protestorsThursday in Barcelona and the last day of Alimentaria. However with a general strike throughout Spain planned and definitely no Metro or trains operating, getting there and back would be more than problematic, so we don't even try.

We are awakened by the sound of protesters heading to La Rambla to show their solidarity. Small bunches of the discontented passing underneath our hotel windows. Shopkeepers determined to keep open, lower the bars protecting their shops from the street as the protesters pass by - opening again and then closing as the next lot pass. Ahh commerce.

We take a walk along to see the assembled crowd (not large) outside El Cortes Ingles, the main department store. Fresh-faced students are lined up against riot police complete with helmets and truncheons - not much of a contest if the truncheons really started flying, but they don't. It comes across as more of a photo opportunity for the students really...

More shops open, as the reality is that protester numbers are low and there are tourists with money to spend - well, you have to help them out don't you? (one well priced pair of Audley shoes purchased to squeeze into our bags...)

We don't know how things are going in the rest of Spain, but the Catalans don't seem to want a bar of this. Having bought emergency supplies in case the city shuts down, we now think that we really didn't need to worry so much.

But will restaurants and tapas bars be open (silly question really as we are in Spain and it is lunch time)?

One of the favourite haunts for those gastronomically inclined in Barcelona is 'Cal Pep' in the Born district, where normally the queue is out into the street and where they serve you a beer as you wait.

meatOur timing is perfect - we are there right on opening (and yes, indeed they are opening) and in fact we are the first admitted. The confusion from the strike plays right into our hands, as this is probably the quietest lunch they have ever served.

We have been here a few times and the staff and the menu don't change, the famous owner Pep Manubens, presiding over the place from the other end of the bar. The locals next to us have an abridged version of the myriad of dishes which arrive in front of us plus a rather large piece of meat. How the perception of New Zealand has changed. Instead of mentioning rugby, it is the scenery in the Lord of the Rings which rates in their minds (thank you Peter Jackson!). We assure them we are worth the visit despite the length of the flight.

Javi, who manages the influx and the till, gets the 20 of us seated at the bar a drink in record time, and with the art of the practiced, the food starts flowing. What a well oiled machine - and the food is simple and delicious.

tunaWe start with the classic tomato bread, which is swiftly followed by steamed clams with small pieces of jamon, then a mix of small fried fish, squid and prawns, a tartare of tuna, a delicious tortilla del casa which contains smoked paprika, onion and jamon and is buttered with allioli by Javi as it passes him, then a pan of baby squid and chickpeas and we finish with a serve of their paella. There is dessert if you want it, but at this point only an espresso is needed.

They are even mindful of their marketing and every patron is politely asked whether they would mind filling in a form to go on to their database before they leave.

We look forward to receiving their emails, but what a shame they are so far away...

vagaAddendum: later in the afternoon, the mood changed, the crowds increased and from our hotel room we could hear helicopters, shots and loudspeakers. Venturing out briefly, we could see that many of the shops which had opened had been tagged with 'Vaga!' (strike). Our hotel turned off the lights in the foyer and erected a screen so passerbys could not see they were open. The news that evening showed large protests, some violent, countrywide.