This is the end my friend – the final full day in Barcelona. We need to start the day with a hearty breakfast at the Kiosko Universal in the Boqueria. This is the place we have watched each time we’ve been in the market, with it’s piles of mixed mushrooms high on the counter. We tried to get their early and our cunning ploy worked and we got stools up at the bar. The locals tend to start their days with all manner of seafood and cava, but the thought of champagne and clams for brekky just didn’t do it for us. Instead, the fried eggs. They come with bacon, or mushrooms or just with patates (read chips). Of course the experience is the show behind the counter – there’d be 30 or so people sitting round the bar and the waiters write down nothing. They call their orders to the chefs, they make coffee and serve tapas and they remember the lot when comes the time to put the bill down in front of you. Pip chose the mushrooms, which came with two fried egs and chips. I chose the bacon, which came with two fried eggs and chips and Eamon chose the patates, which was just two fried eggs and chips. Apart from Pip’s mushrooms, with which she was very happy, Eamon and I were a little disappointed with our choices which were rather oily to put it mildly. Still the coffees were good and the bread – oh the bread here! – was fabulous.
We left the Boqueria on a mission to complete some last minute purchases and a determination to try and avoid the same places we had already been (what’s the point in going over old ground) which was harder than you might think for we had racked up an impressive number of kilometers traversing this ol’ town. We turned to the resort of the desperate – our city map – decided that if we headed to the north east, there was an unexplor-ed district called El Born we could head for. This is roughly the area we stayed in in our first visit to this City all those decades ago and had been an oversight this time round.
What an extremely pleasant surprise – El Born, like so much of Barcelona – has undergone a rejuvenation and was chockers with elegant bars and restaurants, bright, funky shops and a lively street scene. We roamed, ambulated, strolled and rambled for several hours and came upon (yet) another market, this time the stylishly re-designed Santa Caterina Market. Another house of Jamon. Santa Caterina has been beautifully re-designed with a amazing, wavy timber roof and a facade of stylised packing crates – much brighter and shinier that the Boqueria; much the same stock as the Boqueria, but maybe a little less of the spirit of the Boqueria. Still, another Barcelona gem. Not too far away, an even ‘nuther market, Mercad El Born is closed for renovation and looked quite similar to the Mercat Sant Antoni that we had seen closed for renovations a few days ago. I’ve got to ask how we, at home in Brisbane, have developed such a different and markedly less interactive and communal approach to shopping. We have one or two struggling, tiny fruit shops and butchers and bakers standing around the giant Coles and Woolworths temples of mediocrity and corporate greed. Again, our sheer expanse and desire for low density has dissipated our sense of community and disabled the viability of small businesses and encouraged the giants with their expansive car parkery to flourish. There are glimpses of local markets and successful local shops in some of the higher density, urban suburbs, but by and large they’re upmarket reinventions thoughtfully designed and conceived for an upmarket clientele. Ooh! I think I digress!
Meanwhile, back in Barcelona, we were watching a group of buskers performing trad-jazz classics and wondering how the hell you busk with an upright piano, while we consulted our Barcelona subway app to find the nearest Metro station and the route home. Once home and rested, number young son thoughtfully requested to be allowed to remain at home with a pesto pasta, while Pip and I decided to farewell Barcelona with a meal in a ‘nicer’ type of restaurant.
We waited till a respectable 8pm before heading out and walked to the main drag for to hail a cab and head back to the Placa St Jaume, which we had decided would deliver us the kind of restaurant we sought. We were thus delivered and set out to re-trace our steps of a few days ago, to an area where we were sure we had seen some likely venues. Half an hour’s roaming and we came to El Gran Cafe, which seemed just the shot. A beautiful looking, French-style cafe with waiters in long white aprons, a reasonably priced menu and, a, you know, elegant vibe. All white linen and huge wine glasses; waiters with ear-pieces; campy maitre-de; Ned Flanders on the piano – we’d struck restaurant pay dirt.
After carefully choosing a Rioja from the middle of the wine list – a temparanillo pinot blend he said in a posh accent – we decided to share some codfish croquettes before choosing an entree each and a main course each. I went with the vibe of the place and opted for the cream of lobster soup followed by the monkfish, costa brava style, while Pip chose a duck leg with truffled potatoes and shoulder of kid. I chose the monkfish because I had seen it on display in the various markets we had wandered through over the last week and had been taken by its ugliness – huge mouth filled with sharp teeth – and the fact that it was a white fish that was cut in cutlets, like mackerel. It was the consistency of a tender steak in that it didn’t flake like other white fish and it was chewy, but not tough. Costa brava style was baked with potato on top. Our food was terrific, but again, the performance of the staff it was that kept us amused. Señor Campy Maitre-de was having issues with one of the waitresses and they were arguing and wildly gesticulating until Señor Floor Manager entered the scene to shush them and disappear upstairs with them. Señorita reception was having issues with Ned Flanders, who played for a few minutes then need to stand at the bar for a drink for a half hour, hiding behind a pillar – so there was more gesticulation and terse pointing to the piano. There was a large group of similarly suited gents in the basement – Pip reckoned on 70 or so on one big table – and their hapless waiter seemed to be serving them all by himself, up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement five plates at a time for a long time. It was all extremely entertaining. After the altercation between the Maitre-de and the waitress, they kept passing each other over-courteously with lips pursed, each one holding individual briefings with the other staff on the floor. Ned Flanders eventually re-appeared at the piano and played some Sati extremely well, before needing another refresher, and Pip and I ate every scrap of extremely delicious food on our plates and drained the extremely well-chosen wine before I moved on to a coffee and lemon and lime cream, which was really like yoghurt but extremely yummy. Despite the histrionics, and probably partially because of them, we had a beautiful meal in fine surroundings that marked the end of a lovely week in a gorgeous city.