Xampanyet* might well be Catalan slang for ‘cheek by jowl’, which would be appropriate given the convivial crush most evenings at this popular bar on the edge of Barcelona’s beautiful and mysterious Barrio Gòtic quarter.
By early evening this venerable bar, family-run since 1929, is packed with customers standing shoulder-to-shoulder and spilling onto Montcada, a medieval street in the oldest corner of the city. We wriggle our way deep into the thick of things and discover that a tiny table has just become free at the rear of the bar.
Easily identified as Xampanyet virgins, we really don’t have to do a thing. Within a few moments of claiming vacant seats a friendly waitress makes the sensible suggestion that she simply provides us a selection of tapas. We readily agree and choose to drink the house cava, large flagons of which are being hauled at regular intervals from a massive wall fridge. At 10% proof and akin to a sparkling cider it appears to be the drink of choice with most customers.
At a table nudging ours sit three men and a woman, each from different lands but chatting together in English. They’re the guest of a local who we can’t help but overhear explaining he’s bought them to El Xampanyet for an authentic Barcelona experience.
The truth of that lies in the tapas. Plates arrive on our table layered with thinly-sliced Serrano ham, delicate sheep’s cheese and partly-dried tomatoes. Next come slices of raw salmon, white cod with olive tapenade, white and red anchovies glistening with oil and huge green marinated olives, possibly the most luscious I’ve ever tasted. We sip our shallow glasses of cava and become totally seduced by such a fabulous blend of fine tastes and local ambience. Dessert is biscotti-like cream pastries dipped into a glass of Catalan dessert wine.
Having once again squeezed through the crowded bar we tumble on to Montcada filled with the sense that Barcelona simply couldn’t be any better. Rambling contentedly along the lamp-lit streets of the Ribiera district we find ourselves outside the Gothic church of Santa Maria del Mar. The doors are open so we step inside and catch the last glorious minutes of a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Barcelona has just got even more marvellous!
*xampanyet = old style flat-bottomed champagne glass
El Xampanyet, Montcada 22, Barcelona 08003