Veggie Places visits Barcelona

Following it's redevelopment in the decades before, Barcelona has become one of the most popular of European city destinations and it's not hard to see why. Well planned, wide boulevards, with sensible pedestrian crossing procedures, make it a joy to explore on foot. The buildings are stunning, there is a coffee shop on every corner and with the temperature about 12 degrees above the one we left at home, sitting outside in the sunshine is possible even in January. It's a buzzing city with an equally busy port and has a heady mix of old and new.


We had a lot to cram into our weekend. Of course, our brief was to sample the food and search out veggie places, but other visitors to Barcelona will struggle to decide exactly what to do as there is so much choice. I suggest you focus on what interests you from night clubs and music, museums, the architecture, art galleries, clothes shopping, or just people watching and eating which is what we did. Apart from eating, we did manage a visit to El Corte Ingles at Placa Catalunya, a huge department store with nine floors and a wonderful rooftop coffee shop with a terrific view. Sadly, not much to eat for veggies, but the clothes make up for it. La Rambla is a long street that goes down to the port with a walkway down the middle. This is where everyone cruises on foot, at all times of day and night and is a good as any place to head for when you first arrive.

Our hotel, modern and chic, in a self conscious way that was rather unrelaxing, was centrally situated. It was clean and quiet but not so great I would want to recommend it. Illa de Gracia
Illa de Gracia
After an uneventful flight from Gatwick and an easy airport transfer (40 minutes by taxi) we were ready to sample a late veggie lunch. Illa de Gracia is a modern restaurant which in common with many places offers a "menu del dia" option, which is usually good value and the one we plumped for. I had lentil and carrot soup, which was quite pleasant, but then the march of the grated carrots went into overdrive: a mixed salad with lettuce, tomato, olives, pasta and a large amount of grated carrot; main course a mixture of hot rice with seaweed and cabbage, served with lettuce and grated carrot. A chocolate tofu pudding was then served, which I declined but Mr Big said was good. It was very cheap, the food fresh, but not particularly exciting. The evening proved to be more successful. I liked the quiet ambience, the funky lights and the soft Jazz playing in the background. Sesamo had been recommended to me and as soon as I walked in, I felt I was in a proper restaurant. Sesamo
Our waitress was very friendly and spoke good English, as did most of the staff. My starter of marinated vegetables with walnut sour bread to mop up the juices was exquisite. My main was rather unusual - a cauliflower tower with pumpkin and leeks. It was very rich, but some more home made bread to counteract the richness meant it was all eaten. I had a vegan chocolate pudding which was tasty and Mr Big proclaimed his tirimasu excellent. At 50 euros with soft drinks, we both felt it was worth it and passed the 'would I come back' test.

Lunch the next day saw us at Vegetalia. It's in a slightly crummy part of town but the cafe itself is very sweet and the service was good. They had a three course menu del dia on offer. I had a lovely rice mixture as a starter with pine nuts and onions. My main was tofu and mushrooms in a miso stew with brown rice and alfalfa sprouts. Vegetalia
All my favourite ingredients in one dish; not surprisingly I loved it. I found the vegan apple cake a bit heavy but maybe I was feeling a bit full as portions are very generous here. Mr Big had houmous as a starter with tofu ravioli to follow, then soya yoghurt. Spotlessly clean, Vegetalia has a small shop area at the rear of the cafe and they manufacture and export all sorts of tofu products.

Dinner at Amaltea was a big disappointment. The restaurant itself is a smart looking place with tiled floor and friendly staff; our waiter showed great patience translating the menu for us; but it was downhill from there. I believe the cuisine is called Indian inspired but having had delicious Indian food in the past, I think that description is a bit of an insult. My starter of spring rolls on a bed of raddichio was very dull with an uninspiring sauce. My main of seitan and tofu in a gloopy sauce with cous cous was just dull and not very nice, so I left most of it. Mr Big's food was equally disappointing - tasteless soup and the same raddichio "salad" - just raddichio leaves with his main of deep fried artichokes. It was a Saturday and surprisingly busy which I found hard to fathom.

Lunch the next day was an altogether happier affair. The tiny cafe Arco Iris is on a corner and two sides is glass, so it's very light and bright and clean. Arco Iris
Arco Iris
Again, we had a set price lunch, which this time consisted of four courses. My salad to start was lovely with fresh apple and a just made taste. I then had stewed aubergine and new potatoes followed by a hamburger, which is the way they do things here. In the UK it would be served at once on one plate; no matter, it was tasty. Pudding was a tofu concoction with banana and chocolate - rather like Angel Delight but with fewer additives I imagine. Water, bread and beer are all included in the price, which was a bargain 9 euros each.

Mr Big decided to push the boat out on our last night and the Arola restaurant within the Hotel Arts certainly ticked the box. Arola
Immaculate and modern, but not stuffy, we enjoyed several drinks in the bar before taking our seat in the restaurant. As to be expected in a place with two Michelin stars, the service was impeccable and the food could not be faulted. Patatas bravas as a starter and then the lightest, melt in your mouth pastry tart topped with marinated vegetables formed our main course, perched on a balsamic reduction. Home made ice cream followed and we took our coffee and petit fours in the bar. It made a fitting finale to our all too short weekend in Barcelona.

We could not visit as many restaurants as we would have liked to and Barcelona has quite a selection. See Vegetarian Restaurants in Barcelona for our complete list.

Veggie Places - February 2008

Note: Veggie Places always reviews anonymously, posing as an ordinary customer. If we do divulge who we are, it is always after we have paid in full for food or accommodation.

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