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Inopia Classic Bar

There are times when the restaurant world takes on an unappealing, catty veneer. Usually this is when someone famous, or incredibly successful—or more likely both—opens up a new venture and the vultures swoop in, hoping for a ‘fail'. It's a particularly unattractive side of human nature, but no less prevalent for that.

So when Albert Adrià opened his new tapas bar on Tamarit in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood in April, it came as no surprise that the soothsayers came out in hordes. His name, of course, carries immense weight in the foodie circles of Barcelona and people were quick with their preconceptions. “It's wildly expensive”; “pretentious”; “fancy patatas bravas”; “no food”; yadda yadda.

I'm a firm believer that the only way to truly know what you think about a restaurant is to go check it out for yourself. Don't believe the hype and definitely don't blindly follow the critics.

Before I completely talk myself out of a job, then, a word on Inopia.

Albert Adrià is better known as pastry chef and key player in his older brother, Ferran Adrià's restaurant El Bulli, which was recently voted the best restaurant in the world for the second time by the influential Restaurant magazine. But his heart is in the barrio, and so these days, you're more likely to find him grinning away behind the bar at Inopia than experimenting on fruit leather back at the El Bulli Taller.

Inopia looks pretty much like any other old man's bar in the barrio: bright, fluorescent lighting and token Andalucian tiles. Most diners stand at the bar, or at the hatch that opens onto the street, but there

are a couple of high tables and chairs at the back, and a small dining area sponsored by Moritz beer. The main difference between this ‘old-fashioned bar' and countless others is the buzz of conviviality coming from within, a friendly young waiting staff in hip Hugo Boss outfits and an already devoted clientele that know and love food. The only sign of any connection to El Bulli is a small painted bulldog on a wall above the bar.

A dish of tapas starts at €0.75 and spirals upwards all the way to €23 for a tin of cloïsses La Brújala (clams). Conserves (gourmet canned products), are often pricey and these ones, in the style of nearby Quimet i Quimet are no different. You don't have to order them.

What you should order are the terrific croquetes casolanes de pernil ibèric—the friend I was with has been living here 12 years and declared them the best she'd every had—at €1.20 a pop, and Adrià-style patatas bravas, sliced thin and fried until crisp and then slathered with sweet, spicy tomato sauce and thick, creamy mayonnaise for €3. Of the many tapas we worked through, the only real disappointment was the pincho moruno de pollastre a l'ast. It was a measly thing—dice-sized chunks of well-seasoned chicken thigh on a toothpick for €4.50.

I'm not big on Lay's “pollastre a l'ast” patates xips either. To the uninitiated these are Lay's roast chicken flavoured crisps, which are special by virtue of the fact that they are only available in Spain. They go for €2. Again, the folks love ‘em. You don't have to. What must be appreciated though is Adrià's fixation on quality.

Commercial crisps besides, here is a tapas bar that really cares about what it's throwing you. Adrià says he's thinking along the lines of Joel Robuchon's ‘small plates' restaurant, L'Atelier in Paris. This is his Catalan version.

And so he offers a selection of olives served from glossy, terracotta crocks ranging from local arbequines, to manzanillas stuffed with anchovies. There is a whole ‘món' de anxoves; a wildly popular flauta de sardinetes (sardine sandwich); an ethereal and addictive amanida russa (Russian salad of potatoes laced with tuna and mayonnaise) and a delightful salad of peeled, baby Montserrat tomatoes and ventresca (belly) of tuna. If I had to live on one thing the rest of my life, it might just be that salad.

There are also callos (tripe) from Juan's bar in L'Hospitalet, where the Adrià brothers grew up and moixama (air-cured tuna) from the celebrated tuna-fishing village of Barbate. And there is great wine. Generous glasses of zippy, white Can Estruc from the Penedès, served from a magnum, a delicious raspberry-infused rosado and a berry-packed red, each costing an eminently reasonable €1.75 a glass.

OK, so it's a little pricier than the old men's bars, but there's something about it that captures the spirit of what I always loved about Spain: a true sense of togetherness that blurs the edges between customers and staff, celebrity and local communities.

Does Ferran eat there? You bet.

Inopia Classic Bar
C/Tamarit 104, Eixample Esquerra.

Tel 93 424 52 31.
Tapas and wine for two: about €50.
Open 7.30pm-11.pm. Closed Sunday & Monday

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