For top-quality tapas in Barcelona city centre, this crowded basement bar is still hard to beat.
Review: Tapas 24 restaurant, Barcelona
The only thing that’s underground about Tapas 24 is its location. The word has been well and truly out about Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellan’s little basement bar near Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia ever since it opened in 2007, and as a result there is a near-permanent queue of people on its stairs leading down from the street. Reservations are not accepted, so those wanting a bar stool or terrace seat here must be prepared to wait. And wait they do, fixing the lucky diners inside with dagger stares as they will them to hurry up and finish.
Abellan is a relentless entrepreneur and he has taken the Tapas 24 concept both near (inside FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou) and far (to Montreal, Canada). He also conducts a small empire of other establishments in and around Barcelona, including the superb Suculent and Bravo 24. There’s always the risk of wobbles and crashes when spinning so many plates so I wanted to see if Tapas 24 still deserved its reputation for serving some of the best tapas-with-a-twist in town.
The restaurant itself is carefully styled to look like any of Spain’s millions of neighbourhood bars, all long counters, high stools and strip lights. There are a more ice buckets full of high-quality bubbly and fewer sunflower-seed husks on the floor but the homage succeeds in recreating a fun, unfussy and frenetic atmosphere.
Chalk boards of daily specials and plastic-backed menus reveal versions of classic dishes, given a boost in both quality and price. It’s cheerful but not especially cheap; prices are in line with its city centre location and top-end ingredients. As with all tapas restaurants, you can snack economically or blow your budget on a feast so it’s hard to give an average price per person. If pushed, I’d suggest budgeting for a minimum of €25 but you could easily double that if you choose the more expensive dishes.
Is it worth it? Yes, I think it is. We followed the guidance of our waiter, Jordi, and started with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: a bikini (toasted ham and cheese sandwich) jacked up several degrees of deliciousness by the addition of buffalo mozzarella, ibérico ham and black truffle. It is absolutely gorgeous but it costs €8.90. If you can, indulge yourself.
A straightforward but excellent pa amb tomàquet, powerful tomato rubbed on crispy coca bread and drizzled with EVOO (€3) was followed by another coca, this time topped with tomato and marinated sardines (€8.40). It was redolent of the classic boquerones en vinagre but bigger, fatter and better.
Tuna belly and seaweed “Shunka” (€12.20) named after Barcelona’s most reputable Japanese restaurant, from where the recipe is taken. This one’s not really a classic Spanish tapa but given the relentless march of sashimi and seaweed across the nation’s restaurants, I’m sure it soon will be.
But we were back to Iberia with a bang with the next dish: ous estrellats amb botifarra de perol is immensely good. Runny fried eggs over fried potatoes and local sausage made of suet, offal, blood and other such treasures. This king of breakfasts and master of hangovers laughs in the face of cholesterol fears and makes a great snack at any time of the day for those so inclined.
Pinxo de xai “Alhucemas”(€5.80), named after the Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco, is a lamb brochette marinated in a mix of 27 spices. It’s extremely good and the remaining sauce was eagerly mopped up.
I insisted on ordering some roast chicken croquettes (€2.20 each). I’d eaten Abellan’s croquettes before but my friend Tony had not, and I suspected he might like them. I wasn’t wrong. Phrases like “Willy Wonka’s whole meal in a single bite” and “oh my god” tumbled from his smacking lips and he started texting people to spread the word. The croquettes had a similar effect on me too, the first time. They’re pretty good. (Though the ones at Bravo 24 are better still).
To finish the meal we had a classic ‘chocolate with bread, olive oil and sea salt’ combo (€6), served with a glass of PX, and ‘the lemon’ (€5.50), a frozen citrus full of wonders like meringue, sorbet and lemon curd. Both were first rate.
During the mean we drank glasses of Abellan’s own-brand 100% tempranillo Rioja.
When people ask me where they should go for tapas in Barcelona, my answer is often “Tapas 24”. It ticks every important box: the location’s ideal, the food’s excellent, the service is friendly and prompt, and the atmosphere is cramped but convivial. Downsides? It is impossible to get into during busy periods and the elbow-to-elbow seating arrangements aren’t to everyone’s liking. To fully appreciate Abellan’s variations on classic dishes it also helps to have tried the originals, which will require a trip to somewhere harder to find (but easier to afford). Tapas 24 is featured in every Barcelona tourist guide ever written, so don’t go expecting a locals-only hidden gem. You will find, however, a bar that isn’t coasting on its reputation or using popularity as an excuse for sliding standards. It could, perhaps, do with a cosmetic facelift but this sort of eating isn’t about interior design; it’s about sitting with friends, having a good time over a few glasses of something good, and sharing lots of plates of great food. For that, in this part of town, Tapas 24 is still hard to beat.
Tapas 24: Carrer Diputació 269, 08007, Eixample, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 488 0977; Metro Passeig de Grácia. Open 9am-Midnight every day.