The neighbourhood of Poble Sec has always existed on the fringes of Barcelona, a working class area home to a culturally diverse population. Yet these days it’s firmly on the map for top-notch eateries, with both locals and tourists vying for a table at its most coveted establishments. Indeed, this is a neighbourhood where chefs like to eat. But it’s also a place where people come to let their hair down, and you can get a decent meal for cheap if you look in the right spots.
If the nearby neighbourhood of Sant Antoni is the breakfast and brunch mecca of Barcelona, Poble Sec has its own selection of decent places to start the day. The boutique Brummell Hotel has partnered with all-day restaurant Tropico to offer guests and locals an exotic brunch menu at weekends. Enjoy dishes such as huevos rancheros with chipotle sauce, a vitamin-rich açaí bowl and freshly-made smoothies.
For something on the go, swing by the La Fabrique bakery – the French owner has ensured they make some of the best croissants in town, as well as other dangerously-delicious pastries such as a frangipane-stuffed pain au chocolat. Their sourdough and speciality breads are also worth taking home for a snack later. Finally, if you can wait until 11am, Spice Café is a cozy coffee shop with an incredible selection of homemade cakes, spiced lattes and other sweet treats.
Poble Sec is a wonderfully diverse neighbourhood and home to an equally eclectic range of restaurants with influences from across the globe. If you’re in the mood for a memorable long lunch, the Venetian-Italian restaurant Xemei is the place for you. A classic Italian menu of antipasti, primi piatti and secondi piatti offers some mouth-watering house specials. Watch out for the oven-roast goat kid, or the sharing platter of fish for starters, with Venetian treats such as sweet and sour sardines, or sarde in saor.
The lack of office blocks in Poble Sec means you won’t find many restaurants specialising in the quick workers’ menu locals look out for. Nevertheless there are some more off-the-beaten track spots for an affordable lunch. Casa Xica is a Catalan-Asian fusion restaurant run by partners in life and in the kitchen, Raquel Cortés and Marc Oliva. Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has been spotted enjoying lunch here, and for just €9 (around US$10) for a main course with a glass of wine, it’s easy to see why it could become a favourite.
While pintxos (tapas served with a stick) might be a Basque Country speciality, they’re also right at home on this buzzing street. Punters will discover dozens of different combinations ranging from the classic – tortilla on a slice of bread – to the downright quirky – goat’s cheese and strawberry jam roulade being a prime example. La Tasqueta de Blai is one of the most popular venues on the street and is busy every evening. Be sure to keep an eye on what’s coming out of the kitchen; the freshest pintxos are the best.
For something a little different, La Chana is a tiny tapas bar whose tagline, ‘friend, fish and rock’n’roll’, does well to sum up what you can expect here. A taste of southern Spain in the heart of Poble Sec, La Chana serves dishes that taste of sunny days in Andalusia: cazon en adobo (fried marinated dogfish) or salmorejo (a thick gazpacho made with bread). These all wash down perfectly with a glass of rebujito, the Andalusian version of a mojito made with dry sherry instead of rum.
The evenings are when Poble Sec’s eateries really come to life as locals flock here from other neighbourhoods in search of their foodie fix. The past few years has seen a number of budding chefs with impressive backgrounds make their mark on the neighbourhood. Mano Rota is a gourmet restaurant with a brazen fusion bent and a modern, minimalist decor. Expect dishes such as fried octopus tacos with mojo, or shrimp dumplings with dashi broth.
La Platilleria is a somewhat understated Poble Sec gem serving refined Spanish tapas in a down to earth tapas bar atmosphere. Chef Fernando spent some time working alongside Catalan rising star Jordi Cruz before opening his own place with friend and front of house whizz Mariela. The menu is written out on a small blackboard as a list of main ingredients – the waiters are there to explain the rest. Classic Catalan and Spanish dishes are revisited with careful execution and are both delicious and beautifully put together. Leave room for the tiramisu, which comes sprinkled with popping candy and is bound to transport you straight back to childhood.
Finally, if you want a taste of the old Poble Sec, a trip to Can Margarit should leave you feeling suitably regaled. Open only in the evenings, the restaurant stretches back into a dimly-lit stonewalled room that could easily be a cellar. The menu pays homage to Catalan cuisine in its humblest form: grilled rabbit with garlic, snails cooked in tomato sauce, botifara sausage and beans. If you sense you may need a little Dutch courage before ordering, you’ll be pleased to know the first thing guests are handed upon arrival is an empty glass to help themselves to a glass or two of house aperitif from the large barrels placed at the entrance.