Barcelona's Cal Pep, on the edge of the Barri Gòtic, has quite a reputation. People - largely gastro-tourists - wind their way through the city's squares and narrow alleys with an 'x' on their map marking this tapas mecca. I passed its hallowed doors in April this year, but both times it was shut. An unexpected work trip brought me back, and on our return from the beach they were just about to open the doors.
Unsurprisingly, the waiting queue did not feature any locals. Ever seen a local eating supper at 6pm?
Joining the rush, we squeezed in and propped ourselves on stools to watch the action.
There's no menu, just a selection of their dishes of the day. Pep himself (chap in glasses below, who has run the place for over 25 years) sized us up, and scribbled down a list of 6 tapas for us to try.
Fritura mixta: a massive plate piled high with mixed deep-fried seafood. Incredibly tasty, particularly the tiny whole shrimps (eaten head and all) and sardines, but just too much!
Pan con tomate: the ubiquitous Catalan bread, rubbed with tomato flesh, garlic, and olive oil. Always welcome, particularly to mop up the juices of...
Tallarinas con ajo y perejil: beautifully sweet clams swimming in a sherry sauce with garlic, parsley and cubes of jamon. Sadly, the juices were just a touch too salty for me.
Fried mushrooms: local mushrooms, much like the portobello, briefly fried in oodles of butter and drizzled with a pesto-style dressing.
Fried artichokes: crispy morsels of artichoke heart, battered and fried to perfection.
Tortilla: the standout dish, cooked to order. A truly wonderful example of the famous Spanish dish. Not yet set inside, crusty and caramelized on the outside, and slathered with allioli (garlicky mayonnaise). Tiny cubes of homemade chorizo nestling in the soft warm egg were a delight.
The atmosphere was thrilling - the staff hollering at one another, the diners moaning in appreciation with every mouthful, the clamour of the kitchen. Cal Pep is rightly famous and lauded for its skill with the deep-fryer, but our selection of dishes just overwhelmed us on that front. But be in no doubt, I'll return, armed with a keener grasp of Catalan and so better able to influence Pep's decision making.
Of all my recent culinary experiences in wonderful Barc, however, Pep cannot top Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria. For me, it has the edge.