It’s not too often that you find a restaurant in Barcelona where rock & roll, blues and jazz are some of the main ingredients. But that’s just the case at Bar Ramón, an iconic restaurant and tapas bar in Sant Antoni.
Mediterranean grilled red prawns, patatas bravas, and xipirones (baby squids) a la Andaluza (coated in batter and fried) are carried from the kitchen to the table under the watchful eyes of Charlie Parker and Muddy Waters, who look down from posters on the wall. Also on the wall, sharing space with the standard FC Barcelona crest and a photo of a castell (Catalan human tower) in front of the old Sant Antoni Market, is Bo Diddley’s guitar.
This not-so-big spot attracts local musicians and Barcelona jazz and blues lovers, as well as visitors from abroad. While they may be drawn to the musical atmosphere (there are no live performances, but jazz and blues constantly flow from the restaurant’s sound system), they stay for Bar Ramón’s mix of classic and modern dishes and tapas, which are simple yet delicious – good cooking with no pretensions. It’s a rare combination in Spain.
Bar Ramón owes its name to Ramón Estalella, who opened it in 1939, just after the Spanish Civil War. In that time, the place was a simple neighborhood restaurant offering daily specials and comfort food for breakfast and lunch; the upper floor was used as an apartment. Over the years, the restaurant changed hands, albeit within the same family, passing from the grandpa to the grand aunts and then the mother of the current brother-and-sister owners, David and Yolanda.
Ramón’s offers good cooking with no pretensions. It’s a rare combination in Spain.
Even though both are equal partners in Bar Ramón, Yolanda manages the front of the house and David leads in the kitchen – he learned to cook from his grand aunts and mother. It was David who gave Bar Ramón its musical personality. As his sister says, “He was the visionary.” This was the result of a long evolution, with ups and downs (including a fire and a flood) and a constant toil to survive and improve – just like a young musician struggling to find their own voice. But find it they did.
One of their biggest efforts went into adapting the menu to modern times. They improved the quality of the ingredients being used – they are now always local and seasonal – and began cooking almost everything from scratch. In addition to the traditional menu of salted cod, escudella (meat soup) and a tasty monkfish suquet, a traditional Catalan fish soup that used to be served on fishing boats, Bar Ramón offers some more contemporary tapas. We’re fond of their scallop shells stuffed with pumpkin paste, sunflower seeds and Roquefort cheese, their delicious, juicy leeks, which come stuffed with prawns, and their avocado stuffed with salmon, cheese and raisins.
The menu is divided into “bar tapas” and “kitchen tapas,” plus the seasonal daily specials. Some of the must-try dishes are the grilled octopus tentacle with mashed potatoes; their popular patatas bravas; a tender beef filet with foie gras over a toasted bread slice; and the recently added Girona beef T-bone steak. There are also the seasonal classics, like grilled artichokes, salted mushrooms and winter soups – you just have to visit the restaurant at the right time. They also have a variety of seafood on offer, from Mediterranean tellerinas, a type of shellfish, and galeras, a type of mantis shrimp, to Atlantic clams stewed in a sauce and razor clams grilled with garlic and parsley.
Reservations are almost always required, as they only have two seatings on weekday evenings and on Saturday (although on Fridays and Saturdays they’re open for lunch as well). Whenever we visit, we make sure to check that Charlie Parker is still there on the wall – we’re convinced that one day, all of Bar Ramón’s tasty smells will entice him to walk out of his poster and sit down at a table.