With its high walls lined top-to-bottom with a colorful array of bottles, the tiny Quimet & Quimet, a charming tapas bar in El Poble Sec, could easily be mistaken for just another wine shop. But step inside this culinary cabinet of wonders, one of the most famous and beautiful bodegas de tapas in Barcelona, and you will be magically whisked into another world of edible and drinkable delights.
When it first opened in 1914, Quimet & Quimet actually was a wine shop, one of three spots in town that sold the wine that the first Quim – the great-grandfather of the current owner, also named Quim (“Quimet” is the diminutive form of the name) – used to produce by himself in a village outside of Barcelona, near the Montserrat Mountains. From the earliest days, to help sell their product, the proprietors would offer a dish of some traditional preserved food, like anchovies or olives, to accompany the wine.
In those days, the venue was just a simple store with huge wine barrels. But over time, they began developing and expanding their offerings. One day, the big wooden wine barrels were taken out to make space for a carefully chosen selection of bottled wines, spirits and other drinks. At another point, they began offering vermouth. Eventually, the very basic tapas on offer were replaced by more sophisticated items, the anchovies joined by smoked sardines, the olives making way for sun-dried tomatoes. Slowly, through a century-long path of taking small, unassuming steps, Quimet & Quimet arrived at where it is today, maintaining the same soul it had back in the old days while offering a contemporary tapas menu built upon unusual and imaginative combinations of ingredients.
Take, for example, the bar’s montadito (a small, open-faced sandwich) of smoked salmon with Greek yogurt and truffled honey, which brings together the contrasting flavors of the tangy fresh yogurt, the smoky salmon and the delicate honey and hovers ethereally between savory and sweet. In the montadito of anchovies with Nevat (a soft Catalan cheese made with goat’s milk), tomato marmalade and chopped pickle, the vinegary pickle flavor is nicely balanced by the creamy cheese; the whole thing goes especially well with a glass of the excellent Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva, a sweet artisanal vermouth. The Torta del Casar, an assertive and creamy sheep’s milk cheese from the Extremadura region, is served with a single candied chestnut, the flavors together making an excellent match for a gentle, sweet wine like a Jerez (sherry).
Quimet & Quimet is especially known for its conservas – foods that are preserved through canning, jarring or other methods – many of which are displayed in their containers for sale on shelves behind the bar. As current owner Quim Pérez puts it, conservas are in the DNA of Catalonians and represent a culinary art that incorporates very high-quality natural ingredients and sophisticated methods, one that has nothing to do with the industrially preserved foods found in supermarkets. For Quim, a good cheese is just well-preserved milk, just like the best pâté is a form of preserved meat. This artisanal process is given the star treatment in many of Quimet & Quimet’s nearly 80 tapas, montaditos and “combinations,” larger dishes that combine a variety of preserved meats, fish or vegetables. We were especially taken with the bar’s “meat combination” plate, a warm dish that included soft-as-butter partridge meat, tasty pâté and juicy cecina (salted, smoked and air-dried beef meat), served along with marinated mushrooms, chestnuts stewed in a sweet syrup and caramelized onions. In short, one jewel after another!
But what are the most special treasures hidden among the huge selection of ingredients and prepared foods at Quimet & Quimet? Maybe the hard-to-find zamburiñas (a type of small scallops from Galicia), or perhaps the pickled pheasant, or could it be the Granada sturgeon? Quim answers us, speaking about his food products as if they were his children: everything, everything is a treasure, he says.