Nestled in La Ribera, east of La Rambla, is the neighbourhood of Born, which is apparently a revitalized neighbourhood with a rougher past. One wouldn't be able to gather that from the neighbourhood as it is today, which is hopping with tourists visiting the Museu Picasso and with locals working their way through a myriad of boutiques, designer shops, bars and restaurants. This is a hipster neighbourhood, with the new Disseny Hub Barcelona featuring exhibits on contemporary urban planning/architecture/design and the Vitra showroom within a stones throw of each other, but also where dessert reigns supreme.
When I say dessert, I'm not talking about dessert as we know it. Instead, it's dessert in a contemporary, tastemaker context, where cookie/chocolate shops like Demasie can win graphic design awards for packaging while serving amazing dark chocolate/orange biscuits.
Our favorite of these places, hands down, was Bubo. Bubo is the brainchild of Carles Mampel, who had once been at the famed Espai Sucre. Bubo is tucked behind the Santa Maria del Mar, along a boulevard lined with tapas joints, a cooking school and other boutiques.
When you enter Bubo, it's automatically clear that you are in a dessert shop operating at a completely different level than most. The fact that you can sip on champagne with your sweets doesn't hurt, either. Presentation is key: these gellies, which look alot like coloured sugar cubes, were just one minor assortment of sweets that gave the place a great technicolour appeal.
Other corners featured chocolates with hints of curry, chocolate lollipops, and so on.
We ordered two desserts, each amazingly intricate to the point where I can no longer remember all of the details. The one on the left had a mandarin orange layer with green tea caviar on top, and the red cherry looking orb on top of the one on the right was not a maraschino, but instead a molecular gastronomy type orb with a dark cherry liquid inside. Lesson learned: carry a notepad at all times, because all I can remember clearly was being in candyland heaven.
As a general rule, I never go back to the same place twice when traveling, mostly because I want to ensure that I've been to a wide array of places. But we had to go back to Bubo. To change it up, we went to Bubo Bar, which is their tapas/savory restaurant two storefronts down.
If Bubo (proper) re-conceptualizes dessert, than Bubo Bar tries to do the same thing with traditional tapas fare. For instance, the usual tomato bread that we always ordered came out as amazing bread sticks with a tomato mousse of sorts. As with all places in Spain, this version of the tomato bread also reminded us of the virtues of a good olive oil, and not to spare on its use.
We also had croquettes, which I remember being a bit different but great, though the picture we took turned out like crap. That was followed by jamon/cheese finger sandwiches with fig paste, which were again a good re-interpretation of the classic jamon tapa sandwiches we ate at more conventional Basque-fare tapas bars.
This was a bocconcini-type cheese/tomato salad nestled on top of pastry. The tomato was slightly roasted. I don't remember alot about this, mostly because we were in anticipation for the next dish.
If there's one type of seafood that I remember most fondly from Spain, it's the squid/octopus. Perfectly cooked octopus is a force to be reckoned with: juicy and tender, instead of bland and rubbery. This was a take on Galician octopus, which is usually served with a host of potatoes and swimming in olive oil, with sprinkles of paprika on top. This didn't have as much olive oil excess as other places, which was a pleasant change.
You see egg dishes alot more prevalently in Madrid, where a traditional fave is the huevos rotos, basically fried eggs mixed up with a host of potatoes. Here they had a fried egg nestled on top of a hollandaise/gravy type sauce, and it wasn't until you dug into the bottom that you realized it was resting on a bed of potatoes.
The one thing to forewarn about is that Bubo Bar has a smaller dessert choice than Bubo, mostly because they bring over what hasn't sold in that day from Bubo, which is usually very little. This was a chocolate-raspberry mousse. I remember the sticks being raspberry flavored as well.
The other dessert we had was a chocolate affair, which the website describes as a "guanaja sponge cake, guanaja cream, guanaja chocolate mousse, and guanaja chocolate crunch." I'm still not quite sure what guanaja is, but I remember this being a layer of chocolate mousse on top of a denser peanut butter cake of some sort, all resting on top of a crunchy layer.
With Bubo and Bubo Bar anchoring the area for us, we found ourselves in Born again and again each day that we were in Barcelona. North of the Santa Maria is an old market that they're tearing down, which the neighbourhood is none to happy about. So, to protest, they organize occasional concerts at the square in front of the cathedral facing the market, with graffiti artists doing these one/two hour exhibits where they made a little shack where each wall was rotated/replaced with the hour. That's the type of protest I can get behind (and I apparently did: they took my picture for some blog for their protest).
And with a small mom n' pop place that only serves hot chocolate and churros, Born is a neighbourhood I can get behind.