Sunday, 2 December 2012

Fantastic tapas at El Quim de Boqueria

Padron peppers at El Quim
There's just something fantastic about food markets isn't there? I could rattle off my favourites, but at the top would probably be Barcelona's Mercat de La Boqueria. It's the diversity of the produce on offer that just boggles. From the great fruit and veg to the incredible array of seafood as well as the weird and wonderful animal parts that I would have no idea how to cook. I love the fact that La Boqueria is still a bustling, living market, where locals shop elbow to elbow with gawking tourists, but the Catalan still drowns out the English. When you throw in a dozen or so tapas bars cooking with the obviously market-fresh food, I could visit every day and never get bored. Eating at the terrific El Quim de la Boqueria would surely brighten anyone's day. 

All of the tapas joints in the market are busy, but El Quim is generally rammed since it's one of the more well known internationally (I mean, even Rachael Ray has filmed there) and features on lots of must-eat lists of Barcelona. Mr B and I thought a late Friday lunch would mean less of a wait and after scouting out one of the 20 or so stools and identifying some likely early finishers, we settled in. I always find this tapas-dance to be slightly stressful. Not being a Spanish speaker, it's difficult to stake a claim on a stool without being usurped by a savvier local. Maybe I'm just becoming slightly more British in my respect for the queue. Anyway, I made eye contact with one of the waiters who acknowledged our place for a stool and we passed the time checking out the food being handed over the counter, taking a mental note of what to order.
Roasted artichoke at El Quim
My Spanish barely extends to deciphering a menu (much like my French), but El Quim has an English one and the friendly staff in their hot pink t-shirts with the fried egg motif were happy to answer questions. The menu is also your order form, tallying how many padron peppers (I got a hot one!) or grilled razor clams you want. The options swing from the simplest of dishes, like a tortilla, to more elaborate ones like wagyu cutlets or foie gras toppings on just about anything. We chose the simpler items, showcasing the great seasonal ingredients of the market. A simple roasted artichoke, sitting in a small pool of butter, was a classic example of this.
Grilled rovellons at El Quim

Rovello mushrooms were overflowing in many stalls in the market, obviously at the peak of the season, so we ordered them simply grilled and dressed. There can be fewer more satisfying flavours. I really love baby squid too (chipirones) but I've never had them grilled with leeks in a cava-based sauce before. I usually choose Andalusia-style (i.e. deep fried), but I think the grilled method preserved the natural flavour better.
Stewed meatballs at El Quim
Fried eggs and ham are elevated to an altogether new level at El Quim. Crispy egg whites, runny yolks, crunchy grilled ham, fantastic olive oil and a judicious amount of seasoning create a perfect bite. Superb stewed meatballs basically finished us off from eating for the rest of the day, but the plate was cleaned with some help from the excellent bread.
Fried eggs and crispy ham at El Quim
El Quim is not particularly cheap, with a good proportion of the menu above the 20euro level (our total came to about 75euro), placing it on par with many decent restaurants in Barcelona. Still, this is excellent, intuitive cooking that respects the quality ingredients of the bustling Boqueria. With the friendly, knowledgeable service (and Quim himself pouring cava and whipping up desserts), I can think of few better eating experiences. The smiling faces around me seemed to agree. If you are heading to Barcelona, make sure El Quim is on your list of places to eat. You won't be disappointed.
Grilled baby squid at El Quim


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