Barcelona – city of Gaudí, Miró and... tapas bars. If I can recommend just one from the multitude, it would be Tapas 24, run by El Bulli trained, Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellán as part of his four-strong Projectes 24, which includes the more formal, fine dining, Comerç 24.
Tapas 24 is refreshingly informal, but accepts no bookings, so expect a snaking queue if you rock up at 7.30 on a Saturday night. It serves sharing plates all day, so if you're not willing to wait then go early or late. Queuing can be an event in itself – on my visit I got talking to a charming Dutch couple, who ended up inviting me to a secret cocktail club in an apartment building that required a code word to enter.
Interiors are industrial and pared down. In traditional tapas bar style, the best way to enjoy Tapas 24 is by pulling up a stool and perching at the long, white counter, which stretches all the way around the restaurant. There are a few tables, but they're further from the action and not nearly as fun. Once seated, you're handed a menu, printed in Catalan, containing your knife, fork and napkin in a stylish touch typical of this achingly cool and irresistibly insouciant joint.
The menu is sprinkled with traditional tapas and more experimental offerings. A good litmus test of a tapas bar is the quality of their croquetas. I was taught how to cook them last week by Catalan-loving Scotswoman Rachel McCormack. The care, attention and muscle power required to create the béchamel interior has given me a newfound respect for anyone able to muster a perfect croquette. Tapas 24's Ibérico ham versions were spot on, sporting a crunchy shell and gooey, ham-flecked centre leaving you wanting far more than the two on offer.
Reading a few reviews of the restaurant before jetting off to Barça, almost all made mention of the "bikini", and how you can't leave 24 without one. Essentially a pimped up version of the croque monsieur, the bikini is the sexiest sarnie I've ever had. Formed of layers of jamón Ibérico, buffalo mozzarella and slithers of black truffle jammed into tiny toasted triangles (hence the name), it was a deliciously naughty thing of beauty enhanced and enlivened by the earthy black truffle.
Still on a flavour high from the bikini, an even more exciting treat was in store in the form of the Mc Foie burger – Tapas 24's signature dish. A gourmet take on the McDonald's hamburger, the soft, slightly sweet bun revealed perfectly pink medium rare, almost tartare-like beef. Succulent and juicy on its own, when plunged into the accompanying foie gras mayonnaise it becomes heavenly, sending your taste buds into orbit. Appearing like a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, if they bottled the foie gras mayo, I'd buy it by the bucket load. Rich, creamy, decadent and divine, it makes Meat Liquor's offerings look amateur.
Wine is ridiculously well priced, both by the bottle and glass, starting at just €15 a bottle, with the most expensive drops an incredibly fair €40. Spain's emerging regions, such as Montsant, Costers del Segre and Bierzo are generously represented, along with more traditional regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro. I went for a juicy, smooth, red fruited, reliable Ribera del Duero for a wallet-friendly €20.
My feast ended on a high note with xocolata – a trio of grape-shaped scoops of molten chocolate mousse garnished with crostini, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. The rich, generous mousse was given an appealing savoury edge from the salt and olive oil, while the crostini added crunch in a sublime symphony of flavour and texture – truly accomplished cooking. If you find yourself in Barça then don't leave without paying Tapas 24 a visit – serving up traditional classics with flair and exciting oddities that tease and tantalise at scandalously reasonable prices, what's not to like?
Carrer Diputació 269, 08007, Barcelona; +34 93 488 09 77.