This week, Culture Trip Barcelona’s foodies went to try out the tapas bar at the classic Cañete restaurant in the heart of Barcelona’s vibrant Raval neighbourhood. Well known to be one of the finest eateries in town, we went to get a taste of traditional Spanish tapas with a touch of fine dining.
There are two areas at Cañete each with their own feel and style. The Mantel (meaning tablecloth) is designed like a traditional restaurant dining room and has the feel of a lavish French bistro, with tables nestled up against comfy red leather seats and soft lighting. Step next door and enter the Barra (bar) which is themed on a classic Spanish eatery where clients gather around the bar for a drink and a few tapas all consumed stood up or from a stool if you’re lucky. However, don’t expect to find any sawdust on the floor (a handy trick for soaking up with the drips and drops which gather on the floor of busy neighbourhood locales), Cañete is for all intents and purposes a fine-dining establishment where the locals know to visit for a special occasion.
Although there are a few tables available in a small room at the back of the Barra, the experience is undoubtedly best when enjoyed from a stool at the bar. From there diners can watch as the chefs prepare their food to order and the barmen hurry round with trays of fresh seafood and bottles of cava. The décor is opulent (an interesting contrast with the location itself on the back streets of the Raval, which used to be considered a no-go area in Barcelona as recently as 20 years ago) and you immediately feel like you’ve walked into somewhere special. If you’re looking to eat at the bar, expect to have to wait for a stool as bookings aren’t taken for the bar area – however we ordered a glass of cava to accompany the wait and soon felt part of the party.
The tapas here are mostly classic Spanish but executed with a level of attention to detail and quality products you’d be hard- pressed to find in other places. The menu is an homage to the best of regional Spanish produce and specialities: jamón Iberico, Andalusian gazpacho, fried fish from Málaga, Palamós prawns, etc. with a touch of classic French which is quite at home in Catalonia (think Chateaubriand with Béarnaise sauce or fillet steak with foie gras and truffle). The chefs work right in front of your eyes and you can tell they take great pride in what they do. The dishes are all rather on the heavy side and, as is quite common in Spain, vegetables can be a little sparse unless you order a salad or portion of grilled vegetables.
The food all comes in small dishes ideal for sharing, the ‘Para Picar‘ section contains mostly cured, dried or pickled cold tapas and a few fried tapas such as croquetas – the sort of dishes you would expect to find in any traditional tapas bar here in Spain –while the ‘Platillos‘ and ‘Nuestros Classicos‘ contain more elaborate dishes which require preparation in the kitchen. We started with a few boquerones (mild white anchovies preserved in oil), a half portion of jamón and a Russian salad (a cold potato and mayonnaise salad with gherkins and other morsels inside that is very popular in Catalonia). While being on the more expensive side compared to other tapas bars, the quality of the produce here was noticeable and so the price seems justifiable.
To satisfy those with a sweet tooth, Cañete’s dessert menu is in keeping with the rest of its food offering: classic sweets, well-made. The French influence is present here with a classic ‘milhojas‘, better known as millefeuille, or the baba au rhum. However traditional Spanish classics such as torrijas (a version of bread and butter pudding involving bread dipped in milk and sugar before being fried in oil) or tocinillo de cielo (a custard tart) are a welcome hint at the simple pleasure of home-cooking.
The wine selection at Cañete was impressive if at times a little daunting given the high prices of some of its more superior bottles. Luckily, alongside the €750 bottle of Vega Sicilia D.O. Ribera del Duero or the €475 bottle of Petrus, there were some more affordable wines which held their own on the menu. We tried a glass of the house white, a fruity Verdejo which was completely respectable, before getting a recommendation for a bottle of red. While the waiter did not seem to have completely mastered the wine list, we were pleased with our choice and felt it matched what we were looking for well.
Our experience at Cañete was one which combined the luxurious feel of a fine-dinning establishment with the buzz and atmosphere of a popular neighbourhood haunt. Tables of elderly Catalans in their Sunday best mingled with young couples laughing with the waiters. At times, the atmosphere felt a little too exclusive for our liking but didn’t leave a bitter taste in the end. Despite its location a stone’s throw away from the Rambla in the backstreets of the Raval, the restaurant is a well-known favourite among the more discerning local diners. The prices are on the expensive side but you get what you pay for: quality produce and a spot at one of the places to be in Barcelona.