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Barcelona bar review

Ruth Allan wonders about the name of a Northern Quarter recent arrival. Why is it called after Spain's second city?

Published on February 1st 2010.

Barcelona bar review

Barcelona Bar is a new joint in the Northern Quarter. As the name suggests, it specialises in Spanish stuff - food, coffee, wine and beer - and it’s in a spot that you’re probably familiar with too. At the end of Thomas Street, this venue has played host to Six Pack Deli and The Little Book of Furniture. Neither was a success, but as we pulled up outside, my friend Ric pointed out that a new Spanish bar-cum-restaurant might just pull it off – after all, no one else is doing the southern European thing in this part of town, are they?

Unlike, say, a Mongolian Barbecue or a Gurkha Grill, many of us have actually been to a bar in Barcelona and enjoyed the experience - which makes Barcelona Bar kind of sad, and makes the food even more disappointing.

First impressions weren't stellar, but they weren't bad either. It's got a sturdy, metal and brick front, bringing to mind those ‘industrial chic’ haunts of old, like Dry Bar and Manto. And inside, the owners have gone for a less-is-more approach too, with hits of red paint and plenty of exposed metal beams and floorboards. The result is a chilly but not offensive interior - the kind of place that'd suit a bottle of wine after an epic day in the office.

Ric and I met two friends, Dr Sam and Dr Dave, to jazz our Barcelona experience up a bit. I'm not sure if this is linked to their medical qualifications but Sam and Dave are both bang into their Spanish food, and they’d got the low down on the menu by the time we arrived.

It turned out that there are just six food options to choose from, all of which are tapas-style portions (ie. you’d want at least three if you don’t want to be getting a kebab later). The choice includes tortilla, chicken in a beer sauce, roasted vegetables, patatas bravas (potatoes in a tomato sauce) and chorizo (which they’d run out of).

Obviously, it’s a small selection, which is not a problem in itself - in fact, I often wish new places would serve less food better, rather than more food worse - but the menu is lacking a few key items. Like bread, for example. Or anchovies. Those tasty little fishes bring to mind evenings, sitting in some Spanish square, contemplating the quality of hot climate life. The same can be said for a ración of nutty Manchego cheese, or the soft, smooth bite of croquetas - you know, those deep-fried balls of béchamel sauce which sit, serenely (and probably for months on end), on every bar top in Spain.

Shame that. Anyhow, we ordered what they did have, and set to mulling over the joint. To my mind it was a bit too minimal and the vibes were downbeat too: I’ve not listened to so much trip-hop since I was a miserable student. Sam reckoned that the bar bore ‘little relation’ to anything she’d seen in Spain’s second city, while Ric thought that it had an atmosphere ‘more workday than holiday’. All in all, not great then.

The arrival of food did little to lift our collective mood. A dish reminiscent of overdone roast potatoes, left uncovered for a few days in the fridge, was served under the guise of patatas bravas, while other low points included watery chicken, a bitter aubergine creation and a bowl of over-oregano-ed plum tomatoes in place of roast vegetables. Bleurgh. The only good thing was the tortilla, which is kind of hard to get wrong.

I got the gang to give their verdicts. Ric gave it two out of ten, adding that ‘one of those is for the nice waitress’, and the others followed suit. ‘These potatoes have no soul,’ Dave lamented, as he piled more flavour-enhancing chilli flakes onto his patatas bravas.

In comparison, the drinks were better. The wine list, in particular, is a solid and largely Spanish affair. There are white and red riojas, unoaked chardonnays, zingy Albarinos – and the house red is well worth a punt too.

Having been introduced to Monastrell, a grape that’s typically grown in Spain’s Jumilla region, by Manchester Confidential’s resident travel guru, Neil Sowerby, I’ve become a fan of its operatic range. From the jaunty offering here (Ademas Viura, £11.45) to the deep, Malbecian tones of Juan Gil Monastrell (available at the Red Lion in High Lane), it seldom fails to impress. And if wine is not your thing, Barcelona have got a good selection of lagers, spirits, and jugs of hand-made sangria for a tenner too.

Not so bad on the drinks front, then - but elsewhere, Barcelona Bar appears to be a work in progress. Neither design nor atmosphere are great, but what was of greater concern to me, was the food. Unlike, say, a Mongolian Barbecue or a Gurkha Grill, many of us have actually been to a bar in Barcelona and enjoyed the experience - which makes Barcelona Bar kind of sad, and makes the food even more disappointing.

Having said that, the idea behind this venture is a good one. And it’s possible that Barcelona Bar could do all right by offering authentic mid-priced Spanish food and drink in this part of town. On the back of this experience, I'd suggest that they need to seriously examine the food offering first though - and maybe borrow a couple of CDs from a mate while they’re at it.

Rating: 12/20
Breakdown: 2/5 food
4/5 drinks
4/5 service
2/5 atmosphere
Address: Barcelona Bar
6 Hilton Street. Manchester M4 1LATel: 0161 839 7117

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

CASFebruary 1st 2010.

HOW TO MAKE A SPANISH TAPAS BAR AUTHENTIC: On no account should you make the place look welcoming or indeed even open. You should tell all customers you do not take reservations yet make sure the best tables all have reserved signs on them. All small, non food waste, should be scattered equally around the floor of your premises. Let customers find their own seats and do not worry whether the table is remotely clean. When handing the, double sided and laminated, menu to the customers you must make sure it is caked in at least 3 days of tapas spillages. On this menu you must go overboard on a single ingredient, for example you could serve mushrooms with absolutely everything. At least 1 in every 4 items ordered by a table must be delivered wrong, this works in multiples so 2 for 8 and so on. Non salty anchovies must always, always, be caked in salt. You must have a leg of Jamon Iberico on the food counter that looks amazingly appealing, however should someone order this ham you must never serve it and instead get the cheap stuff from the back. This rule counts for all items in your food display cabinet. If someone orders tap water you must deliver it in a semi clean jug with tiny glasses that look they've been through the dishwasher 4000 times. Finally, no Spanish tapas bar is complete without at least working senoritas drinking at the bar, whatever the time of day.

CuriousFebruary 1st 2010.

Cas are you talking about this bar or a generic typical Iberian bar?

CASFebruary 1st 2010.

Barcelona tapas bars! Especially around the Raval, there's about 4 like this on Ramblas Raval itself.

Ali McGowanFebruary 2nd 2010.

Never, ever go near Las Ramblas in BCN... I was there for new year, ate well away from touristy areas and am glad to say that the food was generally spot on - and the experience nothing like Cas describes. Shame this new place has not done it's homework.

ToroFebruary 2nd 2010.

Cas is right. I've lived in Spain and their tapas places can be right dumps with three day old prawns on plates and so on. But they work because they are busy and full of activity and cluttered with bull fighter pics and the owners favourite team in action. A tapas bar can never ever work when it as sterile as this place.

CASFebruary 2nd 2010.

Ali, Ramblas Raval is certainly not Las Ramblas. They are too seperate places and the Raval area is not really touristy. I have never eaten on Las Ramblas. I am not slating all the restaurants in Barcelona and have eaten in many many great ones. It's tongue and cheek so before patronising me at least make sure we're talking about the same place ;) The best tapas I've had in Spain is in Jerez, brilliant but still with a lot of the above characteristics to be honest!

CASFebruary 2nd 2010.

Correction, I have eaten on Las Ramblas, at the Mercado which is brilliant.

Not a pub, but a punFebruary 3rd 2010.

It's like Bar, because it's a bar and then the "Celona" bit makes it Spanish like the city.

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