A traditional Catalan restaurant in Gracia that offers great value – if you don’t mind queuing.
The first time I tried to eat at Cal Boter (C/ Tordera 62, 08012, Barcelona, (+34) 934 58 84 62, closed Sun. and Mon nights), the queue was out the door. I tried again another day, earlier, only to find the same. It was annoying but queues are usually a good sign so, hoping that the third time would be the charm, I tried yet again, at a still-breakfast-by-Spanish-standards 1pm.
I got a table, but only just. Within five minutes of my sitting down, Cal Boter was filling up and the waiters began their frenetic shift.
Regulars came in to meet friends, locals wheeled in their elderly parents in wheelchairs, tourists arrived clutching maps and smartphones, builders and office workers sat down alone or in groups to refuel. By 1.30pm the queue was, again, out the door and the restaurant was a hive of activity. What makes Cal Boter so popular?
It certainly isn’t a case of location, location, location. It’s not close to any major tourist areas or on a street with much passing traffic.
The most likely magnet for such enthusiastic custom is Cal Boter’s vakue for money. The €11.20 menú del día offers an ever-changing selection of seasonal traditional favourites. À la carte, wines run from €10-16 per bottle while starters and mains (snails, salt cod, meatballs, steaks, that sort of thing) range between €8 and €16. Cal Boter specializes in grilled meat and rib-sticking stews. They also offer full-plate breakfasts from 9am-noon consisting of things like pigs’ trotters and tripe – which sounds like a superb way to start the day. There’s nothing complicated on offer, just robust cooking of the kind that used to be common in Barcelona but has been gradually displaced by chain eateries and cupcake-makers.
The interior of the restuarant is as old-school as the menu. It’s classic bistro, with wooden ceiling fans, fading postcards, and photos and paintings hung haphazardly on the walls alongside old letters from local celebrity patrons.
Cal Boter’s been doing this since 1986 and it shows. Everything is very efficient: the staff are charming and you aren’t made to feel rushed but the plates fly out of the kitchen as if from clay pigeon traps.
I ordered an unctuous and powerful stew of pinto beans with pigs’ ears.
Around me, lighter fare like mussels, and scrambled eggs with asparagus, were being dashed out to diners. It all looked great. My main course of fried fresh anchovies was straighforward and delicious.
It seems perverse to complain in Barcelona about over-efficient service, and I was eating alone, which tends to be quicker than when in company, but I had my dessert of mel i mato (fresh cheese and honey) in front of me by 1.20pm, just 20 mins after sitting down. A slight pause between courses would have been welcome but I had no complaints with what was served.
In the evenings you can reserve a table, which I recommend. At lunchtimes, either get there very early or be prepared to wait. Is it worth it? The food isn’t spectacular but it’s hearty, honest and exceptional value. Cal Boter’s enduring popularity isn’t a fluke; this is a neighbourhood resturant that locals rightly cherish. It’s part of the community (it’s an active participant in the superb Festa de Gracia each summer) and it doesn’t rely on tourist trade to survive (although at least some of the waiters speak good English and will happily explain dishes to visitors). For unpretentious good food in an authentic atmosphere, Cal Boter is one of the best choices in the area.