30 Mar 2012

Cal Pep

Cal Pep with Pep
        Queuing. Along with cockroaches, the pungent smell of summer drains or bringing along Jose Mourinho there is nothing more likely to cause upset for a person determined to have a good night out in Barcelona. Nobody likes queues. Not even in a post-modern and ironic way. Queues are just rubbish.
          Unless you happen to be standing in the Placa del Olles in El Borne. Because if you join a queue there the chances are you will be waiting to get into Cal Pep, Barcelona's best restaurant.  (In case you were wondering there is no other way. Cal Pep does not accept bookings. So queuing is your only option.)
          It may take twenty minutes, forty minutes or if you are unlucky more than an hour but it is always worth it. Because when you finally reach the grail of your own stool  at the bar (once again there is no other option) you will be offered an unparalleled choice of tapas.
          Of course you won't.
          There is no menu.
          Yep. You have to queue, you don't get your own table and they don't have a menu.   You're probably wondering whether you actually get any food or whether in keeping with the whole experience so far  Pep the owner simply punches you in the face and takes your wallet.
          Of course he doesn't. Where do you think this is The Ramblas?
           Instead your waiter (a guy standing behind the bar – let's not get excited here) will suggest you allow them to pick your meal for you – a series of dishes that give a “taste” of Cal Pep. You have two options here. You can say “Yes” or you can  decide to show off your Spanish in which case you can say “Si”.  No other course of action is advisable. You will be allowed to choose the colour of your wine and that's about it – (this is not absolutely strictly true but I'll come to strict truth a bit later).
Cal Pep 2 : Almejas
          What will turn up? Well, it can vary but usually you will get some kind of variation on :
          Bread, garlic and tomato (Pan con tomate)
          Baby clams with bacon in a briney broth (Almejas con jamon)
Cal Pep 3 : Trifusco
          Fried Mini-Peppers(Pimientos del padron)
          Tiny squid with chickpeas (Chiperones 
          con garbanzos)
          Spanish Omelette (Tortilla con patatas)
          Mixed Fried Fish (Trifusco)

         It doesn't really sound that much. But it is. Because Pep knows his fish. And he knows that the secret to doing them right is buying them fresh and not messing around with them too much. They're not drowned in butter and they're not covered with batter. They are fish. Tasty, tasty fish. That is all. And it is enough.
          The dishes turn up intermittently but pretty rapidly and as much of the cooking is done in plain sight directly behind the bar there is always something to watch and it is often on fire. The orders are shouted back and forth in Catalan, waiters with hands full  slide daringly past burly cooks all under the genial but ever watchful Pep. The place is a whirl of noisy activity.  Your wine glass is never allowed to get empty. Strangers from all round the world seated so close to each other can't help looking at each others plates and chatting about them.
Cal Pep 4
          In fact if you do want to take a risk and actually try ordering something yourself (this is the strict truth bit I was talking about before) then pointing at other peoples plates is pretty much the only way to go about it. Don't be shy.  Do it. Obviously avoid actually touching the other person's food but otherwise be expansive with your hand gestures. It's that kind of place. My own tip is that if you are ordering something off-piste go for the Tuna Tartare (Atun) which zings in the mouth like a zingy thing.
          It's no place to go if you don't like seafood. However it is exactly the place to go if you were a bit “Meh” on seafood. Because a hour later you will have realised that you were an idiot and seafood is incredible. If you loved seafood before you will be trying to invent a new word to describe how you feel about it now. It is that good.
          So good that the likes of me and you (for the purposes of this blog I'm assuming you are not a member of the nobility) don't normally get to eat it. But through the wonder of the queue and our stoic patience acquired over generations of oppression this time we get to win. We get to eat where the elite who won't queue don't. It's like communism done right.  And it will only set you back 60 – 70 Euros for 2 including wine which is more than I normally pay in a restaurant but feels ridiculously good value.
Where to start queue if you're first
          It is one queue that you will want to join again.

Address: Cal Pep, Placa de les Olles, No.8, 08003, Barcelona.
Cal Pep is Monday – Friday evenings 7.30 - 11.30 and Tuesday – Saturday lunchtimes 1 –3.45
Queue (sorry again). The queue starts to form about tweny minutes - half an hour before opening (queue on the right side of the door rather than the left if you're first). If your party is bigger than 3 and you want to sit together I would advise you to be there before it opens. If smaller or prepared to split into pairs then go later – the wait will be a bit longer but the atmosphere's better.