November 24th 2011
In spite of all the drinking last night, the idea of going shopping at the Boqueria got me excited and out of bed without too much trouble. We were making British tapas for the Homage to Cataluña shoot on Saturday and needed big help from Alfredo on the day, plus the meat cuts in Spain are different to the UK, so choosing a good piece of roasting beef demanded Argentinian support.
Shopping done, it was time for lunch. We ate at Universal – a reasonably large restaurant bar inside the Boqueria (food market) – you sit around the kitchen and eat at the bar. I estimate that Universal can seat about 40 or 50 people at a time and can probably do 300 – 400 covers during a busy lunchtime. We were lucky and only had to wait about 10 minutes for seats – to improve the wait, they serve you drinks while you stand.
Once seated, Alfredo pulled out a miniature bottle of top quality olive oil, from his bag,
to drizzle onto bread with a pinch of salt (pa amb oli) – I was seriously impressed, all bars and restaurants have olive oil to hand, but only a gourmand takes his own!
I’d always wanted to eat at Universal – it’s very busy, you get the hustle and bustle of the market around you and the food looks amazing. I expected it to be expensive, but they do a cheap lunchtime menu – I think it was €14 for 3 courses. Going with a chef who eats there regularly and teases the staff constantly (which they take in very good humour), was fantastic! Alfredo suggested we order everything to share – that suited me, I got to try more things. First came a plate of mixed setas (mushrooms) cooked with garlic, olive oil and parsley – the market is full of different mushroom varieties at this time of year. I’ve no idea which ones were on the plate, but I’ve never had better!
Hot on the tail of the mushrooms came huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) with prawns, sliced asparagus and mushrooms.
Our final stater was a plate of almejas (clams), again with garlic, olive oil and parsley – all the starters were fantastic.
The first main course to arrive was sepia (squid) with asparagus, carrots, red pepper and more garlic and parsley oil. These were the most tender squid I have ever eaten – very soft and not rubbery at all.
A sweet and succulent dorada (Gilt-Head Bream) followed, with Universal’s crispy hand made chips.
flan, also know as Crème Caramel (which apparently has its origins in France and Spain)
Without a doubt, that was one of the best lunches I’ve ever had in Barcelona – it’s in the atmosphere as well as the food. I almost felt like Montalbán’s famous Barcelona detective, Pepe Carvalho, who cooks and eats his way through each novel. I can easily picture him eating at Universal…