Monday, 28 September 2009

La Fontaine

Juan pours wine whilst Stuart's hummus & poppadums take centre stage.

A great place for a drink or a meal, "La Fontaine" on the 
corner of c. de la Franca Xica 20 and c. Concordia 45, has a 
distinctive red decor (partially painted by my own fair 
hands) adorned with some striking modern art - all for 
sale, of course. And when Stuart or right-hand-man Juan 
put on the play list we sorted out for their i-Pod, the 
music's pretty good, too.

The food options are highly eclectic, and kick off with 
hummus, filo pastry parcels and various salads, plus some 
sensational soups, then progress to dishes as varied as 
tagines, curries and Chinese noodles. Deserts are good, 
but crowned by an exemplary interpretation of cheesecake.
Average spend is about €15 - 25 per head, and the wine 
selection is also great.

If you just turn up for a drink (and we generally do) there's 
a good friendly atmosphere, presided over by Stuart and 
Juan - the Hinge & Bracket of Poble Sec. Feel free to join 
in with the ceaseless comic bickering if you think you can 
keep up. La Fontaine is open every day from 1.30ish till
late and they take bookings on 934 433 523.

Below are a few tasty morsels from the Fontaine's tiny 
kitchen, plus an interview with the man himself.

Figs with creme 

Goats cheese in filo 
pastry with salad.

People You Need To Know #1 - Stuart McKenna

As promised long ago, here are the words of wisdom from 
our good friend Stu. It's not so much an interview as a 
musing on life in Poble Sec. Enjoy.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Experimental Experience

Loopoesía in action and sporting the latest fashion trends.

No act of virtue goes unpunished, according to Oscar Wilde. And what could be more virtuous - and improving - than an experimental poetry recital happening, complete with dj, disguises (for the performers) and a bit of good old-fashioned audience intimidation? 

When we arrived at La Papa's venue  at Tapioles 12, we initially waited around nervously. We've been to thousands of gigs, but this was one of the very few art-happens we'd attended, and we really didn't know what the form was. As it happened, we were warmly welcomed by the Papa people who happily took our €3 entrance fees and ushered us through a curtain into a room full of art-lovers, some with children in tow. 

The artist playing at the time was Nathan Moomaw. Stripped to the waist and sporting body paint and a New Folk haircut, Nathan was accompanied by Anna Morley. Please check out Anna and Nathan's individual sites, as my video really doesn't do them justice. I found their music totally hypnotic and intriguing, and will certainly be seeking them out again - particulary at €3 a pop and pub prices at the bar!

Nathan Moomaw & Anna Morley play songs of god-knows-what. But in a good way.

Next up came the main act - Loopoesía. A performance poetry combo featuring a dj, musical loops (hence the name) and a variety of disguises, Jordi Corominas i Julián, Neill Higgins, Jean Martin du Bruit and an unnamed female accomplice ducked and dived about the place yelling their own brand of poetic art. I have to say it really wasn't my cup of tea, although I'm really glad people are getting off their arses to do something they believe in rather than just talking about it (like me, for example). Although I didn't enjoy the poetry itself, the music was great. I'll be back.

A Dragon In La Ciutadella

Okay, okay - I know it's nowhere near Poble Sec, but it was part of the Festival Asia, which was originally in Poble Sec (well for the first two years we lived here, anyway). So that's my excuse - plus it was quite an impressive sight, as I hope you'll agree.

The Festival is part of the Mercè celebrations, which this year run from the night of Wednesday 23rd September, and finish in explosive style with an enormous (I hope) firework display - of which, more soon - if I have no technical problems with the camera. Fins aviat!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Nice Rice

Paella marisco, according to Elche. Note the high seafood-to-rice ratio, & the fantastic colour.

After a rather depressing last post, here's another restaurant review.

This was to be the third time in a week that we were to eat paella, so it had to be good, and as soon as we walked through the door to be greeted by a smart, friendly besuited waiter and had a quick look around, Mrs HD, her mum and I had high hopes that it would be.

Elche was established in 1959 on this site, and now has another branch, which you can explore at your leisure if you follow the link to their website, below. The Poble Sec HQ is certainly a cut above most restaurants we'd dined at in the barri, with attentive service to match, extending to an English-speaking wine waiter. We arrived at about 1.30 on Sunday afternoon, and obtained one of the last available tables, so it's probably best not to chance it as we did, and book. 

The interior is welcoming and even a little snug - ideal for the colder months, which are fast approaching. The menu specialises in rice dishes of various content and consistencies, and we were very tempted by the paella with bacalao and ceps (around €13), as well as fideu (€12-ish) which substitutes rice for inch-long pasta noodles.

For starters we enjoyed a selection of escalivada - roasted vegetables - with tiny broad beans, chipirones - baby squid, fried; and fried vegetables, as shown. All three dishes were excellent, flavourful examples of local classics. 

Most starters are available as a full-size dish, half-size or as a tapa, depending on the size of your appetite, with prices to match. Those pictured are half-sized portions - media raciones.

In the end, we decided to plump for the seafood paella as a main course - and were not disappointed. There was a good mixture of shellfish, including Dublin Bay prawns (cigallas), squid (sepia) cockles (berberchos) prawns (gambas) and muscles (mejiones) - and plenty of it, as you can see from the main picture in this post. 

The colour was a good rich saffron, and the flavour had a lot of depth. Although not completely dry, the dish was far from sloppy, with a thick, rich, liquor-like stock. In short it was one of the best paellas - of many - I'd tasted for a long time. There was a good selection of wines, ranging from a €9 house white to €20-plus vintages. We went for a decently priced, safe supermarket favourite, Viña Sol.

In summary, I'd say this is a great place to bring parents on a Sunday - a cut above most restaurants in the area, friendly, great food and service and reasonably priced.

Tel 934 413 089

3 Covers - €3.90
Viña Sol Torres - €12.30
Litre water - €2.80
Escalivada w. beans - €4.50
Fried baby squid - €7.00
Fried artichokes, aubergines, courgettes - €6.00
3 Paella marisco - €48.30

Total, incl. IVA - €84.80

How to pronounce paella

It's a problem that bedevils all non-Spanish speakers. The double 'l' sounds quite similar to an English 'y', making the the word a little like 'pie-YE-yah'. For a much more amusing explanation - plus an interesting recipe to boot, take a look at the video. Bon profit!

How NOT to pronounce "paella", according to Richard E. Grant and Arabella Weir.

Monday, 14 September 2009

RIP Kelvin

In the small hours of Saturday the 5th September a 19-year-old young man, known to his friends as "Tiger", was stabbed outside a disco in Sabadell. According to the reports I've read, Kelvin - his real name - was involved in a street fight, taken home by friends after being injured, and then his family called an ambulance. He was taken to the Hospital del Mar, where he soon died of his injuries.

If by any chance any friends or family of Kelvin come across this article I'd like to extend my deepest sympathies for their tragic loss.

Despite a remark in a report by ADN that it bore the hallmarks of a gang confrontation, El País carried a piece that said the Mossos d'Esquadra had discarded the idea that it was gang-related. The same article also identifies a 17-year-old from L'Hospitalet de Llobregat as the current suspect, and that the assault is alleged to have occurred after an argument that started inside the disco. The youth is currently in custody. 

I was on holiday when it happened, and heard that there had been a stabbing, via the radio. I didn't realise that the victim lived in Poble Sec. In fact the first I knew of how close to home the tragedy was, I was having a quiet glass of wine with my wife and mother-in-law in a bar, and at the corner of c. Blai and c. Tapioles we saw floral tributes to "Tiger" and "Kelvin". Commemorative messages had been sprayed onto the walls, and attempts obviously made to remove them by the cleaning services, as they already appeared faded.

As you can see in a photograph in this blog entry - if you scroll a little way down, past the videos and photos of party-goers - the original homage also consisted of photographs of Kelvin, and votive candles. This was to prove to be a bone of contention for some of those living in the barri, as we shall see. 

It appears from the above blog that Kelvin lived with his mother and five brothers and had only emmigrated to Catalonia from the Dominican Republic five months ago. The spot was chosen to mourn Kelvin,  I suppose,  as this is a corner where many latin youths meet up and socialise. During the Festa Major there are always open-air discos playing bachata and other popular latin music, which people of all ages dance to. Customised cars cruise the corner, and young people flirt. The only trouble I've ever seen, other than a little rowdiness, was a screaming match between a couple which looked like it could turn a bit nastier. It didn't.

The Dominicans and other latin arrivals to Poble Sec are amongst a large number of recent immigrants to the barri which include Brits, Pakistanis, Chinese, Germans, Poles, Russians, French, Ukrainians, Morrocans and many more - a microcosm of the entire town in other words. I'm part of this wave of immigration, and so feel a great deal of solidarity towards any immigrant here, and whilst I am lucky enough not to face many of the struggles the majority have to contend with in trying to make it in a new country, I have an inkling of how difficult it can be.

As a white Anglo with a job, a flat and money in the bank (some of the time), I get to miss out on the worst that this town - or any, for that matter - can throw at you. So, I was very upset by this blog entry. Now, as I've said in my profile, my Catalan ain't up to much, and my deepest apologies to Oscar - whose blog it is - if it has severely let me down on this occasion and I have completely mis-understood him, but I found one or two of his comments a little offensive. 

He writes: Quan hi passava al vespre tornant a casa, estaven tots reunits fent una mena de missa rara: resant i bevent cervesa. Semblava vudú. That, I think, translates more or less as: "When I walked past on the way home that evening, they (the Dominicans who hang out on the corner) were all engaged in some strange kind of Mass: they were praying and drinking beer. It looked like voodoo." He then goes on to ask why it subsequently took four days for the street cleaners to get rid of the melted wax, etc that was left over from this "voodoo". 

Labels for the blog entry include brut (dirty) and brutíca (filth/dirt/dirtiness). In addition, a comment from a reader includes this: "que s’adapten a les nostres costums, és molt important

 "It's very important that they adapt to our way of life." By that, does the poster mean rampaging insensitivity, in the face of tragic loss, masquerading as civic pride?

Attitudes towards immigration, integration, preservation of immigrant culture and sensitivity towards cultural differences are fraught at the best of times. And with a recession, 20% unemployment and the spectre of worse to come, these are far from the best of times. It is also far too big an area to go into here, particularly as I don't wish this blog to become a polemic (those that know me would say that it's inevitable, but I'll try to defer it for as long as possible). So I'll leave you with a photo of a commemoration of another shared tragedy, also on public display at the same time as Kelvin's. Dedicated to those killed in Catalonia's loss of independence on September 11th 1714, it is now our national day and a public holiday.