I last wrote properly about this fantastic wine bar and restaurant back in 2013 and its standards are as high as ever.  The cellar stores several thousand bottles of wine from all over the world and there's a library should you want to make a real study of them.  But it's not just the wines that bring me back to Monvinic.  The food, served in both the low-lit bar and the stylish restaurant is very good and the Menu del Dia remains astonishing value.  Two 'Tapas' dishes (really not that small), a main, a dessert, a glass of wine, bread and water for Euros 19.50 is a steal.  To start, a small dish of Sardines and Anchovies - a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity; a cocotte of just-cooked vegetables in a light, buttery broth; a cream of cauliflower soup; and a bowl of whipped bacalla served simply with toasted bread.  The Monvivic take on the very British Shepherds Pie, in this case using shredded confit duck, was irresistible to us both as a main dish and with our included glass of Catalan Do Empordà Sellecció Vinyes Velles 2011, it did not disappoint.  The dessert was the only no-choice course but was a delicious chocolate tart with orange sorbet.  Honestly, just go!     

Natural wines - L'Anima del Vi

There is a clear interest in natural wines in Barcelona, evidenced at the tucked away L'Anima del Vi and nearby Bar Brutal in Can Cisa on Calle Princesa.  However, it's the cosy Bar Zim which is a firm favourite for me.  Francesco keeps a short wine list available by the glass or bottle and manages to deliver a few freshly prepared tapas using good ingredients and benefitting from having the brilliant Formatgerie La Seu just a couple of doors down.

Quimet y Quimet

For Tapas, the Adria Brothers' Tickets and Bodega 1900 are the current hot spots, both in Parallel. Cal Pep in El Born continues to serve very good seafood but you really should squeeze into the ever-crowded Quimet y Quimet.    

Hofmann Pastelería

I've already mentioned you can buy Hofmann croissants at Nømad Coffee, but for the full range of cakes and pastries a visit to their El Born Pastelería Hofmann is well worth doing - get the almond one!

Fish stall in Mercat de Santa Caterina

There are numerous good markets in Barcelona.  I rarely visit La Boqueria (at La Rambla 91) but can recommend Mercat de Santa Caterina on Av. Francesc Cambo and La Llibertat in Gracia for shopping. La Libertat is the least visited by tourists but there is fabulously fresh produce and I always make a bee-line for LaGrana where the delightful smallholder will point out the best Catalan pine nuts, Marcona almonds, Malaga raisins and so many fruits and then vacuum-pack them for travel - great service of excellent produce.

Oh, and did I mention the beach?

A February evening on the beach
in Poble Nou, Barcelona

Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt
Diputació 249
08007 Eixample

Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
08002 Barcelona

Carrer Dagueria 20
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona

Poeta Cabanyes 25
El Poble Sec

Flassaders 44
El Born
08003 Barcelona