My city: Barcelona

Our ‘my city’ series puts a new perspective on some of our favourite places, as we catch up with creative residents, asking them to divulge their best kept secrets. From their recommended cheap eats, to their go-to coffee spot, there are plenty of hints and tips on how to stay like a local.

We caught up with one-to-watch Alvar Ayuso Thorell – a young chef who runs his own restaurant, Alvart, in Barcelona, Spain. He’s currently competing in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year Awards 2016.

Alvar outside his restaurant, Alvart, in Barcelona. Image: Alvart
Where do you go for the best coffee in Barcelona?

La Portorriqueña – an amazing coffee shop in El Raval. They’ve been operating since 1902, so they know what they’re doing! Their coffee comes from around the world and is freshly ground in store. You can buy coffee beans here too, as well as chocolate.

What’s your favourite cheap eat?

The Ramen at Koku Kitchen in El Gòtic. It’s located down one of the area’s narrow cobbled alleys and you can recognise it easily by its red neon ‘RAMEN’ sign. There’s usually about five different types on offer, including a vegetarian option, and the menu extends to buns, kimchi and desserts, too.

Can you reveal your best-kept Barcelona secret?

The best day to go out for dinner in Barcelona is Tuesday, as the restaurants are not as full, but even better, the ingredients are at their freshest (most of the restaurants are closed on Sundays and Mondays, so on Tuesdays they get all their ingredients in fresh).

Tell us something that only a resident of the city would know?

There are a lot of things to see and do in the neighbourhoods that lie outside the city centre, from wine-tasting on a vineyard to zip-lining in the forest. You can even Segway in a national park! If you like architecture, head to Terrassa, which is under an hour away by train. Here, you can wander the tourist trails to see the buildings left behind from the city’s industrial past, mixed with beautiful examples of Catalan Art Nouveau.

Parc Guell, Barcelona. Image: iStock/eli_asenova
What’s the best thing to do in Barcelona for free?

Walk around the Bunkers del Carmel, which are located on Turò de la Rovira (Rovira’s Hill). During the civil war, a series of bunkers were built here to protect the city from flight attacks and now it’s a historical site. The view over Barcelona is amazing – you can see Montjuic, Port Olímpic, Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral, Torre Agbar and Eixample. It’s free to enter and you can get there by bus (24 or 28).

Are there any local customs or traditions that visitors to the city should be aware of?

There is a gastronomic tradition in Catalan to drink vermut (vermouth) as an appetizer before lunch. Many bodegues (tavernas) store it in wooden barrels but you’ll find it in bars these days too. It comes as either red, white or rosé. Casa Mariol is a good place to try it, as they make it with 150 different herbs. You can buy some medications online to take home, too. Nowadays, Barcelona is such a multicultural city, you can experience many customs and traditions here from all over the world.

Describe your perfect day in Barcelona.

A nice walk up Montjuïc hill (you can get a cable car to the top if you prefer), then a good rest at the peak, enjoying the views. Afterwards, I’d spend the afternoon drinking gin on the area’s terraces, or I’d head to the beach for drinks by the sea.

Montjuic Cable Car. Image: Ashwin Chandrasekaran/Flickr
Where do you go when you need to get away from it all?

I go to my hometown, Roses, in Girona. It’s about three hours north of Barcelona, on the Costa Brava. There are some really nice beaches here and, as it faces west, the sunsets are beautiful over the Gulf of Roses.

If you didn’t live in Barcelona, where else would you live and why?

I would love to live in Rotterdam. I lived there for a few years and I have to say, the environment and the mood of the city is awesome.

In your opinion, when’s the best time of year to visit?

From April to June, as it’s warm but it doesn’t get too hot.

When you leave Barcelona, what do you look forward to most when you come back?

Definitely the number of places where you can get really good food that’s traditional yet contemporary. My favourites for this are Bar Cañete in El Raval, La Plassohla in El Gòtic and Arume, also in El Raval. Bar Cañete has a relaxed, bistro-like feel to it, La Plassohla is bright and modern and Arume is a quirky tavern, with a skeleton in the cellar! All serve delicious dishes which are very well presented.

The Terraza at Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona. Image: Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona
Which is your favourite bar or pub (or the best place to go for cocktails) in Barcelona?

Solange – it’s right next door to my restaurant, Alvart, and, in my opinion, they serve some of the best cocktails in the city.

Where would you go to get your fix of Barcelona’s cultural and creative scene?

El Born is a great neighbourhood for culture and creativity, the Museu Picasso is here, as well as the Textile Museum. For something a bit more up to date, I go to MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) in El Raval. There are plenty of other museums and creative hubs in this area too, like CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona) – Spain’s largest cultural centre.

What would you do on your perfect date in Barcelona?

First, I would go for drinks at a rooftop bar in one of the city’s hotels, such as Hotel Duquesa de Cardona or Hotel Pulitzer (but there are many to choose from throughout the city). Then I would go to a fine dining restaurant, either Gresca (it’s good value and high quality), Céleri (Michelin-starred chef Xavier Pellicer heads up the kitchen here and offers vegetarian, vegan and omnivore version of his vegetable-based dishes) or Fogo (delicious Brazilian-inspired cuisine is served here). I would end the night with some cocktails at Solange or at Dry Martini in Eixample – it’s been a Barcelona institution for cocktail enthusiasts since 1978.