Thanks to the international reputation of restaurants such as Can Fabes, Can Roca and of course El Bulli, Catalonia's star is currently shining very brightly in the foodie universe. Labelled somewhat loosely as Nou Cuina (Catalan for Nouvelle Cuisine, though thankfully not bearing much of a resemblance to mid-80s food experiments with miniscule portions) there's not much that ties these places together other than a desire to please the boys from Michelin and to make a fortune from product endorsements, not that there's anything particularly wrong with that I suppose.
However at the other end of the scale, there's still a great deal of joy to be had from eating at local seafood restaurants, providing you do your research and don't just turn up anywhere expecting the meal of your life. I've still had enough bad experiences in supposedly rated restaurants (coming soon) to prove that Spain isn't - yet - as universally accomplished as France when it comes to regional cooking, but it's all moving in the right direction.
Perhaps it's also worth noting that if the sheer beauty of a restaurant's location can help you look kindly upon niggles with the food itself, then it's probably no coincidence that the Costa Brava finds itself so regularly lauded, with scenes like these:
This is the bay of Calella de Palafrugell, a stunning stretch of coastline in an area not short of stunning stretches of coastline. And nestled in amongst the whitewashed buildings on the beach is Tragamar, an old favourite from holidays past and never one to disappoint when looking for a good lunch. Don't expect me to translate all the items on the Catalan menu, but here we have clams in a kind of white wine/vinegar sauce, and very tasty it was too. The only thing I'd say is that I wish they weren't so rough with the clams because there were quite a few smashed and splintered shells hiding in that dish and eating them was a bit tricky without ripping your gums apart.
The main was pork medallions with shallots and (I think) bitter chocolate sauce, with a spectacular spray of fried red sweet potato on top, which as well as looking amazing really complimented the sweet sauce very well. Hidden round the back there are parsnip chips, and notice how lovely and pink the pork is. I really enjoyed this one.
And to prove that this presentation wasn't a one-off, here's a friend's monkfish main:
I'm told that this was good, not spectacular, but fine for a quick lunch. Which is all we wanted, so we skipped desert and headed back out into the blazing sunshine of a fresh April afternoon. Friendly, reasonably priced and characterful, Tragamar is the kind of place you wish existed in every seaside resort in Spain, but of course this is not an ideal world. I suppose the great con trick is that good local places make it all look so easy you wonder why everywhere isn't like this, until you try somewhere on spec and have a terrible meal and you realise "oh yeah, it's not that easy after all, is it?". But while the sun shines over Calella, Tragamar will continue to cast a spell over the discerning holidaymakers of Catalonia.
P.S. As we ate out quite a lot in Spain, I'm going to send the next few reviews through in installments. So stay tuned for more of the good and the bad of Catalonia 2007.