Monday, 26 October 2009

Mellow Fruitfulness

Seed pods of Bracychiton populneus - the Árbol Botella or Kurrajong

It's well and truly Autumn now - my last sunbathing sesh was a fortnight ago, we're closing the doors to the balcony at night and sweet potatoes and chestnuts are being roasted on street corners on home-made braziers.  

And like many neighbourhoods in Barcelona we have a great collection of trees both exotic and indigenous that are now bearing some fruit - often strange. The Ajuntament de Barcelona - our town council - takes urban arbres  very seriously and even has a coffee-table style book featuring some of the most notable example of our leafy streets. There is a conscious effort by the planners to plant unusual species as streets and other urban areas are tarted up, so we have a really amazing selection.

I think I read somewhere that Poble Sec itself - excluding Montjüic - had seven trees in total about 100 years ago. Well it's done some catching up since then. Here are a few strange fruits I picked up around the barri. And I'm not talking about La Fontaine's clientele, or indeed Juan the barman .

Magnolia fruit, Montjüic

Fruit of the Naranjo de Luisiana, aka Osage-orange horseapple or Bois D'Arc

Latin binominal: Maclura pomifera.

El pebrer bord

 The Peruvian Pepper (Schinus molle, also known as American pepper, Peruvian peppertree, escobilla, false pepper, molle del Peru, pepper tree,peppercorn tree, Californian pepper tree, pirul and Peruvian mastic.)  

Friday, 16 October 2009

Nice View, Shame About The Food

This Olympic-sized swimming pool was actually used in the Olympics.

I'm a great fan of the Picornell sports centre on Montjüic - I go to the gym there a few times a week, and during the warmer months take advantage of the outside swimming pool and sun-loungers. It's conveniently close to my flat, and the walk there past the MNAC museum is very picturesque. The Picornell also has a restaurant with terrace with some great views - and pretty dreadful food which Mrs HD and I had the misfortune to try a few days ago.

Lovely, sunny terrace...
The menu of the Café Picornell seemed promising enough - tortellini with a pepper sauce, strawberry and raison salad, rustic soup or pan-fried veg to start with, followed by duck thigh in port sauce, salmon in mint sauce, squid rings or cod balls - although in retrospect a little ambitious for a sports centre restaurant. We gave it the benefit of the doubt.

Our initial impression was good. The staff were friendly and helpful, and we secured a table with a great view of the pool and the Colserolla hills beyond. Then the food arrived. The tortellini we'd ordered was obviously not home-made,  neither was it particularly nice. The sauce also appeared to be from a packet, and passable, although sprinkled with dried mixed herbs . The best you could say for the dish was that there was a lot of it. Mopping up the excess sauce was made slightly less pleasant by the staleness of some of the bread.   
...oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Next came the salmon in mint and cream sauce, which sunk to new depths, if you'll pardon the pun. The fish cutlet itself was tough, full of bones and not particularly tasty. The sauce had no discernable flavour at all, and the salad was distinctly lack-lustre. Throwing in the towel, we decided to forego a dessert - a choice of crême caramel, fruit salad, some kind of tart or a piece of fruit - in favour of a cortado
All in all it was €9 poorly spent, despite including a beer (or red wine, which we didn't try). I will still recommend the Café Picornell, however - albeit as a nice location to have a leisurely drink, and maybe a sandwich (if after this review you don't even trust them with this, you can always bring your own as there is a part of the terrace reserved for picnics.) 

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Balls To Barça

U E Poble Sec victorious for the one and only time - in 1958

Barça football fans are known for their lack of enthusiasm. The sort of hysteria one associates with British supporters gets short shrift in Camp Nou, which Catalan supporters will exit early if a match isn't going their way. Having paid a fortune for a seat so far from the action they often resort to binoculars and a radio to follow the play, you can't really blame their lack of brio, perhaps.

Distance from the pitch was certainly not a problem when Mrs HD dragged me to a match between UE Poble Sec and CD Tortosa on Saturday 10th October, however. Neither was space. With around 50 locals and three or four visiting fans, there was plenty of room to spread out and stretch your legs on the stand at the Complex Esportiu de la Bàscula. In fact, Unió Esportiva Poble Sec is such a low-key team, it took quite a bit of asking about in the barri before we came across anyone who'd even heard of them - this despite the team being founded back in 1929. 
What's more, despite being one of two soccer teams representing the sporting hopes and dreams of such a tiny geographic area,  UE Poble Sec is in a pretty impressive position, as one of the 20 teams in the Primera Catalana, and as part of what is essentially the fifth level of Spanish football, they are a mere four promotions away from playing
Barça themselves! That said, the team have been in the same division for seven seasons and as of the time of writing are languishing in 13th position.   
Last season's team - playing away by the look of the ground.

Were they to perform a series of miracles and make it to the top of four leagues on four consecutive seasons, they would need to play a damn' sight better than the first half of the match I saw. They did improve considerably in the second, however, and after one disallowed goal, another from substitute Fran gained them the match in the 80th minute, and reduced the risk of renegation. A highly physical game resulted in five yellow cards and a substitution and hospital visit for Tortosa goalie Jiménez.

Despite this victory - the second of the season - things are not looking good for UE Poble Sec. Flung out of La Satàlia, their ground since 1936 while the dirt pitch receives a toupée of astroturf, their President, Pedro Venero Rozas is looking to sell the club. Indeed, he was so desperate for cash he practically snatched the €10 entrance fee out of my hand when we attended the match. 

President Pedro Venero Rozas looking for a cash injection.

And not only is Venero attempting to sell the club, but also its position in the league - a perfectly legal transaction in Spain I think. Another demoralising fact is that the number of supporters is now at an all-time low. The 50 or so that came last Saturday was not even a shadow of the 50,000 who saw "El Sec" win it's only trophy against CE Europa at the end of the '57 - '58 season in Les Corts.

A return to La Satàlia is slated for the end of the month, according to one source, and hopefully that will also mean a return to form and popularity for the ailing club. If so, I'll certainly be there to lend my support. Visca El Sec!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Cavatast Special

Sant Sadurní d'Anoia produces around 90% of the world's cava, and every year we get to taste the new additions to the vast reserves of fizz that fill the enormous cellars of the region. Cavatast is a three day event that allows the general public to pass judgement on the lastest plonk - which is exactly what we did. Alighting from the train from Plaza Catalunya, we made our way to the centre of town. Stalls lined the Rambla de la Generalitat, each representing 
a different producer, plus a few local restaurants 
selling something to line the stomachs of the many 
enthusiastic samplers. You can also have a pretty good pizza - by the slice if you just fancy a snack - at the local Vitali 
Pizza restaurant, handily located on the same street as 
the Cavatast.

Our panel of four tried the following cavas, all of which 
were Brut Nature - in other words, the driest possible 
variety of the wine. Mrs HD also did a little online research to see what others thought, and I've reproduced 
comments from the excellent forum below 
ours. Here are the results:

About 9 euros a bottle

We said:
Dry, crisp, good nose, clean taste, citrusy. 9/10

An online reviewer said: Color amarillo dorado con abundante burbuja de buen tamaño. 
En nariz, fruta blanca, especialmente manzana, toques cítricos y fondo de panadería. 
En boca tiene muy buena entrada, fresco, carbónico bien integrado, cierta cremosidad y retrogusto algo cítrico no muy largo. Es un cava muy fresco ideal como aperitivo.

Eudald Massana Noya - Agricultura Ecològica 
About 7.5 euros a bottle

We said: Organic. Very fruity. A bit limequatty. Stronger flavours than others. 8.5/10

An online review said:
Amarillo claro, brillante. Aroma potente, notas cremosas, golosas, a manzana al horno y levadura. Muy agradable. Boca graso, con cuerpo y cierta frescura; buena expresión de fruta madura pero un exceso de dulzor le resta enteros. En todo caso es un cava agradable y bien hecho. Buen precio. 

About 5 Euros a bottle

We said: Citrusy. Not too gassy. Cava as it should be. No nasty aftertaste. Very nice for a sunny afternoon. 7.5/10

(Note: we can't find it for sale in any of the online offies we know, but if it is still around the price indicated below – its a bargain!)

An online review said: Color groc pàlid. Bombolla relativament fina. Aromes fruitals, de pastisseria i fins de fruits secs. Pas en boca amb volum contigut. Agradable i de bon paladar. Uns 5€. Molt bo per aquest preu.

Juvé & Camps 
Citrussy, clean, no nasty after taste. A favourite with the locals. 7/10

Robert J Mur/Montesquius 
Extra points for peanuts on the stand. Clean, grassy nose & taste. Not very gassy. Slightly characterless. 6.5/10

Castelo de Pedregosa 
Organic. Unconvincing nose. Very average, but not offensive. 5/10

Mont Marçal Vinícola
Gassy. Not complex & bit of a dodgy aftertaste. Tasted cheaper than others. 4.5/10

Highly disappointing overall given the producer. 4/10

Strong nose, metallic taste. Despite its apparent popularity on the day with other tasters: not nice. 4/10

A bit aftershavey/chemical/plastic. No one really enjoyed it & some was left! 3.5/10

So there you go. Bertha was the clear winner and there is currently a bottle chilling in our fridge. Salud!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Thai To Die For?

Thai yellow curry at Tivoli's Bistro, Poble Sec.

I've walked past Tivoli's Bistro many times in the last five years, and every time I glanced at the menu and wanted to walk in. Then I peered at the prices and walked on, maybe stopping at the Cervecería Jazz for one of the best burgers in Barcelona or La Tomaquera for a trad Catalan feast on the cheap. 

Maybe it was years spent living in North London where you could pick up a fantastic, eye-wateringly hot Thai curry and rice in a pub for less than a tenner, or simply a belief that Asian cuisine in Poble Sec just couldn't be THAT good to warrant the outlay. The menu itself was highly extensive, and featured non-Thai food. 

Now both the prices and the choice have been reduced, and the hours expanded so that Tivoli's Bistro now offers a menu del día for €10.95 ex IVA, but including a starter, main course, a dessert and drink. Seeing this, I made a beeline for the place at the earliest opportunity. 

Entering the inexplicably Italian-named eaterie, everything is on display, from the stripped, bare-brick walls to the windowed kitchen. The restaurant is divided into two areas, with the back enjoying plenty of natural light. Photos of Thailand hang from the walls and the place has the air of unhurried efficiency.

The menu del día undergoes regular changes, and today it featured tuna croquettes with chilli dipping sauce or filo pastry parcels stuffed with grilled vegetables with a tomato and goats cheese sauce as starters. Mains were a choice of phad thai, yellow chicken  curry or five-spice pork with eggs and fried tofu. Cheese mousse with fig and raspberry coulis or rambutan and pineapple were offered as dessert.

Feeling highly unadventurous we both went for the tuna croquettes followed by the yellow curry. The first was delicious - crunchy on the outside, moist and flavoursome inside. The sauce was a well-chosen bottled sweet chili with a decent kick to it. 

In short, our expectations of the main course were raised, only to be somewhat dashed when the yellow curry arrived. Whilst featuring high quality ingredients, this was clearly a dish designed with the cautious Catalan palate in mind, and more of a stew than a curry. Perfectly edible, yes - but it certainly left me wishing I'd tried one of the other mains instead. Disappointed, we hoped dessert would be a return to form.

I chose the rambutan and pineapple - both tinned and perfectly acceptable as part of a menu del día. Mrs HD went for the cheese mousse and fruit coulis - which was homemade, delicious and essentially a deconstructed cheesecake, minus the base.

In conclusion, we decided that the meal was well worth the price, and would definitely be returning for a menu - or even a pricier à la carte treat in the evening. As I mentioned earlier, this has been drastically cut down, and the prices appear lower than before.  Starters are around €6.50, and main courses €13.50 to €16.50. There's also a tasting menu for €25 per person plus IVA which includes a glass of wine, water or a beer. And the wine? The wine is fine.

Tivoli's Bistro
Poble Sec
08004 Barcelona
Tel: 93 44 14 01 7
Smoke-free restaurant

"I want it Indian hot, not Spanish hot!"

The above is a constant refrain if you're a guiri in search of a decent hot curry in Barcelona. Despite having pillaged the New World and come back with - among other things -  chillies (and, indeed helping to introduce them to Asia) the Spanish are roundly suspicious of anything spicy. 

So wary are they that their language clearly distinguishes between the heat of excited atoms - calor (n) , caliente (adj) and that of chillies - picante (adj). When ordering a curry, for example at Moti Mahal - my favourite Barcelonese Indian and dining place of the stars - you will be asked if you want the food picante, medio or suave, for each dish, irrespective of whether that dish would normally be hot or mild. One must also remember that picante is very different for a Spaniard, and so I often explain that I'm British and I want my Chili Chicken superpicante.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Have Mercè

Fireworks on Monjüic bring La Mercè to a close 27th September 2009.

Every town has one. And Barcelona, of course, has to go one better and have two patron saints. Ours are Mary The Merciful and Saint Eulalia, the former of which has just enjoyed her highly popular yearly festival - La Mercè. 

Like many Catholic festivals in Spain, it has a pagan, almost Dionysian feel. And like all Catalan celebrations, it is a yet another excuse for an outburst of flag-waving, gigantscaps grosses, dracs and correfocs, with which even the casual reader of this blog will now be familiar.

This year, we enjoyed everything from dissident Chinese rock music to a wise-cracking robot, kids' street theatre, rag-time jazz and delicious Asian food. The climax as ever was window-rattling firework display, the finale of which you can squint at on the tiny movie below.