When it comes to eating in Barcelona, one is spoilt for choice. Having lived in Barcelona for a short while, I proudly call this city my second home as I try to return each year just to visit everything I’d adored and of course, indulge in the wide selection of Spanish cuisine. If Barcelona were my surrogate home, then Quimet y Quimet is my dining room. Amidst the array of gastronomical temptations to be found in this glorious city, I am partial and loyal to Quimet y Quimet. It is my favourite tapas bar in Barcelona – and perhaps even in Spain, or even better, the world. This is a pretty heavy proclamation to make, but I’m this sure of how good the restaurant is, to say it.
This is not some obscure eatery. Being one of the oldest tapas bars in Barcelona passed down from one generation to another, it has been featured widely, in publications like New York Times – written by the charming Mr Mark Bittman and in shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. With a history of nearly 100 years, how can I not brave my way to this tapas mecca? Si por favor!
Quimet y Quiment is famous for all the bottles of liquor sitting snugly on the shelves around the entire bar, beaming down on us diners. It is known for not having a menu (well, they actually do have one, albeit a laminated card. Just ask!) and the servers/owners – a friendly and warm couple, Mr and Mrs Quim, who would stand behind the bar, conjuring tapas-magic in the most fascinating fashion and occasionally chatting with diners like old pals – in Spanish of course.
However it is also the place where locals go for a little lunch time fix of montadito. The place where regulars go by first name basis. The place where only those in the know would order Quimet y Quiment house brewed beer instead of the regular commercial brands. We all know, if the locals go there, we should too!
There are a few ways of dining in Spain but this has become my favourite style. The concept can be foreign to some: Wandering into a crowded tapas bar, going up to the bar to order a drink and soak in the atmosphere before ordering a spread of different dishes to eat. Standing instead of sitting, letting the owners make some food decisions for you, having to order by sight, not by menu… Sometimes you’ll even strike up a conversation with strangers standing beside you at the bar! Thanks to my ample research and passable Spanish, armed with the courage of a lioness in terms of trying new food, I’ve enjoyed all five visits of mine thus far – each trip to Barcelona will not be without at least one visit to Quimet y Quimet, mind you!
Basically, without referring to an actual menu, diners can choose from all the ingredients behind a glass counter at the bar and tell the owners, who will then proceed to combine these ingredients (smoked fish, cured meats, canned seafood etc) and place them onto little toasts for one to enjoy. These are called “montaditos”. There is also the choice of sampling these ingredients by themselves without the toasts. You can combine a few dishes onto 1 plate, called “Plato Combinado”.
You might see canned seafood aplenty in Barcelona, and especially here in Quimet y Quimet. They can their own seafood so be assured of the quality and it is a must-try. I’ve often found myself craving these mariscos when I’m home, and I’ll always make sure I bring some back each time.
If language is an issue, the owners speak enough English to give an introduction on how to order and what to order. If one is spoilt for choice, the owners are happy to give suggestions or introduce to you their specialties. Just tell them to create something “como tu quieres” – and you can be guaranteed of something extraordinary each and every time.
Well, if there are things which dreams are made of, the tapas at Quimet y Quimet fit that bill for me. If people were to ask me where I’d have my last meal, one more time at Quimet y Quimet is my answer.
A visit to Quimet y Quimet often brings out mixed emotions out of me. Primarily they are of course emotions of excitement, anxiousness and utter joy. To be standing at the bar again, overlooking all the delicious food that is being displayed behind the glass counter and Mr. or Mrs. Quim hovering over the food and creating tapas splendor before your very eyes. Even now as I am writing this, I can feel my stomach growling and my mouth salivating for some Quimet y Quimet trademark tapas.
Yet a visit to Quimet y Quimet is also filled with trepidation, nervousness and dare I say a little bit of angst? Quimet y Quimet is located in a side street of a somewhat quieter neighborhood of Barcelona, away from all the hustle and bustle that you might encounter at La Rambla. It is also incredibly small, no bigger than a standard living room with no places to sit, only a bar and a few standing tables – so if you do not get a place there, you do not get to eat. Get my angst now?:P
In my mind I often draw a ‘Paral-lel’ between my visits to Quimet y Quimet and a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.
Picture this: It is a sunny and quiet morning when S. and I come up from the metro station Paral-lel. S. is excited and wants us to walk faster, even though it is not very far from the metro station. As we walk along the street, it seems the neighborhood is not fully awake yet. When we reach hotel Paral-lel, we turn into the side street, which is just as quiet as the main street. We see a few people coming out of the nearby hostel and with our eyes we closely scrutinize their movements…where are they headed? Luckily for us, they are headed to the main street to go to a nearby KFC.
S. heaves a sigh of relief, while my eyes are still fixated on the street. We passed by a shop owner who is starting to open his store. He might have even pulled up his rolling shutter. I don’t remember and I don’t care. I imagine a cowboy would have probably spat out his cigarette right now and stepped on it with his leather boot, but I don’t smoke and my sneakers are far too white.
As we draw closer to Poeta Cabanyes numero 25, we suddenly see a group of people from the opposite direction headed our way. Like us, they stop just before the gates of Quimet y Quimet and they do not seem to be moving. S. eyes them suspiciously, wondering if they also have the same agenda in mind before looking at her watch. We hear sounds coming from behind the gate. It is almost time…
We hear the gates opening. Sergio Leone would have probably cut to an extreme close up of our squinting eyes. Cue Ennio Morricone’s music. I clench my fist while S. puts herself in a sprinting position. We both put our game faces on and Team Bring It On is…ready.
As the gates open, all of us start running simultaneously …in slow motion of course (since Sergio is not well known for using slow motion, I would let Sam Peckinpah do this part) as Mr. Quim welcomes us all to his fine establishment.
After imagining all these cinematic moments of bliss in my mind, it was now time to get back to reality and savor some real moments of culinary bliss:)
Like I mentioned above, Quimet y Quimet is VERY small, but it feels very quaint and cozy too. Mr. and Mrs. Quim are wonderful hosts and extremely helpful. Their English is not very good and they have a very limited menu card, so it is best to approach one of them and ask them for help. Even during peak hours they are more than willing to explain to you what kinds of food they have displayed, so do not hesitate. Based on the displayed food they can literally make hundreds of different kind of tapas combinations. So just tell them what you like, sit back and enjoy the ride.
My advice is to just go for the cold tapas. We have never tried the warm tapas (like potato croquettes) before, but they do not seem to be very special. Definitely try the seafood (even though they are canned, they taste remarkably well), with a special mention for the mussels and cockles and be bold and experiment with the different kinds of food and flavor combinations. There is a definite feeling of sensation and satisfaction every time you discover a new combination, even after you have discovered your favorites.
When we are full and satisfied, I ask for the bill, while S. graciously thanks our hosts, mentions something “hasta pronto” and we walk out into the afternoon sun, knowing very well we will be back soon…again.
Quimet y Quimet is closed from 24th December to 26th December for Christmas. They might be closed on New Year as with many places as well. Otherwise they are opened Monday – Friday 12noon – 4pm; 7pm – 1030pm. Satuday 12noon – 4pm. Closed on Sunday.
Take L2 or L3 (green or red line) of the metro and stop at Paral-lel, which is a short walk to the restaurant situated at the side street.
Look out for Hotel Paral-lel, if you see it, you should then turn into the side street – Poeta Cabanyes and look for number 25, which will be on your left. You will not miss the prominent and distinguishable red medieval style gate of Quimet y Quimet.
A little bit of Spanish goes a long way
It is helpful to know the name of some food displayed in the glass counter in case you want to order some of them: mejillones (mussels), navajas (razor clams), beberechos (cockles), queso (cheese), cava (Spanish champagne), cerveza (beer), vino tinto/blanco (red wine/white wine), cebollas (onions), salmon (salmon), bacalao (cod fish), confit de tomate (tomato confit)… and in case of not knowing the name, just point or ask people “Que es esto?” – Everyone would be happy to help.
Quimet y Quimet
C/ Poeta Cabanyes, 25 08004 Barcelona, Spain
Telephone: 934 42 31 42
Metro: Paral-lel (L2/L3)
Budget: From 4 Euros onwards