Catalan owners, Filipino chefs and a menu offering comfort food inspired by the cooking of Iberian sailors: La Flauta, a restaurant-cum-tapas-bar that goes long both on good taste and good value, is an excellent reminder of the benefits of Barcelona’s being a port town.
Take, for example, Friday, when the menú del día features fideuà. A poor cousin of paella, fideuà is essentially paella with noodles in place of rice, served with seafood and a blob of allioli (garlic sauce). Traditionally a sailor’s dish, fideuà is a signature example of Catalan comfort food. For generations it has sustained Valencian fishermen, who used to prepare it on board their boats with whatever dregs they could scrounge up.
The restaurant takes its name from its crusty flautas (small bocadillos) made with flute-thin baguette bread. A local favorite for well-prepared food at reasonable prices, La Flauta offers good-quality entrees and tapas in an informal, elegant atmosphere. Swathed in dark colors, Flauta’s red walls, dark tables and black leather chairs yield a perfect spot to rest your weary feet after gawking at Gaudí all day.
Although many of the staff at La Flauta hail from the Philippines, the food could not be more authentically Catalan. House specialties include flauta de jamón de Jabugo, the gold standard of Spanish ham produced from acorn-fed pigs. From arroz de bogavante (rice with lobster) to calamarcitos (baby squid), basically anything from the sea is delicious. Although not our style, huevos cabreados (fried egg with French fries) are über-popular among Spaniards. In addition to flautas, Flauta always has a great variety of fresh tapas, according to what’s available at the market. Chips de berenjena, thin slices of lightly fried eggplant drizzled with honey and cheese, is a winner. What’s more, the tapas kitchen is open all day long to accommodate a late lunch or early dinner, which is great for families.
The weekday lunch menú is a killer value at €12.50 for two courses plus dessert, bread and water or house wine. Pick from a half-dozen primeros, ranging from soups and stews to pasta and salads, including excellent seasonal salads. Segundos might be anything from montaditos (bite-size sandwiches) to calamarcitos a la plancha (grilled baby squid) to churrasco (grilled steak) to merluza (hake) or bacalao (codfish). The only entrée that we would caution against is pies de cerdo. Although a Spanish gentleman next to us was giddy when his pig’s feet arrived, we found the pies too much work for way too little reward; the dish was disappointing and the proportion of bone to meat really off.
Desserts include flan, crema catalana (crème brûlée), helado (ice cream), macedonia (fruit cocktail) and a postre del día. Our go-to dessert is two scoops of vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, which has an unexpected hint of orange. If we didn’t speak Spanish, “Un helado con salsa de chocolate caliente, por favor!” would be the first nine or so words we would learn – it’s that good.
Flauta tends to get extremely busy during peak hours, so expect a line out the door. To beat the crowd, arrive before 2 p.m. for lunch and before 9 p.m. for dinner, especially on weekends. Surprisingly, there is usually little to no wait for the sidewalk terraza so inquire with the hostess or a server about sitting outside. The bar is another option.
(Note: This review is of La Flauta at Carrer d’Airbau 23, which is located in the Eixample two blocks west of Universitat/Gran Via, towards Tibidabo. We have eaten twice at La Flauta at Carrer Balmes 171 – owned by the same family – but we were dissatisfied both times. Although the food is acceptable, it doesn’t shine like the plates the Aribau kitchen puts out. And compared to La Flauta at Carrer d’Aribau 23, Flauta Balmes lacks soul. Curious if anyone else was of the same opinion, we asked Jordi, Flauta Aribau’s manager of 18 years, what he thought about our preference, to which he matter-of-factly replied, “Dicen que sí.”)