Tantrums…oh, how there were tantrums. So very many tantrums. After all, I was rather good at them. Truth be told, I still am.
Mumford often reminds me, with an unsettling amount of glee, that I am bound to receive the payback I deserve. I have more or less resigned to the fact that she is probably right. And, to be fair, any other outcome would be a gross injustice.
I have a very limited understanding of children. However, as far as I can tell, there are two primary things that they inherently blow at: travelling and dining out. Therefore, Spawn of the Devil aside, there was a very big upside to having me as a daughter [and believe me, there really needed to be]…because I nailed it in both categories.
Pop me on a long-haul flight, whisk me away to a far-flung destination and I could fool any outsider into believing I am mild mannered. Sit me down in a busy dining room, drop a plate of food in front of me and I am the easiest child on the planet. Travel and restaurants: the one time I could whip out all levels of good behaviour.
Any future children of mine are welcome to deadweight themselves in an open public space, free to vomit in order to get their way and scream at the highest pitch they can muster to their heart’s content [yes, these were collectively my tactics of choice]…but if they can sit politely at the dinner table and enjoy their damn food? I will be ecstatic. Is that so much to ask? Probably.
So it was with absolute joy when dining at Bodega 1900 in Barcelona recently that I noticed an incredibly well-behaved child seated on the table directly behind me. I am fully aware that 9:30PM isn’t considered an abnormal time to sit down for dinner in Spain, but even so, it still seemed rather late for a little one…yet there he was, happily making his way through a plate piled high with food.
Hmm…apparently children can indeed sit patiently through dinner. If nothing else, the sight delivered a glimmer of hope that my seemingly absurd expectations could in fact be a reality.
Anyway, back to our dinner. The brainchild of famed Spanish chef, Albert Adria [you may remember him from such highly esteemed dining establishments as: El Bulli], Bodega 1900 is a classic vermuteria that seeks to convey traditional Catalan culture and reinvigorate the healthy habit of coming together over an aperitif and a selection of accompanying small bites. Sounds like my kind of place!
We took a seat in the tiny front room and marveled at the hanging selection of cured meat and the chefs at work plating on the tidy deli counter directly below. All marble-topped tables, tiles and wooden chairs, Bodega 1900 carries the look and feel of a turn of the century tavern…I would imagine, having not ever actually experienced a turn of the century tavern.
Given the place specialises in vermouth, we got the ball rolling with their house pour (€3.75) whilst we perused the menu. Not overly familiar with the drink in its straight up form, I was pleasantly surprised by its refreshing, aromatic, semi-sweet and slightly bitter quality.
…But first and foremost, we were here to eat! And we simply couldn’t come to an Adria establishment and not order a serve of their famous Oliva-s (€1.90 each).
I first tried these during Albert’s 50 day residency at Hotel Cafe Royal and they were every bit as good as I remembered them to be. Light compression of the seemingly solid ‘olive’ round between the tongue and palate triggers a liquid explosion of brine-filled olive essence. The surprise has long since worn off…but expectations continue to be met and surpassed. I don’t care what anyone says! These will never get old to me.
Razor clams in white escabeche sauce (€13.20) immediately proved to be my favourite dish of the evening. Snappy, sweet, saline and pleasingly vinegar-driven, this was perhaps the best preparation of these slightly odd-looking shellfish I have had anywhere. So good. So very, very good.
The razor clams were always going to be a tough act to follow. In any case, tuna steak with Catalan sauce (€13.50) was nice enough, but didn’t blow me away.
Forever a sucker for a bit of crab, the snow crab salad with dill (€13.80) delivered exactly what was promised. Perfectly simple…simply perfect.
Rather partial towards a bit of cured meat and having been initially won over by this particular example at Hotel Cafe Royal, I happily pounced on the three week salt and spice-cured Galician beef tenderloin (€15.80 for 40g). A fantastic taste memory, each paper-thin slice carried delicious umami funk and a strong beefy flavour.
For better or worse, cheese toasties are another big love of mine…so the traditional Catalonian’bikini’ sandwich with cheese, ham and black truffle (€11.90) was always going to find a place on our table. Predictably delightful!
The final savoury dish to arrive was monkfish tails with portobello mushrooms (€12.80). Not something that would usually leap off the menu for me, this came as a recommendation from our helpful and friendly waiter…and I am so happy it did! Deeply savoury, full of flavour and completely delicious, we ate every last bit, despite each of us veering dangerously towards bursting point.
Full as we were, we simply couldn’t go past dessert given Chef Adria’s exemplary pastry skills are internationally renowned. In fact, I still dream about his French Coulommiers Cheesecake with White Chocolate and Hazelnut. It was one of the best things I have put in my mouth. Ever.
We again let our lovely waiter take charge and he brought us what I believe was anise ice cream spread across a crispy pastry base with pine nuts (€6.50). Light, refreshing and not too sweet, this was a great way to round off a wonderful dinner.
How would I describe Bodega 1900? Fresh. Local. Seasonal. Delicious. Unpretentious. Atmospheric. Unfussy. It felt like true neighbourhood spot and with dishes moving along the scale of good and outstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent here. It was a somewhat refined tapas experience, with traditional recipes being prepared from a modern perspective…and an Adria edge.
Would I recommend a visit? Yes. Would I choose to dine there again if I find myself back in Barcelona? Absolutely.
So there you have it! Dinner. And what an exceedingly good one at that. But what became of the well-behaved child who caught my eye at the beginning of our meal? Come dessert, he was playing quietly by himself and intermittently engaging in sweet, excitable conversation with the wait staff.
My dinner date, having returned from a trip to the loo, was particularly amused by another guest who, whilst also waiting for a stall to become available, jokingly advised “use the ladies…you’re in Spain now!’. He pointed over my shoulder at the gentleman sitting directly behind me, who just so happened to be the father of the ridiculously well-behaved child.
Of course. If any child on earth could be a dream at the dinner table and enthusiastically enjoy their food, it was going to be his. F. The chances of mine doing the same? Slim to none. Maybe my absurd expectations are exactly that…absurd.
Oh well, here’s to hoping!