This review of a Barcelona restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Los Caracoles is one of those Barcelona restaurants that tends to crop up in all the guidebooks, so it wasn’t surprising that the place was heaving with tourists on the weekday evening of my visit with The Jolly Giant and Doctor Phlox. Despite being a breeding ground for tourists and the rather extensive and unfocussed menu, we were drawn to the place for two reasons: the alluring window display of whole chickens roasted on a spit and Doctor Phlox’s inhuman appetite for snails.
Since we rocked up without a reservation, we had to prop up the bar for a good 45 minutes. This was hardly a burden though as this gave us the opportunity to soak up the aromas wafting in from the kitchen and admire the giant cured hams decorating the bar.
The restaurant itself is huge with multiple rooms split over multiple floors, all decorated in a rather kitschy style with stone floors, exposed timbers and random oil paintings and other bric-a-brac hanging from the walls. This chintzy style of decor usually make me feel all queasy, but when it’s part of a restaurant that’s almost 200 years old I suppose it’s part of the charm.
‘Los Caracoles’ means ‘snails’, referring to the restaurant’s signature dish. The snail motif shows up everywhere from the random bric-a-brac to the shape of the hard-as-nails bread rolls. These really aren’t worth bothering with unless you’re desperate for carbohydrates.
I could’ve done without the cheesy street musicians invited into the dining room though. The service, while generally efficient, was rather brusque but this is forgiveable. If I had to serve hundreds of braying tourists who haven’t bothered to learn even the most basic Catalan or Castilian Spanish, I’d be rather grumpy too. Having said that, I felt a little grumpy too being sat at a pair of tables squeezed up against a grandfather clock.
Although I’ve known Doctor Phlox for a while, this was my first time dining with him and I was hugely amused as he got drunker and drunker as the evening wore on. His chief tipple of the evening was a 2010 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso, a cheap Portuguese red wine from the Porto region. I wasn’t able to get much commentary from Phlox about the wine though as he was more interested in drunkenly ranting at the world. Bless him.
We started off with the anchovies which were very salty with a tart balsamic vinegar and a mildly fruity olive oil drizzled on top. The little slivers of fish were a little too soft for my liking though and their saltiness wasn’t as viscerally enjoyable as the Cantabrian anchovies often available at Terroirs back in London.
We couldn’t dine in Spain without indulging our pork passion – all three of us enthusiastically dug into the jamon serrano. The thin slices of cured ham were suitably fatty and salty tinged with a slight fruity edge. The taste obviously isn’t as multi-layered as a good jamon iberico de bellota, but it does have the benefit of being a lot more affordable.
Doctor Phlox devoured the rabbit and snails like a man possessed, leaving the Jolly Giant and I to snatch scraps as and when we could. The bunny meat was a little stringy but it was still fairly dense. It’s not the best prepared rabbit meat I’ve ever had, but the fruity, musky sauce meant it was still very edible.
The pairing of rabbit and snails may seem odd, but it’s apparently a traditional Catalan dish and is one of Phlox’s favourites. Snails still in their shells is one of the rare foods that can make me irrationally queasy, but the enthusiastic Phlox happily extracted a few of the little blighters from their shells for my benefit. While he was singing their praises from the rooftops, I was less convinced. They were too soft for my liking. The snails also had a slight acidic tang, which was odd but not unpleasant.
If Phlox was most excited by the rabbit and snails, then The Jolly Giant was most enthused about the leg of kid. The roasted baby goat was simply prepared with little in the way of embellishment so it wasn’t especially remarkable, but it was by no means bad with moist and taut flesh.
We all had the same dessert – crema catalana, a local variant of crème brûlée with a crisp, thin crust of caramelised sugar. Although it did have a slight citrusy taste, it was otherwise surprisingly bland and the texture was far too wispy and ephemeral – even for a crème brûlée.
Although both The Jolly Giant and Doctor Phlox were pleased with our dinner at Los Caracoles, I was underwhelmed. Nothing was bad, but nothing stood out either. Given the unremarkable quality of the food, the price per head of roughly €50 is a touch steep too. Los Caracoles isn’t dreadful, but it’s slowly sliding towards becoming a tourist trap.
Name: Los Caracoles
Address: Carrer D’escudellers 14, 08002, Barcelona, Spain
Phone: 0034 933 012 041
Opening Hours: seven days a week 13.15-00.00.
Total cost for one person including drinks: €50 approx (£42 approx. at time of writing).