Bodega Neus, a tranquil, cozy spot on a narrow street in Gràcia, may look like a regular old bodega-restaurant. But this place, which is celebrating its centennial in 2017, merges two culinary traditions with deep roots in Barcelona: wine and seafood.
In the beginning, Bodega Neus was a bulk wine-shop. Over the decades, it morphed into a bar and then a restaurant; during the course of it’s 100-year history, it was owned by only two families, both of which respected the spirit of the bodega and the traditional recipes that anchored the menu.
As a result, the core menu has mostly survived intact, with dishes served on the few tables squeezed around still-functioning wine barrels, from which servers fill pitchers for customers who order table wine. Sometimes people come in with their own bottles to buy wine by the liter from these barrels.
The biggest change to this bodega came two years ago, when high-quality fish and seafood dishes were introduced to the menu, an initiative of the current owners. Eduard Ampolla has managed the place with his son Marc since his two other children, Eloi and Sonia, bought it in 2015.
Eduard comes from a centuries-old family of fishmongers – his great-great-grandmother began working in the Gràcia fish markets in the 19th century, and the family built long-standing professional and personal relationships with fishermen, distributors, specialized restaurants and customers.
Over the years, they witnessed the changes to the neighborhood, the markets and the fishing sector. Yet they managed to adapt and maintain a deep knowledge of local seafood, fishing grounds and seasons, the boats involved and the art of fishing. And, of course, they always knew the best “fishing boat recipes,” those traditional dishes that were served to the fishermen who worked the boats.
The specialties from the sea steal the show at this former wine shop.
Eduard brings all this knowledge and more to Bodega Neus. But perhaps the most innovative aspect of their quest to expand the menu is their use of seafood designated as “Peix de Custodia” by Els Canyons del Maresme. This fantastic and much-needed project supplies sustainable seafood sourced from responsible local providers.
When the current owners took over Bodega Neus, they decided to keep Julia in the kitchen. Having worked as a cook at the restaurant for years, she had mastered all the house recipes that the previous owners, the Fonollosa-Casas family, used to serve. Julia continues to cook up these beloved dishes, while Eduard, who works in the kitchen alongside her, reproduces his family’s recipes for all kinds of fish and seafood – a precious piece of culinary heritage.
Some of our favorites are his fish suquet (traditional Catalan fish stew) and iconic caldereta (another stew, traditionally made with only lobster in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands). Even if they don’t appear on that day’s specials or the “house suggestions” written on the blackboard, both dishes (and the seafood paella) can always be always ordered in advance when making a reservation.
The non-seafood menu here includes traditional fare like callos (pork tripe stew), snails from Lleida, butifarra (pork sausage) with beans, cod dishes and various omelets (our favorites are those featuring artichokes and cod, especially for breakfast). They also offer Iberian ham, cheese tapas and homey croquets, plus pickles that are the perfect accompaniment to one the best vermuts served in the neighborhood.
But the specialties from the sea steal the show: the super fresh Barcelona prawns (fished from the Mediterranean in between the Catalan coast and the Balearic islands) that are sublimely simple, grilled only with olive oil, garlic and parsley; and the fresh seafood, whether steamed mussels, squid, octopus, tallarinas o coquinas (wedge clams, which are small, delicate clams found in the Mediterranean) or Galician clams prepared “a la marinera” style, cooked with garlic, white wine, sweet paprika and a bit of flour. And, of course, they also serve the most seasonal local fish, like delicious red mullet and excellent anchovies. Whichever seafood dish you pick, it should be washed down with the house wine.