Jay Stone fills up on Barcelona’s rich culinary history, where 4 Cats on the menu isn’t a PETA call to action, but the promise of tasty delights served on lampshades
By Jay Stone
BARCELONA, Spain — The two big things to do here are to eat and to go to art galleries, and if you can eat where the painters used to hang out, it’s a huge time-saver. This comes in very handy when siesta runs over its limit.
And so we arrive at 4 Cats, a famous cafe on a little alley called Montsio, just off the big Portal de L’Angel, one of the city’s main streets. 4 Cats is 118 years old, although it was closed now and then for civil wars, artistic revolutions and so on. Still, it’s pretty legendary: a charming bistro with a coffee room in front, a tiled bar in the middle, and a big room in the back with apricot-coloured walls, rows of tables on the floor and a wooden mezzanine that fills up at every meal.
It was opened in 1897 by four painters who were paying homage to Le Chat Noir cabaret in Paris, and it became a meeting place for bohemians and artists, including the late but inevitable Antoni Gaudi. The most famous, though, was a 17-year-old Pablo Picasso, whose first solo exhibition was held in the restaurant in 1899. He also drew the very cool image of a dandy outside the front door that even today festoons the 4 Cats menu.
“Food and drink served at all hours” is the restaurant’s motto, and if you go at lunch you can get a three-course meal, with wine, for just 16 euros, which is pretty much what you can spend for a couple of pieces of tapas and a middling rijoa at other, lesser establishments. It’s really good, too. For an appetizer, I chose “scrambled eggs of hake, tender garlics and prawns on his crispy lampshade,” further proof that you can take the surrealist out of the restaurant, but you can’t fish with a bicycle.
This turned out to be eggs on a kind of crispy pastry, while others around me were enjoying a salad of roasted vegetables that looked like something Picasso might have cooked up during his red and green periods.
There was tons of food — this is the first time I have been full since we got here — and presented on beautiful 4 Cats plates. All around me, people were taking photographs of the food on their smart phones, part of a new phenomenon of commemorating everything, including meals, as they occur. “Go ahead and start,” you say to your companions, “before it becomes unphotogenic.”
There’s also a little bandstand at the front with a piano, and pictures on the wall of famous people, including Woody Allen, who have eaten here. There’s also a souvenir stand at the front, just like in some of the more famous New York City jazz clubs and with the same laid-back casual air: “you can buy a T-shirt if you want to, but we’re not pushing the idea.”
All and all, it was a terrific meal and I enjoyed the extra half hour of sleep that I needed to digest it.