tapastastic …

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It is 9.30 a.m. in the morning. Under a blue and cloudless sky, a low Catalan sun easily melts away any remnant frost on the awnings of the stalls at La Bouqueria market on Las Ramblas. Inside, we wrestled with the crowd for a seat at a tapas bar, and once armed with a couple of cold cervezas (see pic), we begin to devise a cunning plan to punctuate our short week-end in Barcelona with as many eateries and wine bars as our stomachs and bladders can withstand. The list would be modest, but distinguished … for example, for dinner, we should try to eat at Santa Maria (Carrer del Comerq) where a number of chefs had trained under Ferran Adria  of el Bulli fame, or les 7 Portes (Pg. Isabel II), one of the city’s oldest and most reputable restaurants or visit Can Paixano (Carrer de la Reina Cristina), a rowdy bar serving cheap (but sometimes awful!) cava.

And as always, we were prepared to be led by our noses and so chance also brought us to La Vinya del Senyor (Placa de Santa Maria) which stocked some 300 fine wines by the glass, Cuines (located in the new Santa-Caterina market with the amazing roof) – a foodie paradise with themed areas and a great tapas bar at the entrance, and Vascelum (also on Placa de Santa Maria) – I don’t think I will ever forget the taste and texture of my perfectly grilled cuttlefish.

But the gastronomic highlight must go to Santa Maria. We had been told this place gets busy and as booking wasn’t viable, we arrived early and loitered aimlessly until we were invited in shortly before the opening time of 20:30, and 15 minutes later, every table in the restaurant was occupied! The wine list seemed very personal as if chef had made the selection from his own cellar, but as we had ordered the Menu Degustation, there seemed little point in attempting to match wine to food so I selected an Altun, a surprisingly elegant Rioja made 100% from Tempranillo. And so our dining adventure began …

To say that our taste buds were raped that evening is an understatement, but I cannot remember another meal quite like this where the diner is taken on a journey from classic French cuisine to the far east, then whisked suddenly to Celtic delicacies, back to Mediterranean seafood before finishing with three desserts, one of which contained space dust (yes, space dust – I kid you not), which had the roof of our mouths crackling and popping with joy! Then there is the value for money aspect. For just under 32 EURO (plus taxes), we were treated to the following:

– a refreshing home made lemonade with mint (to cleanse our palates before the meal)
– delicious olives seasoned in cloves
– tasty bowl of fresh cassava chips
– an unusual pomegranate salad with toasted almonds
– fried frogs legs, coated in sesame seeds
– local giant mussels with a cheesy tomato topping
– chicken sushi with a devilishly hot chilli sauce (and that’s before the wasabi was added!)
– rib of rabbit, served with a pumpkin dip
– pan seared fresh foie gras, served with a caramel pastry
– delicate black pudding on an orange baked biscuit
– savoury croquette with white chocolate drops
– piping hot local salted cod with mash

Ummmmmmmm, I so want to go back there …

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on social networking sites …

So, good people – are sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and dare I mention Bebo a curse on modern society or an asset? Discuss.

I’ve procrastinated my deliberations on this very topic until now for a couple of reasons: firstly, it was necessary to amass enough entries on one’s ‘my friends’ list to enable useful analysis (afterall, one swallow does not a summer make!) and then, I needed to find and get in touch with an old friend the old fashioned way, i.e. by picking up the telephone.

It is recognised that humans are a gregarious species, so why do we cower behind our computer screens, preferring to deliver one-liners to friends we have recently rediscovered, rather than pick up the phone to arrange a reunion? I partially accept that physical vanity may be to blame – faces do get wrinklier, breasts inevitably succumb to gravity, and tummies and hairlines do the inversely proportional thing of enlarging while the other recedes. Or perhaps, I suggest, there is another more sinister explanation.

The Singaporeans call it kia su [lit. fear of losing] which loosely translates to that western nirvana of not only just keeping up with the Joneses, but to excel and be king of the hill, top of the heap. And whereas it might have been possible for friends and colleagues to disappear after school/university and retreat to places where one is considered a bigger fish in a smaller sea (e.g. the so-called White flight of city dwellers to the countryside, emigration to Australasia etc), today the phenomenon of the Internet has brought us back together with a big awakening bang. Not only has it shattered all geographical boundaries (real and notional), it has also created a global village where peer pressure is now on steroids, and living an ordinary existence is about as appealing as a fungal infection in the groin 😉 You can run, you may even choose to hide … and succeed … but god help you if the commit the mortal sin of coming out and admitting to mediocrity, online or worse, in person!

Tomorrow I have an opportunity to telephone someone I have not seen in over 25 years. Back in those carefree days and what seemed like a lifetime ago, we didn’t have much to worry about – hell, we didn’t even worry about worrying! But I wonder – will we be more guarded on the phone or perhaps there is something to be said for getting through the ice breaking ceremony semi-anonymously via email. Churchill once observed We are stripped bare by the curse of plenty – his comment may yet have some relevance in our 21st century techno-rich world …