At first glance, Bodega Manolo seems like the usual wine shop/tapas bar that Barcelona does so well: a solid place to replenish our wine stocks from the barrels, quench our thirst with a cold caña or satisfy our hunger pangs with a vermut and a tapa or two of oil-drenched anchovies. None of which sound too shabby. However, we know to venture through to the rear, where, at dinnertime, the brilliant white tablecloths reveal the venue’s greater ambitions.
The current owner Manolo, whose father (and his father before him) was also Manolo, took over what was already a bodega in 1961, although its existence in upper Gràcia, not far from Park Guell, stretches back much further. The current place has changed little in the 50 or so years that have passed since the earlier Manolo acquired it.
Bodega Manolo is not for the fainthearted or the figure watcher. These are indulgent, rich, yet seriously delicious plates of home-cooked food from the talented hand of Manolo, who learned his trade under Josep Lladonosa, head chef of iconic Barcelona restaurant 7 Portes, as well as during internships at other restaurants. He takes traditional, high-quality Catalan ingredients and serves them in gutsy, generous portions with a creative touch.
Even before we’ve lifted a fork the dishes bring pleasure from their names alone. Who could resist ordering a plate of anarco bravas? Crispy, chunky sliced fried potatoes with a moreishly pungent garlic and squid ink sauce are drizzled with parsley oil, tomato sauce and a further daub of briny ink on the plate to scrape the spuds through. A purée of potatoes livened up with a poached egg yolk and a pork trifecta – jamón topped with morcilla (paprika-infused black pudding) and crispy bacon – goes by the winking name “Destroyer,” perhaps for the potential effect it might have on the arteries. On a slightly lighter note, there’s a dish of elegant, delicate white beans topped with meltingly tender octopus, peppery arugula leaves and more generous smears of that squid ink sauce which surprisingly never gets tiring.
Though vegetable dishes and accompaniments are few, the aubergines cooked on the plancha grill with a drizzle of honey and zesty piece of toasted goat’s cheese are a delight. But it’s the generous portion of pan-fried foie gras in a sweet and tangy sauce of port, braised apples and booze-soaked raisins that is really the star of the show. Mention Bodega Manolo to anyone who’s previously eaten there and they’ll invariably ask if you had this dish. We let go of all restraint and dive in with crusty bread to soak up those syrupy juices.
Manolo’s wife Silvia assures us that despite the crisis and minimal online presence, they are as popular as ever with locals. On our first visit we dined alone, as our evening coincided with a Clásico football match (where arch rivals FC Barcelona face Real Madrid) and a bank holiday weekend, leaving that corner of town eerily quiet and the restaurant to ourselves. Yet subsequent visits have proved Silvia correct. Those in the know, particularly local families, businesspeople and groups of friends celebrating special occasions, keep on returning for vermut, squid ink and some delicious anarchy.