Travel Diary: Chef Marc Murphy Goes to Spain
...and eats through Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid with his family
Every year my family travels to Europe for a week-long spring break trip. When the kids were very young, we’d take them to the islands, somewhere easy—but once they got older we wanted to get back on the road and show them the world. It has become a wonderful foray into the cities of Europe.
When I was a kid, my father was a diplomat and we were constantly traveling—when we visited a new city my dad would take us to every museum, and I vowed I’d never do that to my kids; on our trips, meals are always a focus, as well as a great adventure.
This year we went to Spain, and chose our destinations based mostly on our love of paella, pigs, and architecture. Below is a diary from our trip.
Day One: Barcelona
We arrive in Barcelona and make our way to the apartment we’ve rented through Friendly Rentals. We generally choose apartments over hotels because they allow us to live like locals. Our apartment is right on the Rambla de Catalunya—a perfect jumping-off point for all of our eating and sightseeing.
We drop our bags and head out towards the water, eager to see the ocean. We walk along the water and find ourselves at 7 Portes, one of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona. We order a bottle of Albariño and tuck into platters of clams, oysters, sea snails, and paella, a house specialty. We’re all surprised by how different the paella is in this part of Spain: a little creamier and soupier than what we’re accustomed to in the States. It’s delicious.
After lunch, we wander through the streets near the port and make our way up to the incredible Gaudí cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Even under scaffolding, the architecture is still staggering; it’s a great introduction for the kids to the rest of the Gaudí buildings and parks we’ll see in the coming days.
For dinner, we eat at Boca Grande, another restaurant known for its fresh fish and seafood. We order platters of oysters and gambas (large shrimp) on the grill, and finish everything off with an incredible chocolate cake.
Day Two: Barcelona
We are lucky enough to have secured a reservation at the uber-popular Cal Pep, famous for its incredible tapas, so we eat a light breakfast in anticipation of the meal to come. Our good intentions are quickly thrown out the window when we take a stroll through the Boqueria market.
This is perhaps one of the most incredible places I have ever been. Yes, it is a tourist destination and has a fair share of Instagrammers at its entrance, but once you get inside the market opens up and you see stall after stall of fish, produce, spices, and fruits. In back, we find amazing prepared foods and a number of tapas bars already buzzing with morning meetings and locals having a quick bite. My kids love the paper cones filled with sliced meats sold throughout the market. It’s a great take on street food.
When we arrive at Cal Pep for lunch, the front room, which houses a simple ’50s-style diner counter, is already full with a line out the door. But because there are 7 of us, we are ushered into the back by Barcelona’s most engaging and animated waiter. At Cal Pep, there is no menu; once you sit down, the food just starts coming. Plate after plate of hand-sliced jamón, perfectly fried boquerones, super-fresh tuna tartare, artichoke hearts with ham—it goes on and on. The finale is an amazing crème catalan, branded with the restaurant’s name.
After lunch we take a walk down to the beach. This might be my favorite thing about Barcelona: the city makes its way right up to the sea—the best of both worlds for those of us who love the ocean as much as we love the city. We wander along, stopping to take our shoes off and run into the surf.
Thanks to a dear friend who is from Barcelona and has some great connections, we have a reservation at Tickets for dinner. Tickets is one of five restaurants owned by Albert and Ferran Adrià (of the much-loved and now-shuttered El Bulli). It’s part of their “5.0 project”: They wanted to create five completely different restaurant concepts that would form a culinary amusement park.
To call this meal an experience would be an understatement. It is molecular gastronomy at its wackiest and its finest. I’m not even sure I can adequately describe what we ate, I’ll just say that it’s Willy Wonka meets Cirque du Soleil. It was delicious, inventive, and crazy, and maybe one of my favorite meals ever. My kids loved it.
Day Three: Barcelona
We start our day at another Gaudí stunner, La Pedrera. It is part museum and part residence, and I’ve always thought that its split personality makes it all the more interesting. We spend a good while on the roof before making our way to Tapas 24, an often-recommended tapas place from uber-chef Carles Abellan. It’s a tiny space on a side street with three tables on the sidewalk and a line out the door. We were lucky to get there when we did and only waited about 30 minutes for a prime spot outside. I would have waited 24 hours. We share perfectly fried boquerones, the famous Bikini Comerç 24 (a glorified grilled cheese with perfectly sliced jamón and black truffle), pork ribs, pulled pork tacos, fried eggs with french fries and chorizo (our new favorite dish!), and a few bottles of rosé to wash it all down. It’s a spectacular meal. As we finish up, we are already planning our next visit.
At night, we attend an FC Barcelona soccer match against Manchester City. Having grown up in Europe, I’ve always been a huge football fan and it’s amazing to see the devotion that Barcelona fans have for their team. The roar of the crowd is deafening. And there’s something magical about being in an outdoor stadium in the middle of the city.
The game ends quite late—Barcelona wins, of course!—but that doesn’t stop us from hunting down another meal. We head back across town to Paco Meralgo, another great tapas restaurant. Here we sit at a high table in a very casual room and feast on super spicy patatas bravas, zucchini flowers delicately fried and stuffed with mozzarella, fried artichokes, and grilled razor clams.
Day Four: Barcelona
We have another early lunch at Tapas 24, almost identical to yesterday’s, and it’s still sublime.
After lunch we jump in a taxi and make our way to Gaudí’s Parc Guell. It sits at the top of a hill and we hike around the outskirts of the sculpture area for a few hours. It’s stunning. The kids run around, completely thrilled. From here we can see the whole city, over Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, straight to the ocean.
It’s our last night in Barcelona, so we make another trip to the Boqueria and stock up on wine, tomatoes, bread, cheeses, and meats, and eat at home.
Day Five: Seville
We fly south from Barcelona to Seville—the capital of Andalusia—which has a much older feel to it. Our rented apartment is on a very small square and has a stunning view of the Cathedral, the centerpiece of the city. Once settled, we head to lunch at Casa Roman, recommended to us by the greeter at our rental. The place is empty when we get there, which concerns me, but we order some wine and grilled vegetables and boquerones, and pretty soon it’s filling up with locals—there isn’t a tourist in sight—which is a very good sign. Our waiter, Curro, brings us plates of the best jamón in Seville, fried eggs with French fries and jamón, simply grilled pork ribs, and incredible pork cheek stew. We quickly decide that we won’t be going anywhere else for lunch during our time here.
After lunch we tour the Cathedral—the city’s oldest church—and climb up to the bell tower. It’s raining but the view is still incredible, and I even meet a group of Chopped fans!
Dinner tonight is at La Brunilda Tapas, a newcomer on the Seville dining scene and worth the line we wait in outside to get in. The tapas here not as straightforward as what we had in Barcelona, but still really delicious: Small portions of spicy patatas bravas, mini burgers that are anything but American, and perfectly grilled octopus. Dessert is simple: ice cream.
Day Six: Seville
Today we take a day trip to Aracena, a town about an hour North of Seville. It is, most notably, home to the Jamón Museum, but it also boasts the most incredible underground caves: La Gruta de las Maravillas. As the name suggests—maravilla means “marvel”—they are stunning. After our tour we sit down for lunch at Montecruz, the perfect choice for a big lunch up in the hills. As with almost every meal we will eat in this country, there is jamón. There are also red peppers stuffed with anchovies, perfectly grilled lamb chops, beef cheek stew, and for dessert, an arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding) with anisette.
The Jamón Museum is just what you would expect from an institution dedicated to ham in all its forms. And it’s really interesting! We have a blast learning about all the various pigs, the different types of ham they make, and how different each type is.
After our tour we head back into Seville and eat our last dinner at Enrique Becerra, another relative newcomer. We have pre-ordered the paella, and it does not disappoint. We are very happy to only have one course.
Day Seven: Madrid
We arrive in Madrid by train, check into our hotel, and head out for lunch. We eat at Marina Ventura where we have yet another amazing paella along with fried eggs over fried whitebait, an incredible cheese plate, and more arroz con leche for dessert. After lunch we meet our guide, Juan, at our hotel and he takes us on the most incredible tour of the Prado Museum, where there’s a really excellent Picasso exhibit going on.
It’s our last night of vacation and we eat at the oldest restaurant in the world: Botin, which is known for its roast sucking pig. We order a whole pig, plus some blood sausage and boquerones for good measure.
The next morning we fly back to New York, where we eat no ham. At least for a few days.
Where to eat like Marc in Spain:
Carrer de la Diputació, 269
08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 934 88 09 77
Carrer de Muntaner, 171
08036 Barcelona, Spain
+34 934 30 90 27
Passeig Isabel II, 14
08003 Barcelona, Spain
34 933 19 30 33
Passatge de la Concepció, 12
08008 Barcelona, Spain
+34 934 67 51 49
Plaça de les Olles, 8
08003 Barcelona, Spain
+34 933 10 79 61
Av. del Paraŀlel, 164
08015 Barcelona, Spain
+34 932 92 42 54
Plaza de los Venerables, 1
41004 Sevilla, Spain
+34 954 22 84 83
La Brunilda Tapas
Calle Galera, 5
41002 Sevilla, Spain
+34 954 22 04 8
Calle San Pedro, 36
21200 Aracena, Huelva, Spain
+34 959 12 60 13
Calle Gamazo, 2
41001 Sevilla, Spain
+34 954 21 30 49
C/ Ventura de la Vega, 13
28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 914 29 38 10
Calle Cuchilleros, 17
28005 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 66 42 17
Part worldly epicure, part laid-back surfer, Marc Murphy fell in love with French and Italian cuisine during a childhood spent living throughout Europe. He went on to work in some of the most highly esteemed kitchens in the world from Paris to Monte Carlo and today is one of New York’s most celebrated chefs.