Secrecy and second-guessing is arguably the hottest trend in dining right now. From pop-up restaurants and food stalls which tweet loyal followers with their ever-changing locations, to supper clubs set up by foodies in their own homes, these are interesting times for eating out.
Little wonder, then, that in Barcelona, a city renowned worldwide as a hotbed of inventive cooking, there is a secret restaurant scene like no other. Forget about awkward dinner parties held in cramped flats where you’re forced to make small talk with strangers, Barcelona’s hidden restaurant scene is as cool and funky as the city itself.
Some dining spots, such as the delightfully named Tintoreria Dontell, operate from a fixed base. In their case, the door and window outside the venue make it look, to all intents and purposes, like a humdrum dry cleaning store. Step inside though, being careful to negotiate the hanging racks of clothing, and you’ll find a passageway to a secret dining room where in-the-know diners can enjoy fabulous Mediterranean fusion food. This James Bond-style approach adds an illicit thrill to the night’s activities, only slightly tempered by the fact that you can actually pick up your dry cleaning on the way out.
My introduction to the scene came courtesy of Kathleen Englehardt, chef and creator of Jezebel’s pop-up restaurant. Her dinners take place in various locations in and around Barcelona – everywhere from lofts to villas – with the goal to keep it beautiful, relaxed and enjoyable. We came along with a view to uncovering the gourmet secrets of this Spanish city.
“Barcelona and its food seduced me,” says Kathleen. “There are more Michelin-starred restaurants here than in any other city in Europe. This inspired me to open a restaurant, but not just any restaurant. A hidden restaurant.”
Jezebel’s was the first pop-up restaurant to open in the city and, for many, it remains the best. Today I’m in the privileged position of finding out why, as I tail Kathleen for a day and night as she sets up her latest one-off dining room.
We start, naturally, at the market – Barcelona’s famous La Boquiera, a massive sprawling space just off La Rambla, which has been in operation since 1217. The finest produce is on display and Kathleen knows exactly which stalls to head for, picking squid from one, octopus from another, a specific cut of beef from somewhere else. If only supermarket shopping could be this much fun.
“My shopping list may look diverse,” she laughs, “but this is because tonight’s menu is a real fusion. It’s Galician meets Asian meets Creole.”
Back at the pop-up space, I hover around Kathleen like an annoying Masterchef judge, quizzing her while she attempts to prep dozens of meals. To her credit, she remains resolutely unflappable throughout.
“If I am relaxed, then my customers are relaxed,” she says. “That is the beauty of a pop-up – you don’t have the pressure of fine dining, with its hushed rooms and formal service.”
The night itself is a huge success, confirming Kathleen’s place as a queen of the city’s clandestine dining scene. Where will she go from here? “With business, I plan to open a wine bar very soon. Personally, right now, I’m going home to bed!”
The city of Barcelona awaits me. It’s time to uncover a few more of its secrets before the night is out.
How To Do It
Two nights room only at the four-star Royal Ramblas is from £255 per person, based on two sharing a standard room. This includes direct return flights from London Luton to Barcelona with easyJet, departing on 1st December 2011. Located on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas Boulevard, this hotel is a short walk from Plaza Catalunya, the Picasso Museum and Barcelona Cathedral.
For reservations, visit www.expedia.co.uk or call 0330 123 1235.