Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Cachitos, Rambla de Catalunya, Barcelona: a Review

On my fourth day in Barcelona, with the wonderful heat, I felt sufficiently well to leave the barrio of Poble Sec and explore the city; although, admittedly, pushed in my wheelchair by my ever sturdy assistant.

Initially we thought of dining in the restaurant of El Corte Inglés at Plaça de Catalunya; but on arrival on their top storey, we discovered that only a self-serve cafeteria was available, requiring one to queue for each and every course and drinks separately. For a chap in a wheelchair, even with an assistant, this would have been an arduous experience. It was a no-no.

So, we set off to explore Eixample, the shopping area of the city. It is also nicknamed Geixample (pronounced gay-shample) due to the concentration of LGBTI businesses and residents. Obviously any eatery we selected had to be wheelchair-accessible in the first instant, but also it had to appeal to the tastes of two different individuals. After a wonderful amble, we stumbled across Rambla de Catalunya. This had covered terrace eateries up and down its length. My pusher pushed and we scoured menus. We spotted a lovely fish restaurant and held it in reserve. However, there was a table on the edge of the covered - thus shady - terrace, which meant I could tuck under the wheelchair and transfer to an ordinary dining-chair, so Cachitos it was.

[Image description: the writer, his wheelchair at his side, at table with a glass of cava rosé]

The maître d' was warm and welcoming. Funnily he assumed I was French and my chum English. Not the first time my Spanish has been assumed to be spoken by a Frenchman. Richard glanced through the wine list and made his selection. Alas, the poor waiter had to return to inform us they had run out. Rico opted for a Juvé y Camps Cava rosé. This was priced at €22, approximately double its price in a Spanish wine-merchant's.

We were not so hungry that we wanted a three-course repast. I selected tuna tartare on an avocado base (below, top left). My companion opted for lamb cutlets with potatoes (below, bottom). Both meals cost €24 each. To share we chose a goat's cheese & pomegranate salad at €10.90 (below, top right), which was very tasty and priced about right for a city centre.

My plate was delicious, the quality good; but was definitely not worth the price paid. This was no cordon-bleu dish. My companion ate all his ration; but, similarly, it was the kind of dish that can be bought for far less in many a Spanish eatery.

For dessert I had to try crema catalana (image above). The vanilla custard was exquisitely light. The sugar-toffee topping ultra-fine. By far the best example I have ever had in Spain or anywhere for that matter. At €5.30 completely worth the price.

Richard chose cheesecake with a blackcurrant coulis (image above). At €6.00 this is more expensive than pâtisserie prices. It was good - but again, not that good, so did not represent value for money.

Service was very good and both our waiter and the maître d' were extremely enthusiastic about their offerings: we were made very welcome. The service level was spot-on, neither too lax nor too fussy.

The total bill with gratuity came to €100. Admittedly we were sitting in a wonderful location and really enjoyed our meal; but the price compared to the standard & quality of cuisine, with hindsight, was far too high.

We had a lovely time and do not regret the experience. However, I cannot recommend Cachitos to you, unless of course money is no object to the reader.

Friday, 23 June 2017

La Federica, Poble Sec, Barcelona: a Review

On the evening of day three in Barcelona, I had recovered sufficiently to take a short stroll into the district in which we were residing, Poble Sec. This is a trendy quarter rapidly becoming known for its culinary highlights. For an example, see my last post on Camilo Hock's Atelier Pan & Cook.

Prior to actually making the trip, I had done some research on places to see, dine at and so on, as well as determining whether there are any gay bars in the vicinity. Spain is not like the UK when it comes to bars specifically dedicated to the queer community, as most bars are welcoming or at least tolerant of one & all. However, there is a concentration of gay-friendly businesses in Eixample, which also happens to be the area for best shopping. So concentrated with LGBTI folk, the area is often nicknamed Geixample (pronounced gay-shample). However, Poble Sec has just the one gay bar - La Federica.

[Image description: (left) the outside façade & hoarding; (right) inside looking out.]

Unlike many bars in Manchester's Gay Village, this bar was frequented by all the stereotypes (bears, leather boys, trannies, lipstick lesbians, denim dykes, disco bunnies, nervous twinks, hipster gays, camp gays, etc.) and aged from twinks to polar-bears. What struck me most was that they all talked to each other - even the lesbians! I was really surprised at what a family atmosphere there is here and told Albert the barman (and co-owner) so. He said that was the vibe they were aiming for. They even permit heteros, as long as they are queer-accepting, gay-friendly.

The top image is myself standing at the trendily retro bar. Whilst the width of the building is somewhat narrow, one can gain a sense of its depth from the bottom left photo of me savouring my dry Martini, expertly shaken not stirred by the delightful, chatty & amiable barkeep. Best dry Martini ever! And to add to my joy, Albert gave me his tip for making it so! - but my lips are sealed! 

Be not fooled by the bottom right portrait of Rico: that is a Moscow Mule and no soft-drink whatever the label on that can of ginger-beer!

Whilst there, we were privy to an art exhibition by the collagist, Randomagus. This link should lead you to the artist installing, previewing and selling his works. The photograph (© La Federica) below is of the artist between the other barman & co-owner (also named Albert) and Albert, the shorter chap on the right as viewed.

Randomagus is extremely tall - his head can be seen popping over the head of the blonde lass behind me in the image below, where I am celebrating my purchase of a limited addition print, signed by the artist himself.

Depending on the night and time one turns up at La Federica will determine the type of ambience from a place for a quiet pick-me-up to a boisterous bacchanalia of imbibing, chatting, laughter and music.

We loved the place so much we popped in twice for wee drinkies. When we are next in Barcelona, nothing will keep us from saying ¡hola! to Albert and his affable clientèle. And anyway, we need to continue working through and sampling all the cocktails on the list!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Atelier Pan & Cook: a Review

[Image description: the external façade.]

For our final meal in Barcelona, we had wanted to return to our favourite taparía cum restaurant; however, despite the place being almost empty, they were fully booked up. We were disappointed but knew there are many other eateries within my hobbling ability. The previous night we had passed Atelier Pan & Cook as the waitress was closing down. She appeared tired, but gave us a beautiful smile, so we decided to try there next. This time we were not disappointed, we turned out to be the only diners and so were able to choose any spot in the restaurant. We opted for the table where the cool air from the air-conditioning could be most felt.

[Image description: Camilo, the chef & owner working hard in his galley.]

We literally had no idea what type of food we were to be served. We quickly ordered two beers. Refreshing, slightly citrussy, slightly sweet Estrella Damm was delivered to table in goblet glasses (copas ballon). The light beer hit the spot and after a few minutes chit-chat between each other and checking out the restaurant décor - soft industrial - and observing the chef in his wee cell, the ebullient waitress, Mariana, came back and explained the menu.

The speciality of Pan & Cook is a sort of fondue which is served in a small cauldron topped with fresh bread in the form of a mini loaf. The same fillings can also be served atop a crêpe. Neither option appealed to me as I wanted a light meal; but my companion opted for one of the crêpe dishes.

There are three options for selecting from the menu: à la carte and two table d'hôte options, one at €21 or the second at €14. We opted for the cheaper of the latter, simply because we were not that hungry. Included were a drink, the appetiser of the day, a seasonal salad, any main and either a dessert or a coffee.

Aperitivo del dia (image above):
The appetiser was a small pot of delicious mushrooms, simply cooked in a little oil and sprinkled with sea-salt. Delish!

Ensalada de temporada (image above):
Lettuce, radish, cherry tomatoes & avocado with a mustard dressing. Also delicious!

Colin's main course - El ceviche de Atelier (image above):
Cebiche is a Peruvian dish. The white fish used on this occasion was hake - or colin in French!

Rico's main course - Lomo de ternera con salsa de 4 quesos (image above):
This was a crêpe with four cheese & veal/beef

Postre/Dessert (image above):
We both opted for the pear cheesecake. It was a combination of an American-style and a traditional baked cheesecake. Delish AND moreish!

We ordered a glass of rosé apiece to go with our mains and desserts. At under €40 for the two of us an extremely reasonably-priced meal.

Atelier Pan & Cook, has a great, modern ambience. Its clientèle was made up of mainly locals of a range of ages, but two other tourists (from US) also dined whilst we were there. The place was spotless. The toilet is accessible, however there is one quite high step to initially enter the building, which might make it difficult to enter by wheelchair. The WC is not suitable for wheelchairs in any case. Above all, the food is delicious, of very good quality and well presented. Service was spot on.

Highly recommended.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

PIP at last

The letter (image of letter-heading below) from the DWP regarding my Personal Independence (PIP) claim arrived whilst I was in Barcelona.

I have been granted the "enhanced rate" for both mobility AND daily living needs. Furthermore, I have been given a rare (per benefitsandwork site) "ongoing" status - which I have now determined means I am "unlikely to get either better or worse" in the future.

However, apparently DWP can randomly decide to check whenever they wish - so it is hardly re-assuring and is certainly not giving me any sense of settled stability. So it looks as if I shall be on the anti-anxiety meds until such time as the DWP is reformed or the PIP laws are altered to be less intrusive & menacing.

Oh, I have just found a section which states that they will check me again after 22nd May 2027. To all intents & purposes knowing such still makes no difference, due to the we-can-check-on-you-at-any-time catch-all clause.

I was awarded 28 points for daily living (12 points needed to get enhanced rate) and 16 points for mobility (also 12 points needed to get enhanced rate). I disagree with some of the points given; but there is little point in arguing as it would make no material difference and would simply delay payments being made to me.

The decision-maker's conclusion reads:
I made my decision using information about your health condition or disability including details of any treatment, medication, test results and symptoms. This information is the best we have available and enough to decide how much help you need without aface to face consultation.As your needs vary, my decision is based on the help you need most days.The information shows your health condition or disability causes you great difficulty with Daily Living activities.The information shows your health condition or disability causes you great difficulty planning and following journeys and moving around.This is consistent with your medical history, the available evidence and the information you provided about how your disability affects you. (sic)
The award letter is ten pages long. After three read-throughs I think I have grasped it and that the above are the pertinent points.

In conclusion I ought to feel happy & relieved; but I feel no sense of satisfaction and still very much unsettled by it all.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

La Despensa Familiar, Benalmádena: a Review

I am a regular visitor to Benalmádena. And I think La Despensa Familiar has been open about three years or so. The staff are knowledgeable about what they sell. On several occasions I have visited advising what I intended to cook and have been recommended a perfect wine to accompany the food, and without breaking the bank.

On the last occasion, having done a supermarket run next-door, on a hot & sticky day we were fully ready for some refreshment. There is seating inside, which I think is air-conditioned - at least it is cooler than on the terrace. We sat outside on stools at barrels which serve as tables. I had a deliciously fruity, chilled rosado/rosé at €2,30 and my companion a caña/draught beer, for €1,25. Perfectly reasonable prices.

At Spanish lunch-times and dinner-times, the place is packed. So popular is it with locals that the place is open seven days a week, including Sundays now.

[Image description: the platter of four types of charcuterie plus cheese]
From the deli counter we ordered a platter of Iberian charcuterie & cheese for two. This was very reasonably priced at €15 for take-away (take-out). The assistant's attention to detail meant that when he noticed a slice of cheese had slipped from its position, he unwrapped the platter and started afresh - dedication! We had it that very evening for our evening meal, over a couple of hours, with a lovely bottle of Rioja.

[Image description: the platter as centre-piece of our dinner on the balcony]

Staff are friendly and helpful. I speak Spanish; but English is spoken when needed.