Sunday, December 06, 2009

Whirlwind Chocolate & Pastry Adventure in Barcelona

Pintxo. Look out for this guy to find the best stall for tapas in La Boqueria

I rather ambitiously thought I could see all that was good in food in Barcelona in one night and one day. Ha.

Not surprisingly due to the amount of sugar I ate in my five-dessert dinner the previous night, I woke up pretty early for my chocolate and patisserie adventure so I went for a quick run (not even remotely enough to offset all the sweet stuff, but hey, I tried).

The view from my perch at Pintxo. I loved this stall owner (and you can see the Xuixos just behind him!).

First stop when I left the hotel properly was Barcelona's food market La Boqueria. Spotting a spare stool at the bar Pintxo which was recommended by Brett of In Praise of Sardines I jumped on it, even though it was 11am and perhaps too early to eat the recommended squid in cuttlefish ink. Never! This was truly one of the best dishes I ate in 2009. The squid was so tender and the salty ink so flavoursome. Eaten with just a broken half-baguette handed to me by the jovial stall owner I devoured the whole lot and mopped my plate with the last mouthful of bread.

My dish of squid and beans at Pintxo in La Boqueria. Ugly, but so good!

During my brunch ecstasy I observed many locals purchase the pastries from the pile in front of me. I had to follow the pack. I barely stepped away from the market before I reached into the bag and tore off a chunk of this doughnut which oozed custard. Oh...... More ecstasy. It was greasy and sugary, but in such a good way, unlike the others I picked up later in the day. Like the squid, this was damn good. It brought back memories of a similar pastry (I think they're called Xuixos) that I encountered in a patisserie on my last day of a six week trip around Spain during university. It's fortunate it was my last day otherwise I might have put on even more than the 11kg I did! (I did try to locate the same patisserie but had no luck.)

My xuixo after the first bite. Nom.

I felt so prepared with my map and list of everywhere worth in eating in Barcelona and it started out so well. My first stop after La Boqueria was Escriba. One of the oldest patisseries in Barcelona and apparently Ferran Adria's favourite. I should have got the croissant because I was underwhelmed by the choices I did make: more grease than flavour.

Escriba on Las Ramblas
Sweet pastry with pine nuts from Escriba (not so special)
More pastries from Escriba (I didn't try - sorry!)

First chocolate stop: Cacao Sampaka

Chocolates from Cacao Sampaka

I got told off for taking pictures in here so this is a photo I took later at home. There are a few Cacao Sampakas around Barcelona. The one I went into was large and included a small cafe at the back. If I was capable at this point of eating anymore I might have stopped. But I wasn't, so I just got chocolate to take away.

The shop assistant I spoke to was insistent they made their own chocolate in Barcelona. They did stock a range of origin bars and some flavoured bars, as well as chocolate in every other form, so it's possible this was true. I bought a box of 16 truffles and 2 origin bars and a flavoured bar. I haven't tried the origin ones yet but I wasn't overly impressed by the chocolate truffles, or the blackberry flavoured bar. The chocolates are fine but have a slightly gluey texture that gives away the sugar syrup used to extend their shelf-life and the taste just didn't quite cut it for me. When I finally try the origin bars I'll report back!

Unfortunately by the time I got to my second chocolate shop on my carefully planned route, Enric Rovira, I realised my failure in not checking opening times. As I arrived the lights were switched off and the shutter was being lowered. Nooo...! It was only 2pm! The shop assistant was not interested in my pleas. Hmph.

The lid of the box of Oriol Balageurs chocolate truffles. Isn't it brilliant? It's like it was made for me.

Not far from Enric Rovira's boutique was the smaller of Oriol Balaguer's shops, really just a store room off the main kitchen. The girl who helped me there was one of the chocolatiers, dressed in her chef's whites. I got a sneak look at the kitchen but unfortunately they weren't making anything. It transpired that this wasn't the real shop, and though she could sell me things from there, there was more to see at the real boutique. So I kept walking (surely must have burnt off the calories at this point). Oriol's actual boutique is small, but gorgeous and filled with deliciousness. Like Pierre Herme in Paris, I discovered Oriol Balageur makes great chocolate but excellent pastries. His biscuits with raspberries were possibly the nicest chocolate item I tasted all year and I wish I had tried them in the shop and realised this, because it isn't possible to order them online. And his little petit fours were just so good. The shell chocolates are great, but I wouldn't travel to Spain for them. The shells are unnecessarily thick for my taste.

Oriol Balaguer truffles, as seen under their protective plastic coating. They look like fossils reading for filing!

Oriol Balaguer window display of petits fours. He makes larger cakes too. How I wished I had somewhere to go to take one. Or that it would survive the journey back to London for my birthday lunch the next day.

The little box of petits fours I bought from Oriol Balageur and had hoped might survive to share at lunch. Unfortunately they were completely smushed before I even got on the plane, so only one friend got to try any.

My final chocolate stop was Xocoa. More novelty than real chocolate shop it still sold an interesting range. I'm afraid I still haven't tried the Wasabi and Raspberry bars I bought from here. The chocolate biscuit cake and two muffins I bought (actually, one was given to me by the lovely store assistant, but don't tell her boss) were tasty enough, if a little over-sweet.

Looking into Xocoa from outside.

Some of the Xocoa bars.

OB's patissier who I spoke to recommended me to another shop, called Dolc (Sweet, in Catalan), that is a 20minute train journey from Barcelona. Unfortunately not enough time for me to get there and back in time for my flight back to London. I will have to return and visit there and Enric Rovira. Hopefully I'll also make it to the two tapas bars that I schlepped to only to find them BOTH not serving and have a proper look around the Chocolate Museum. *sigh* The things we have to do in the name of research...

So, who's up for coming with me next time?

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