On my last birthday, I received a very exciting and thoughtful gift. Iñaki, who clearly knows me very well, surprised me with a trip to Penedès for a tour of the Freixenet caves in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Cava is generally my go-to drink, the one I choose before all others (if the option is there of course!) Which is far from difficult here in Spain. Ireland, not so much. Sure, nearly every bar stocks prosecco but admittedly I’m not the biggest fan. Where are all the bubbles? Usually dead after the first sip, that’s where. And what sort of Moneybags Mary has the funds for champagne at every occasion? So for me, cava is the perfect inbetweener, and Freixenet is the very best. Followed by Perelada, if you’re curious. Two companies who just get it right.
As you may already know, Iñaki and I currently live in different cities. We have pretty busy schedules but generally do pretty well at planning ahead so we can carve out time to spend with each other, with our families and of course get away together somewhere for a few days. We agreed that the best time to use my delightful cava pressie would be February, a month where both of us had a little bit more free time after the madness of Christmas.
Obviously, you can’t go to Penedes without going to Barcelona, so I knew we’d get some mileage out of this trip. We planned to spend a couple of days in the city which of course was also very exciting. Cava with a very pleasant detour. The trip was like one of those Russian matryoshka dolls, a gift that keeps on giving.
Ah, Barcelona. It felt good to be back. It’s such a wonderful city and I hadn’t been in five years, which honestly doesn’t feel like that long ago. Anyway (and more importantly!) Iñaki’s brother, wife and cute little nephew live there, so we’d be able to spend time together, catch up and of course get some insider tips on the best places to eat and drink in the city. Which is what a holiday is all about. This one, in particular, ended up being a food lover’s dream.
The lobby at The Vincci Marítimo
I flew from Granada to Barcelona and Iñaki’s flight from Madrid arrived just before mine. We headed to our new home for a couple of nights, the Vincci Marítimo, a very nice hotel close to Iñaki’s brother’s apartment. I was really impressed with this hotel. It had the comfiest bed, lovely bright rooms and a very good breakfast. I’m pretty sure I wrote this in a blog post somewhere here before but I judge an entire hotel based on their breakfast. Even if the room is lacking a little something, if the breakfast is amazing then all is forgiven. Back to the breakfast – they serve everything! Cheeses, meats, hummus, tortilla, salads, fruits, cereals, pastries, juices, waters, coffee, cava (waaaay too early for that but the option is there) and the part we loved, little pancakes with dulce de leche. I’m sure I failed to mention some of the stuff they serve but the final part is the most important, let’s be honest. Iñaki and his family are absolute fiends for dulce de leche, so this information was well received. I’m pretty sure we discussed it more than once. No doubt we’ll discuss it again. See? The breakfast makes the hotel.
We dumped the bags (aka dead weight that keeps me from using both hands for food) and met Joaquín, Helena and baby Leo for lunch at a really nice place, 9 Granados, that we ended up choosing at random (I do love that you can do that in Barcelona, the restaurant quality there is excellent.) We ordered a few dishes to share, which is always the best way. Who doesn’t love trying bits of everything? We ordered toast with tomato (pa amb tomaquet) and jamón, steak tartare, pork cheek croquetas, Argentinean steak with rustic potatoes and Café de Paris sauce, deep fried brie with red pepper jam and scrambled eggs with ham, foie and skinny fries. Afterwards, we went to an ice cream place around the corner where I had an affogato in the cheeriest red cup, Helena had a coffee and lemon pie and the men had ice cream. There was a scoop of dulce de leche there somewhere, I’m sure of it. No ice cream for Leo as he was sleeping soundly post lunch. Such a good little baby.
Iñaki and I said our goodbyes to our lunch companions for the afternoon and spent the rest of our first day exploring the city. We walked along Gran Via toward Plaza España and back through the Gothic Quarter.
Looking through the pictures from our trip I noticed I took far fewer photos than usual. I was enjoying the February sunshine on my face and becoming reacquainted with the city. With thousands of steps racked up, we figured we were owed a little rest time and stopped in the prettiest little plaza, Plaça Reial to visit a cocktail bar called Ocaña; a recommendation of Joaquíns. And let me tell you – it was love at first sight. You know when you go on a trip and you find a place you really like and tend to revisit it? That was Ocaña for us. It’s a wonderland of renovated architecture from the 1800s with collections of all sorts of artefacts that make it such a unique spot. Some of the furniture is from the 60s, with wooden pews from a church in Bavaria and some wooden panels from a 16th-century church in León. The cocktails are delicious (they use their own homemade bitters and syrups) and the downstairs space is great for events and gigs. Even the bathrooms have personality. Normally I stick to a very limited number of cocktails (nothing creamy or brightly coloured – if it’s blue or pink, it’s out of the question) but I had to try the Harley Quinn. No regrets there, it was amazing. Tequila, chilli, lime, passionfruit and cream soda. I’m going to try and recreate it. Iñaki loved his Old Fashioned too. It had one of those fancy ice spheres in it that would probably kill a person if you threw it hard enough. Not that we tried it or anything.
We then had dinner at Restaurante Montiel, a place I really enjoyed the last time I was in Barcelona, and wanted to experience again. The first time I went, I had a wonderful tasting menu there with all kinds of delights; oysters, jamón, duck, lobster, wagyu beef…complete with two desserts. It was excellent value, the service was wonderful and I always said I’d go back. Here’s the review and the photos make me laugh – I remember I forgot my camera so I had to use my phone. The quality of mobile phone cameras in 2013 compared to now is crazy. The photos are disgraceful (I can say the same for my eyebrows) but sure look, I got the message across! I think.
This time around we didn’t end up ordering the tasting menu due to the fact that it has changed big time since my last visit. €12 extra per person with mostly vegetable courses. We ordered from the a la carte and shared local cheeses (as a starter oddly enough but we enjoyed it…who says cheese has to come last?) and ordered the lamb and slow-cooked beef. It The beef was heavenly and the lamb was tender and juicy. We were both very happy! All in all a wonderful meal, even if it wasn’t what we had expected. Very professional service and the atmosphere is still the same. We enjoyed our little aperitivo too – pumpkin, ginger and clove soup with vanilla crumble. Sounds mad but it was actually delicious.
We went back to Ocaña for a nightcap and a spin in their photobooth (as featured above – don’t drink and photobooth!) before heading back to the Vincci to the giant cloud bed of dreams. Their beds are pretty much two double beds stuck together. Ridiculously big and probably wouldn’t fit in your average bedroom.
I need one.
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