Winter Warmers in Barcelona
As an expat in Barcelona this is the time of year I feel most homesick. Not for the weather you understand – as I write there are 80 mile an hour winds gusting along the shores of Pembrokeshire and the kind of rain that can slash your cheeks open – but for what the season brings with it. Crisp, country walks followed by a pint of real ale (in modern-day speak that would be a craft beer) down the pub; afternoons spent curled up with a book by a log fire in that dreamlike state of half asleep, half awake; wondrously long roast dinner lunches as the rain hammers against the window panes. Like this, winter is heavenly and always puts me in a festive mood, so while Barcelona is not exactly awash with such places – lets face it, the place is more geared toward a perpetual summer, which of course is why most of us are here – recreating it is not impossible.
I no longer go for Sunday brunch at Federal because it’s too damned good and nothing can induce me to navigate the queues. Instead, and I confess this is the blessing of working from home, I go mid-week nabbing a window table upstairs where I can ponder my latest column in peace while watching the trees shake off the last of their leaves and tuck into cast iron pans of baked eggs, pancetta and cream, perhaps with a keenly spiced Bloody Mary. It’s a health drink!
After a very long Saturday morning stroll along the shore from Barceloneta to Poble Nou (about an hour at a casual pace) I like to end up at Balius Bar, which to my mind is easily the best cocktail bar in town not least because they open in the afternoon. I go alone and ruddy faced with a good book, and sip a killer negroni or better yet a Boulevardier, which is the same as a negroni (equal parts gin, campari and vermut over ice with a slice of orange) replacing the gin with whisky. A place to bask in the glow of this former ironmongers, the wood panelling and smoked glass making it far cosier than its former incarnation implies, it is the ultimate in winter afternoon decadence.
If I’m feeling too lazy for a long walk, and a little bit posh, then I simply amble along the front from the W Hotel to the Arts. Gentle exercise like this, particularly around sunset, perhaps as an appetite sharpener before dinner, earns you a glass of champagne at Frank’s Bar with its deep green sofas and vast, bio-ethanol fireplace positioned just so in the centre of the room. Trust me, you can’t beat it on a stormy day.
And this brings me to Can Cisa, purveyors of the most exciting wine list in town right now thanks to a stellar list of natural, biodynamic and organic bottles as well as more conventional numbers. Add that the atmosphere is somehow reminiscent of a dreamy neighbourhood watering hole somewhere like New York’s Greenwich Village, except better because it’s stacked with dusty old wine barrels and marble topped tables, and you’re onto a winner. All it misses is the jazz, but the food more than makes up for it so stay for dinner. It’s sensational.
I save Sundays for a long walk on Montjuïc and then treat myself to a cheeky stop at Spice Café where I undo all the good I’ve done strolling over the hill. Here you can leaf through various cookbooks and magazines accompanied by a gloriously indulgent, yet miraculously low fat, low sugar slab of carrot, red velvet or chocolate cake with a good old fashioned cup of café con leche that has not been cold dripped or aeropressed or any such thing. It just tastes like coffee that’s been freshly ground and finished with a shot of steamed milk. And no coffee my friends tastes better than that.