“ Els Quatre Gats (4 Gats) / Montsio, 3 bis / 08002 Barcelona / Spain / Tel: +34 93 302 4140. „
We went to Els Quatre Gats and were somewhat nervous as one person had been advised to go and another warned not to. In the end it was a good decision as it was a pleasant restaurant had friendly staff and the only downside was the lack of vegetarian options, but that is just part of going to Spain. I have just had a quick check at their website and the lack choice for us veggies has not changed.
The restaurant opened in 1897 but was a café then and its claim to fame was being the location of Picassos first exhibition, and has been in its present form since 1978 and there are claims that it provides the best coffee in Barcelona. I beg to differ but that was just my opinion.
The name comes from an old Catalan expression that means "just s few people" and the name was given as a tribute to the Parisian café Le Chat Noir as the owner had recently died.
Anyway enough of the history and more of the restaurant. We found that the service was very hit and miss. When we arrived there were few people there and the order was taken quite quickly but that was the end of the good service. As there were 8 of us we were pleased that the starters all came within a few minutes of each other. The main courses however came as and when they were ready so there seemed to be always someone sitting watching other people eat.
The restaurant is located at Carrer de Montsió, 3 08002 Barcelona which is just off Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel. It is a large restaurant and the tables are a little too close together so you seem to be as close to the people on the next table as you are to your tablemates.
It was quite expensive even allowing for it being a popular restaurant in a major City with the cheapest main course being 20 Euros. Most of the menu was fish and the portions were quite small. They were so poor when it came to vegetarian options I had cheese croquettes as a starter and part of the main course. The one good thing was that they had Creme Catalan which is close to Creme Brulee. It was the not big on desserts either and this was the only place that we went to where we did not leave a proper tip but just rounded up the bill leaving a few extra Euros.
It seems that Els Quatre Gats is doing well as it has picked up a good reputation from years ago but I imagine that without changes it will soon be found out.
During a recent visit to Barcelona, we were determined to have dinner at Els Quatre Gats (the four cats). Barcelona does have quite an important Picasso connection, as he spent his formative years here. Els Quatre Gats was a regular hangout for him and other Barcelonian artists. This was what attracted us to this place. It is not however what I will mostly remember from it.
~Situation and history~
Halfway between las Ramblas and the Via Laietana, Els Quatre Gats is on the narrow and modest Carrer de Montsió. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Casa Martí, a Modernista building in a neo-gothic style. (Modernisme is the Catalan version of the art and design movement present throughout Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century, known also as Art Nouveau).
Open in 1897, the restaurant soon became a meeting place for Catalan Intellectuals and artists, including Barcelona's famous son - he spent his formative years here - Picasso. The atmosphere in those days must have been similar to that of a Parisian café-concert as they used to hold poetry readings, concerts, Chinese shadow shows and most importantly painting and sculpture exhibitions. Picasso held his first individual exhibition there in 1900, before leaving for Paris.
For some reason, I was expecting a dark tavern-type place. But when we set foot inside, the thing that struck me was how bright and colourful the bar area was, mostly because of the ceramic tiles and bright yellow walls. Pictures are hung everywhere, mainly photographs and prints from artists who frequented the restaurant. Stepping into the dining-room meant another surprise for me, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't the rather old-fashioned, refined spectacle that awaited. An army of waiters in full black regalia busily serving customers, a pianist and a violinist playing tunes from another era... Imagine the dinning-room on the Titanic if you will and it will give you a good idea. After a day's sightseeing, we felt slightly under-dressed for the occasion, but this was not a problem. As with any really good restaurant that doesn't need to proclaim its credentials, Els Quatre Gats doesn't feel at all elitist and as such doesn't have a dress code. The place was full, mainly with tourists, including a lot of Americans.
When we arrived, there was no table available and we were told we had to wait for up to half an hour. Not a problem, we fully expected that and were looking forward to spending this time in the bar, soaking up the atmosphere and perhaps a Cava or two. I went to the toilet (which you must absolutely do, whether you need to or not, as they are worth a visit on their own merit) and hubby sat down. Not for long, as the Maître d' soon came back and urged us to 'come, come' and go through to the dinning-room, in front of another (rather pushy and unpleasant) couple who had arrived seconds before us. It just goes to show that you don't get anywhere by being disagreeable and demanding. We were shown to our table, on a gallery above the dining-room. I felt that this had probably been a late addition, to maximise space in order to respond to the demand. It was the perfect vantage point and we sat back and started to take in the scene I described above. Totally delighted with our experience so far, we perused the English language menu. The Maître d' then took our order, recommending a local wine instead of our safe choice of a wine we knew of. We had been wanting to try something local but weren't sure what to go for, so his help was very much appreciated. The rest of the service was left to another waiter to do who was helpful and attentive throughout the meal but without a hint of over-zealousness or obsequiousness. The Maître d' remained vigilant all evening to make sure every diner was looked after.
Another thing I liked about the service was that it was never rushed. I detest having my starter plate whisked away and replaced 30 second later with a main course. I like to take my time over dinner when I am eating out, particularly when I am in as nice a place as this.
I believe the lunchtime set price menu is excellent value, but we didn't try that. The evening menu is by no means cheap, but in my opinion it is worth every penny. If you only have one treat during your holidays, make it dinner at Els 4 Gats. I kept the check for ages but I now seem to have lost it. From memory though, I think I had Fois-gras mi-cuit with figs and something else, a beautiful fillet of salmon, cooked to perfection, and Catalan cream (a kind of crème brulée). I can't remember what my husband had, but I know he enjoyed it very much indeed. I would describe the kind of food served as Catalan post-nouvelle cuisine (post because the portions are pretty decent..). The wine that was recommended was beautiful, and I'm sure far better than the one we had selected at first. The food was outstanding, every dish a perfect balance of flavours. I wish I could be more precise about what we had exactly, but in a way, I don't feel that it is really necessary as the menu changes daily.
So, do I recommend this restaurant? Yes, yes, oh yes to quote Meg Ryan in 'When Harry met Sally'. OK, it might be a little expensive (but not really when you compare it to some of the prices in this country), but it is most definitely value for money. Everything is combined to provide the perfect dinning experience, from the surroundings, to the food, not forgetting the service. If you find yourself in Barcelona, I urge you, go there!!
The restaurant is open daily from 9am to 2pm. Lunch cost 20 and dinner 30 (about £13.50 and £20.50)