It's always a pleasure to go to Barcelona!

Having spent three weeks there with Helen, our daughter, last year and not spoken a word since, my Spanish was more than a little rusty, but the Catalonians mainly speak their own dialect anyway, so it doesn't really make much difference.

We were there for the food, and the food was there for us. It's an international language. I'd booked Granja Elena for lunch at the end of the week to enjoy Borja Sierra's talent again, and wanted to return to Ca L'Estevet - as good simple regional food is a cultural education, but we had limited time - and a few invitations - so not a lot of time to explore.

The first time we went to Barcelona, some years ago, a client whose son was in the game, had recommended we try a place (no longer there) called Torre del Mar, and this was an amazing revelation of a meal in a stunning setting - the chef being one Carles Abellan. He must have been very young then, as he has been well known for years. We have tried both Tapas 24, whose signature piece is the very popular Bikini Sandwich which is essentially white toast bread with layers of Serrano jamon or prosciutto layered with truffle paste and mozzarella cut into triangles, and the more fine dining, enjoyable Commerç 24.

This time we met food-knowledgeable friends at Suculent in Rambla del Raval, which last year seemed a bit of a dodgy part of town to walk through. Since he is also doing a taverna a couple of doors down, and the position is just 'off central' we can only think that area is about to be gentrified.

We went along and some of the dishes were truly fabulous, in a casual sort of a way. The ambiance was relaxingly local and the service and winelist friendly. We asked the agreeable crew, who recommended their choices of both food and wine so enthusiastically we assumed that it was a family owned restaurant, whether this was the case. 'No' they said, 'we have a really good chef in the kitchen, Antonio Ramirez, and we are part of the 'Carles Abellan' group'. So here is a man who is not only talented himself, but can foster a team. If in Barcelona, google him as his establishments are worth trying.

These same friends had been to Moo in Hotel Omm, overseen by El Cellar del Can Roca - the current holders of 'Best Restaurant in the World' and we were impressed years ago, by Carles Gaig at Fonda Gaig, and Jordì Vilà at Alkimia - so you can be spoilt for choice in this city very easily.

The architecture of Gaudi is another fabulous, fantastical feature which sets Barcelona apart from any other city - and this time Pons family had taken over the famous, ever queue-ridden Casa Batlló for a party.

We have known Eduard for some 18 years, and he loves New Zealand, having visited with his gorgeous wife Laura before their marriage. Now the proud parents of two boys, the youngest being only a few months old, and both keeping them awake at night, we could appreciate the effort that had gone into organising this fabulous and extremely enjoyable event.

Anything the Pons family does is always done to an exceptional degree, and this time they matched their elegant wines with different food stations and highlighted a new olive oil scented with Tabasco they spritzed on some dishes. Not at all overpowering, the Tabasco in their oil deliciously complemented both beef and prawns. We can definitely see this having possibilities in our Kiwi environment. It will be on our shelves before summer.

Pepe at Ca L'Estevet in El Raval was fizzing with double excitement when we dined there as not only had his maître d' Julia, been named one of the ten best in Barcelona and pictured on the cover of Time Out magazine, but the previous month Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame had discreetly dined there with his wife. We are talking very 'neighbourhood' here and off the beaten track, so Pepe was right to be so thrilled.

Mark Zuckerberg had also managed to do the seemingly impossible and entirely book out for an evening the keynote very famous establishment, Tickets, brainchild of Albert Adria (brother of Ferran), where we were lucky enough to be taken by Albert and Enric Roca of Forum vinegar. Generally bookings are like the proverbial hens' teeth, made months in advance, if you can get one.

Granja Elena
 run by the Sierra family for three generations, and not open at night, I saved for our final lunch. It was as good as ever with Patricia at the helm proposing delectable wine to complement the best of seasonal food offered by her brother Borja in a small, uncomplicated environment.

This time the menu included freshly grated black truffles from Asturia. Really you just leave yourself in their hands and cry 'Stop!' when you have had enough.

Yes - it is always a pleasure to go to Barcelona.



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