For Food Network Canada

While dining at Tapac 24 the American Businessman we were sharing Black Squid Ink with Rice insisted we visit El Xampanyet to taste the local speciality of pickled vinegar anchovies.

Cava Bar Charm and Tapas Barcelona

El Xampanyet Means “Little Champagne” and refers to Cava — a white sparkling wine that is mainly produced in  Penedès region in Catalonia about 40 km from Barcelona. A longtime favourite with the locals, El Xampanyet is seeing a further boost in popularity with tourists thanks to the nearby Picasso museum.  This popular Cava bar has been run by the same family since it opened in 1921. The small room is adorned with antique tiles, plenty of curios, with plenty of old trinkets and bottles lining the walls and barrels of Cava in each corner.

Cava Bar Charm and Tapas Barcelona

The dining experience here is very traditional. Most patrons stand against tall marble tables or at the bar, where they can point to the tapas on display and constantly replenished by the kitchen. There is liminited seating (for a dozen at most) which means there are plenty of people eating and drinking out on the street.

El Xampanyet tapas are typically Catalan, with staples such as seafood and olives and ubiquitos Paamb tomàquet (Tomato rubbed on Grilled Bread with Olive Oil and Salt). The house speciality is a plate of fresh Cantabrian anchovies drizzled in vinegar. There is no menu to speak, you either tell the waitress what you would like (note the English spoken here is minimal) or take a peek at the tapas on display and point to what you want.

Cava Bar Charm and Tapas Barcelona

Although I can’t identify everything that we ate, my companion and I tried a wide variety of one or two bite treats. Most were pickled, brined or preserved. We sampled Large Mussels, Impossibly sweet dried tomatoes, cured salmon, whitefish in olive oil with caviar, langostillos in brine, tuna skewers with cheese, and stuffed jot peppers on bread.

What El Xampanyet lacks in chicness (and seating for that matter) it definitely makes up for it in character. It pays to be an adventurous diner if you plan on visiting, but the tapas here are nothing to shake a toothpick at.

El Xampanyet
Carrer Montcada, 22 – Barri Gòtic
933 197 003