Before I start, please allow me to apologise for the lack of recent posts. I’ve had lots of new followers and visitors to the blog recently (welcome!) but not many noteworthy meals to write about. Our new baby’s still being breastfed which means no babysitters which means very limited opportunities for gastronimising. I’ve had a few superb meals recently but at places already covered here (like Gresca, Sagas and Kiosko) and at places where I forgot to bring my camera, especially La Pubilla in Gracia. (In the absence of a full review of La Pubilla I will simply say, “Go!” — it’s very good indeed.) My home-cooking priorities have changed too, being less about making nicely-plated and photo-worthy delicacies and more about making sure my 3-year-old doesn’t remove my or her fingers with my chef’s knife while she helps me prepare meals. The chaotic maelstrom of happy family activity that now defines mealtimes might make an interesting TV documentary but it’s not really material for a food blog.
I do have photos but no notes from a lunch last month at La Cova Fumada in Barceloneta (C/Baluard 56, 93 221 40 61, no website).
Something of a low-key Barcelona foodie institution, this family-run, unprepossessing restaurant doesn’t even have a sign.
If you get there early enough you can squeeze in and wait for a seat at a shared table from which you can look at the open kitchen and the blackboard (there’s no menu) while being elbowed in the back in a friendly manner by fellow diners. Luxuious it is not.
Good, however, it most certainly is. La Cova Fumada is perpetually crammed because it’s worth tolerating some discomfort and mild claustrophobia to sample some of the best traditional cooking in the city at budget-friendly prices.
There’s no point in me reaching for my thesaurus to describe the fare here. It’s all simple, familiar stuff: everything’s fresh, everything’s made just as it should be and everything’s tempting so make sure you’re hungry. We started with some simple grilled artichokes.
Served at the same time was some decent toasted bread smeared with fabulous home made aioli — garlic mayonnaise. This is pungent, potent stuff — the sort you usually get made by one of the men at family barbeques not the gloopy prebought type that so often appears in restaurants.
The bombas (deep fried potato and ham balls served with a spicy sauce) are famous here but I didn’t fancy them and neither did my dining companion, Dan. Instead we went for the cap i pota, a stew that transforms various unappealing pieces of veal’s foot and head into a rich and magnificent plate of rib-sticking goodness. La Cova Fumada’s is a fine example and you should try it. Even the squeamish won’t find anything to complain about in the finished dish.
Another house speciality is the garbanzos con morcilla, chickpeas with black pudding. There’s no secret to the magic here — just perfectly-made, nutty chickpeas that melt in the mouth, accompanies by delicious black pudding and topped with pine nuts. It could be over-dry but it’s not. It could be too simple but it’s not. It’s cheap, it’s splendid and it is unmissable if you visit.
Finally we wanted to try the arengades salats — salted, smoked herrings (no photo). “They’re very salty,” we were told. Yeah, yeah. We’ve had salted herrings before, we’re not tourists, we laughed. “OK, but they really are very salty” came the reply.
We should have listened. One mouthful and I was gasping for another beer. These were the saltiest herrings — maybe the saltiest things apart from salt itself — that I’ve ever tasted. Dan struggled on manfully but it was too much for me. Completely my own smug, idiotic fault, of course: I should have heeded the waiter’s warning. I love salty food and as a tiny tapa or an ingredient in something else these would have been fine. They did have, apart from the salt, a great flavour. But a whole fish was just too much.
It didn’t spoil the meal. There were grilled prawns and pulpo gallego — Galician-style octopus — arriving on other tables that looked fabulous but we were already full. They’d have been a little more expensive too but our selection certainly wasn’t; as I said at the start, I’ve lost my notes so I can’t give exact prices but I remember the bill being extremely low, probably €10-€15 euros each including drinks.
La Cova Fumada has managed to hang onto its identity despite the wave of tourist that’s ruined just about every other Barceloneta restaurant (and I’m looking at you here, Can Ramonet). I’m actually reluctant to write about it here because the last thing it needs is more visitors but as it’s already snuck into guidebooks and magazine listings I guess my blog won’t make much difference. For selfish reasons I should tell you it’s awful, but the truth is that it’s the exact opposite and it remains one of the best and most authentic places to get traditional food in the Barcelona.