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Redefining Spanish Tapas: The Fine Line between Quality and Price

Part of the advantage of living in Barcelona is that I have an inordinate amount of tapas bars to choose from; we’re talking in the ballpark of 10,000, which includes restaurants that serve tapas. And of these restaurants, a vast majority will get you a few tapas at a very reasonable price. Therefore, you can imagine my jaw hitting the floor when I encountered a bar serving tapas for more than the average “menu del dia” which includes 3 full on courses! Consequently, I began to wonder what the value of a tapa really is and whether I’ve been hoodwinked by a bar to pay anything other than market price?

Bar Mut is a gorgeous wood paneled bar in the Eixample district of Barcelona, adorned in brass fixtures, marble and etched glass. It’s cozy, warm and draws you back in time as a golden orange glow casts warm pools of light across the bar with subtle jazz pulsating from above. The servers are traditionally Spanish in their approach, mixing both informality and professionalism seamlessly, while uncharacteristically greeting you with brilliant toothy smiles, though rarely in English. Let’s just say that they’ve mastered the art of ambiance, allowing you to forget both space and time, embraced in the moment at hand; but one quick glance at their menu sketched in powdery chalk and you quickly realize, you’re not in “kansas” anymore. Why? Because the prices were awe inspiring. I half expected the tapas to be drizzled in liquid gold or sequestering a 14 karat diamond inside each bite.

That said, the tapas are genuinely atypical in both their diversity and unique flavors. You can feast upon herb-infused steamed mussels, a rich four-cheese risotto, oxtail, squid tagliatelle or foie gras on quails eggs, to name a few. Old standbye’s are available such as chistorra, patatas bravas, tortilla espanol and jamon, to name a few, but rarely are these sought out. It’s what you can’t typically encounter on the small windy Gothic sidestreets of Barcelona that cultivate loyalty among foodies and visitors alike.

Equally true, it has a decent wine menu, both by bottle and by glass. Casting a wide net across Spain, instead of isolating its offerings to Catalunya, you can find rare wines from across Europe and abroad, which is both rare and welcomed. Even by the glass, we encountered a fabulous white from Conca de Barbera called Els Bassots 2007. Made with Chenin Blanc, a rarity in Spain, it’s biodynamically grown and vinified with zero sulfur. It’s a gorgeous little wine bursting with tropical notes and rich almond and quince flavors. But even here, prices by the glass will knock you on your ass.

Thus this leaves us in a quandary, do I recommend this place? Do I feel that you should make a beeline to Bar Mut to experience a unique style of tapas while paying through the nose for dishes that cost a quarter of the price to produce, or wines that you can find for considerably less? Yes, yes I do.

Here’s my rational. If you’re choosing dishes that are truly unique, such as Spinach Rissotto topped with Sea Urchin, it’s worth it. If you’re asking for wines that are both local and rarely served in a bar/restaurants (tough to know if you’re not from the area, I realize), or wines that are off the beaten path, again, interesting. If you’re looking for cozy ambiance, it’s fabulous. But if you’re seeking a typical Barcelona experience, trust me, there’s plenty of other places to go for a fraction of the price.

Where do you draw the line between price and quality when seeking out Spanish Tapas?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

Bar Mut
Calle Pau Claris 192 on the corner of Diagonal (metro Diagonal)
93 217 43 38
Monday – Friday 9:15am – 12am

  • RichardPF

    I think this is a common problem all over the world, as well as for all types of cuisines.  For example, you can get a typical beef cheeseburger for $5 or you can pay $20 for it, though it might made from Wagyu and topped with foie gras. Is that $20 burger worth it?  Comfort food in general is reasonably priced, but some restaurants try to elevate the food, often adding more costly ingredients. Your rationale makes lots of sense. Bar Mut is making a statement, not trying to be the usual tapas place, offering something more unique. So, in that regard it deserves a recommendation. All people have to understand is the reasons for the recommendation, which you have provided.