What is it about a hole in the wall outlet in a nondescript El Poble Sec side street that brings celebrity chefs and foodies from all over the world? Why Conde Naste? Why Anthony Bourdain? Why would anyone bring attention to this tiny bottle shop that can’t fit more than 20 people at a time? Why let the secret out?
Quimet y Quimet (pronounced Kimmet and Kimmet) is a conundrum in that it isn’t a traditional bar or restaurant – it’s what is known locally as a bodegas de tapas, a liquor shop that happens to serve pristine examples of the most appetizing of small plated treasures. That’s the way it has always been since 1914 when the current owner and bar tender, Joaquim (“Quim”) Pérez’s great grandfather opened it. The savory dishes, like bars selling cheap Buffalo wings or beer nuts were offered to encourage wine consumption and purchase. Now they’re what bring people from all over the world to experience.
We arrive just as its bright red shutters have been opened, before the surge of tourists. A couple of local regulars who know the score are enjoying a quiet glass of house red, and bantering with Quim behind the bar. It’s such a perfect moment that we feel like total intruders.
It’s Travel Channel shows and celebrity chefs that have made this place popular, but it also means it’s harder for the regulars to enjoy Quimet as it once was. Thankfully there’s no bus tours, gift shops or expanded dining rooms down the block – just this tiny 10 x 12 room and the single counter jockeyed by three staff members.
Beyond the counter, the space has a few standing bar tables and a side table to rest the many small plates you’ll be tempted to order. Bottles of regional wines and top shelf whiskys, vodkas, grappas and gins line the walls from floor to ceiling. Everything’s for sale and were it not for the tapas bar, it would feel like any wine and liquor outlet in Barcelona and abroad. Amongst the bottles are curios and detritus collected over its 104 years of operation. A hand painted tile depicts a tourist with a policeman. The policeman asks, “Gaudí, Picasso, Miró?” and the tourist replies, “First things first, Quimet y Quimet!” Sage advice indeed and gladly we’ve been lucky enough to get here on a morning before any queue.
Best order before the hordes arrive
As first through the door, we are able to set up on a central table and immediately browse the extensive menu of over 80 tapas and montaditos. All the items on offer in the thick menu are served cold and can be made from the minimal ingredients in the stainless-steel bain-maries behind the glass sneeze guard. The range is dominated by conservas (canned or preserved foodstuffs), which are elevated to an art form in Spain. Where else can you buy a $300 can of razor clams?
Quim and his assistants quickly assemble works of culinary art from mussels, caviar, crab, anchovies, sardines, artichoke, soft cheese, blue cheese, onions and olives. Every item on the menu is a winner and deliver true joy the moment they hit the rejoicing taste buds.
We choose a selection of tapas and montaditos (small open canapes-like sandwiches) are made on a crisp crust layered with a tomatoey spread before the addition of mussels and caviar; a baby octopus takes one last swim in olive oil with a coating of fish eggs; goat cheese delivers a tantalizing tang when combined with tomato; foie gras with black volcanic salt erupts in your mouth; and salmon, caramelized onions and sweet eggs will have you reaching for your glass of house red, which although not likely to get any medallions at a wine show, performs its role here superbly.
Partially due to the limited table space and to deny to ourselves exactly how many of these tiny plates we are getting through, we’re glad when the older lady behind the counter retrieves them as we try a local pilsner and another few dishes. By now, the place is packed, but we’re festively plump and totally understand the hype. For the uninitiated (like we were twenty minutes earlier), it’s hard to imagine that canned mollusks and fish could ever be considered a delicacy, but upon leaving, don’t say you’re not just a little curious to buy one of the higher end conservas ‘to go’.
Quimet y Quimet is Barcelona’s best tapas – hands down.
Poeta Cabanyes 25, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
Quimet y Quimet is open Monday to Friday between 12 and 4 and 7 and 10:30pm. It is closed Saturday and Sunday. Get there right on opening to avoid crowds.
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