Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mercado de Santa Catarina, Barcelona

Cuines Santa Caterina

The undulating multi-coloured roof in Barcelona’s El Born district is the stand-out feature of Mercado de Santa Caterina.  It’s a far more utilitarian and restrained piece of architecture than the Scottish Parliament building, which Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue also designed.  This is the market where locals shop.  Tourists are much rarer here than at La Boqueria and those who do find it are, mercifully, discreet.  Although I may take a look at the Boqueria market, this is the one I simply can't miss when I’m in Barcelona.

The stalls are all of the highest quality but just observe where the Señoras are queuing to find the very best. The fish in Spain always looks great but the freshness here is something we can only dream of in most of the UK.  I’m told this is because we are not prepared to pay as much for fish as the Spanish are but prices in Barcelona looked very reasonable compared to London.

When you’ve finished looking round the market stalls, there is a great little bar in the corner of the  in-house restaurant Cuines Santa Caterina  where you can get a good Cortado and breakfast on a Pincho Tortilla and tomato bread.  They also do an utterly delicious Jamon Pais Bocadillo, made from the thinnest ‘Flauta’ bread split, the crumb rubbed with tomato and filled with excellent ham.  Throughout the day they serve a small freshly prepared menu from its own little one-man kitchen.   

Whether you eat at the bar or in the restaurant you'll eat well on the freshest of produce.  Chefs in the huge open kitchen of the restaurant work at a frenetic pace.  You can take a high seat right in front of the action or at a small or large table.  It being the last week in March, we were there at the height of the Calҫot season.  Traditionally Calҫots were the onions which the harvesters missed in the autumn.  They remained in the ground over winter and in Jan-Feb sprouted from the old bulb.  These days they are a delicacy and are planted to over-winter.  Somewhere between a spring onion and a leek, they are roasted over an open fire and served piping hot with a kind of Romesco sauce of hazelnuts, almonds, sweet ñora pepper, tomato, garlic,olive oil and the flesh of a tomato roasted over the fire.  You must strip away the outer "stocking", roll up the flesh and dip into the sauce.  Fantastically messy and wonderfully good. 

We also shared a Calamari Fideuà - short, thin pasta shreds baked almost to a crip until the deep rich sauce had fully penetrated the pasta - exceptionally good, though the accompanying alioli lacked a garlicky punch.  We also had the tiniest razor clams (Navajas a la Plancha) simply served with an aromatic garlic and parsley butter.  With two glasses of house wine, bread, water and a 1 Euro donation to the Spanish equivalent of Street Smart, we were very happy with a bill of 38 Euros for two.

While you're in the neighbourhood, you can check out the venerated and influential tapas bar Cal Pep which is 5 minutes away at Plaҫa de les Olles 8, the Museu Picasso for a cultural hit and the starkly beautiful Santa del Mar and Catedral La Seu for some spiritual sustenance.

Mercado Santa Caterina
Cuines Santa Caterina
Carrer d'En Giralt El Pellisser 2, Barcelona
Bar: breakfast till late
Restuarant: 13.00-late