Barcelona: ‘Biblioteca’

Lizzie and I are in Barcelona; I’m giving a talk, and we’re also visiting our friends Stephan and Jess. Tonight we went to Biblioteca in Raval for dinner.

We were very much on the early side for Iberian diners, rocking up just after 9. Thankfully there were other people already there, though they looked pretty touristy to my eye. Anyway, the lone waitress seated us quickly and we didn’t have to contemplate our own profound unfashionableness for too long. (In fact despite being the only waitress for the whole night, service was quick and pleasant—if service in countries where tipping is the norm was more like this, I’d feel a lot better about tipping. Thanks waitress!)

The space is very nice (no photos sorry). A long narrow room, but with very high ceilings; simple white walls decorated with a selection of generic old-timey ephemera, but the dominant design feature (as the name suggests) is a set of glass fronted wooden bookshelves filled with cookbooks, apparently all for sale. All the menus too are inserted into laminated old recipe cards. The room opens up towards the back, where the open kitchen is located, but we were seated in about the middle.

We ordered a bottle of Rioja (Luis Alegre Rioja Crianza 2006, quite full bodied by our standards but crisp and not too big), though Lizzie and Hogarth had only a glass and the responsibility for it fell predominantly on me.

I ordered esqueixada to start, a Catalan speciality of salt cod with onion, tomato, peppers, and olives, which came on a very 70s glass plate, but was not at all 70s in taste—very clean fish flavour, cut through by the acidity of the tomato and onion. A very refreshing dish, something I never thought I’d say about cod. Lizzie started with a falafel salad with date and apricot, another good combination, with the sweet apricot and dates pairing very nicely with a very well made falafel (not at all crumbly or dry).

For mains, Lizzie had a squid with wild mushroom: as she said, the squid was more there for texture since its flavour could not compare with the overwhelming earthy tones of the wild mushrooms. I found it a bit full on to be honest, but Lizzie’s appreciation for mushrooms showed itself once again. I had pigs trotters stuffed with prunes on a bed of spinach; somehow this struck me as less full on than the squid/mushroom combination, but that I am willing to admit is an idiosyncratic taste. My trotters were delicious, the soft gelatinous flesh pairing off against the rich density of the prunes. The waitress warned me specially that ‘they are just skin and jelly’, which I will admit gave me a slight pause. Lizzie urged me on though!

We finished with a very simple apple tart, sliced apple on home made pastry sprinkled with sugar and cooked from scratch too order. Simple, but totally delicious. Lizzie’s ‘I’ll just have one bite’ turned into half a tart…

The restaurant never got too busy, which was puzzling as there were plenty of people out and about. We left at 11 which, unless I’m very mistaken, was certainly late enough even for the locals to be coming down to eat. I’m surprised, since if this was a local of mine in Oxford I’d be there all the time (especially given how affordable it was, certainly by UK standards).


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