Sometime in the 1980’s, I stayed at a hotel in the Swiss village of Morgins in the Porte du Soleil ski region. I remember little about the skiing or location after so long, but one thing stuck with me. One evening in the hotel, presumably so they could allow some staff a night off, they served a buffet in place of the more formal dinner. Buffet’s normally disappoint but on this occasion the food was beautifully presented on mirrored surfaces, and its appearance was matched by its quality, with one dish particularly memorable. Brochettes of lamb.
My palette was far less developed in those days, so I couldn’t begin to guess at what ingredients had been used to marinade and season these simple skewers of grilled meat, but they were succulent and delicious. For years they were unsurpassed in my memory.
But this post is about Spanish gastronomy not Swiss, so let me change tack.
I’ve touched on tapas before; when writing about Venetian cicchetti for example. Every nation that produces small bite-sized dishes inevitably finds it referred to using tapas as a reference (so Venetian Tapas, Brazilian, Korean, Philipino etc). Being in Spain I thought I’d better try the original and did so twice in Barcelona (can’t think what I ate for lunch on the other days I was there!)
One of my experiences was distinctly average. My guide-book recommended a particular brewpub and I ordered a selection of seafood tapas, only to received a single plate of seafood that seemed to offer nothing that was overtly Spanish or even cared for. I could have eaten similar plates at home in the UK, and with better beer.
Thankfully that didn’t describe my experience at Tapas 24.
I’d been walking for about 4 hours when I arrived there at 12.15 but this, I was told, meant that they were still only serving breakfast which perhaps explained the lack of customers. I should return after 12.30 if I wanted tapas for lunch, which I duly did after a short detour to the park in Plaça de la Catalunya. Now this little basement eatery was heaving with customers, but at least being a lone diner I could find a spot at the counter around the bar.
An English menu was swiftly provided (why is it always so obvious to our European neighbours?) and I set to choosing some dishes, ordered a cerveza and began the anticipation. Tapas 24 has a reputation to uphold. Run by Carles Abellan, the chef who was contracted for 15 days to work in El Bulli (winner of the world’s best restaurant accolade a record five times) but who stayed for 15 years, it is renowned for serving gourmet versions of classic tapas.
My choices didn’t provide the most balanced diet, but each proved to be a revelation. Bombes de la Barceloneta was a perfect sphere of meatball and potato croquette with a combination of creamy and spicy sauces expertly coating one side. A safe start that was to be followed by a revelation.
Pinxo de Xai “Alhucemas” translated as simply a spicy lamb skewer, but this was nothing so ordinary. I was finally transported back to my alpine experience of 30 years previously. This was how lamb should be served, so I was already happy with my decision to lunch here. The remarkable thing was that the lamb would then be overshadowed, and by something as straightforward as a cheese and ham toastie!
I’m perhaps guilty of oversimplifying, but the house speciality of Bikini Comerç 24 looks unremarkable. Small and slender triangles of toasted white bread containing just three ingredients. The cheese is mozzarella buffala, and the ham is of course Jamon Iberico, the Iberian ham which may even surpass the finest Italian prosciutto. Two great ingredients but they are lifted to new heights by the addition of black truffle. They were exquisite.
I felt sorry for those whose experience of tapas hadn’t included such delights. I hope they weren’t too disappointed.
Feeling peckish yet?