From our friend in Barcelona: a quest for mushrooms

In which Kavel Rafferty ventures beyond Barcelona city limits into the woods, in search of fungi.

They love the mushroom season here, there’s even a prime time television programme about it. Ever since I moved to Barcelona four years ago I’ve pestered my friend Ricard to take me wild mushroom picking. At last the day came, and a few weeks ago I received a text message inviting me to the woods.

It was a bright autumn day and after a strengthening cup of coffee four of us set off on a two-hour drive into the mountains and a small town called Vic. We drove along small twisting country roads until we located the exact spot for good collecting. Ricard began young, picking mushrooms as a child with his dad and uncle, so I had total confidence in his knowledge of bolets (that’s Catalan for wild mushrooms), something which is essential when dealing with fungi a proportion of which can make you very ill, and some may even prove fatal – stories of which Ricard told us along the way.

My three companions made a curious sight, grown men with wicker baskets picking their way through the woods, avoiding a tremendous number of cow pats and peering into the undergrowth. And peer you must, mushrooms are hard to spot and edible ones thin on the ground. I found some pretty ones, some huge ones, some ugly ones and a fairy ring of evil ones, but very few that were edible.

We finished the foraging with a decent haul of almost three kilos of edible bolets, mainly Pinetells and Rovellons the most common of the wild mushrooms found in Cataluña, and a plan to meet later in the week for a mushroom feast.

We drove back though small villages and stopped for lunch in the village of Perafita, where 10 euros bought us three courses, accompanied by a rough red wine sweetened with casera and beers, which seemed ample reward for our labours.

I'm not suggesting anyone goes picking wild mushrooms alone or without guidance, but it's so lovely to see the Catalan woods and mountains, so different to what you expect of Spain, that if you get a chance to see venture outside Barcelona, then take it. And if you don’t, find a good restaurant that has bolets on the menu for a delicious taste of the Catalan forest.

You can see more of Kavel's work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Food, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty

From our friend in Barcelona: B for vermut

Illustrator Kavel Rafferty returns with another report from her adopted city of Barcelona, where the vermut flows like wine.

Some of my best Saturdays in Barcelona have started with a vermut at noon, leading to a long lunch in a local restaurant. This vermut is a dark herbal fortified wine much loved over here, known to most of the world as vermouth. There’s a light version and more commonly, a darker, sweet one, both are usually served with small tapas, olives or pickles, the rich sweetness of the wine contrasting nicely with salty accompaniments.

Some take their vermut with ice, lemon and a couple of olives, others prefer to make it into a longer drink 'con syfon', and an old fashioned soda syphon is normally left on the bar for you to help yourself. As delicious as it is, we advise you to go easy: just enjoy the rosy glow of one or two glasses. But if things do go too far, I have yet to find a better hangover cure, the botanicals used to make vermut seem to posses some kind of magical restorative effect.

Although there’s plenty of industrially-produced vermut for sale here, if you ask for a vermut 'del grifo' or vermut 'de la casa' these will more than likely be made locally in one of the small villages outside Barcelona. And remember, in Spain, the v is pronounced with a soft b.

Below are three recommendations for places to enjoy a glass or two of vermut and some food. It’s worth remembering that if you ask anyone in Barcelona, they’ll have their own favourite place. Good food and drink is an obsession here, perhaps that’s why so many traditional bars survive with their Formica tables, chipped tiles, trad bar ware and grumpy waiters.

At the top end of Park Güell, the tables on the pavement get busy but they’re the prime spot, even in the colder months – on one occasion I sat comfortably outside in the January sun. The food is basic but good and generously served.
Carrer Ctra. del Carmelo / Muhlberg 1, 08024

Quimet y Quimet
Family-run and an institution in Poble Sec, with standing room only. It’s in quite a few guide books but locals still go there and mix happily enough with tourists. The food is amazing: we had a plate of cheeses (combinat de fromatges) and then a variety of smoked fish (combinat de fumats) with homemade crackers and bread last time we went. It can get very hectic, and it's not a bargain, but it's worth it.
Carrer de la Poeta Cabanyes, 25 , 08004

Cal Papi
This bustling bar is often busy and can get very hot, but the tapas are great, staff are friendly staff and it always has a nice atmosphere. It’s worth staying on for a lunch if you can get a table, and then walking it off on the beach at the end of the street.
Carrer de l'Atlàntida, 65, 08003

You can see more of Kavel's work on her website.

And for more Barcelona, don't forget to pick up our map!

Posted in Barcelona, Bars, Food, Illustration, Kavel Rafferty, Restaurants

Herb visits… Diwana Bhel Poori House

On Drummond Street, next to the supermarket where Patak's pickles were born is Diwana, serving vegetarian Indian food since the 1960s. Their buffet lunch remains one of the city's great food bargains, attracting nearby office workers, impecunious pensioners, weary travelers and plenty of regulars. In The Discriminating Guide to London (William Heinemann, 1977) it is described accurately if a little harshly: "small, very simple – even uncomfortable... we include it because of all the English vegetarian restaurants in central London none has been good enough to recommend. The food here is delicious and almost ridiculously cheap." The same is true today; it is an entirely unselfconscious timewarp, with its hard benches, stainless steel beakers and trays. The lunchtime buffet is far from the familiar pea and potato gloop of other similar establishments, with salads, curries, home-made pickles and chutneys, all of which are constantly refreshed, while "a la carte" bhel poori and dosas in the evening are also excellent.
With HS2 threatening to destroy Drummond Street and large swathes of Euston and Mornington Crescent, we urge you to visit while you still can. This is an area little known to those who neither live or work in it, but it has a large, settled residential population for whom life is beginning to look very bleak indeed, as shown by the video below and linked here.

Diwana Bhel Poori House, 121-123 Drummond Street, London NW1 2HL. Tel: 020 7387 5556

Posted in Drummond Street, England, Food, Independent, London, Restaurants

Herb visits… B & K Salt Beef

Located on a busy street just off the arterial Edgware Road, it is not being unduly harsh to describe B&K's setting as lacking glamour. We will, however, gladly forego superficial charm when an establishment is so abundant as this in every other way.

Salt beef is brined on the premises, and cucumbers are pickled in-house - our New Green was tart and garlicky with a satisfying snap to it; salt beef was moist, aromatic and soft. In fact, we cannot recall a better or more substantial salt beef sandwich this side of the Atlantic.

It is a convivial place, unpretentious and friendly. Our fellow diners had the relaxed appearance of regulars, barely glancing at menus (“what do I need to see a menu for?”), with conversation flowing from both sides of the counter.

B & K Salt Beef Bar, Lanson House, Whitchurch Lane, Edgware, HA8 6NL. Tel: 020 8952 8204
Tue-Sun: 12noon–3pm and 5.30-9.15pm. Open for take-away all day.

There is also a second branch in Hatch End.

Below: Phil Rabin's, Great Windmill Street, W1, 1981. Photo by Flickr user chrisdb1.

Posted in England, Food, Independent, London, UK

Herb visits… Wild and Wood

Wild And Wood has an endearing home-made quality, its interior paneled neatly in salvaged wood, with a selection of hard church pews to sit on. Off to the side is The Nook, a cupboard-sized room which has space for just three tables, and once seated within it, gives the reassuring feeling of being in a very comfortable treehouse, or perhaps the home of a character from The Wind In The Willows. 

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Posted in Coffee shop, England, Food, Independent, London, UK

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