All things secret have fascinated humankind since time immemorial. Secret societies, coded messages, exclusive parties you’re only admitted to if you know the password. There’s something alluring about knocking on a non-descript storefront and whispering “I’m here to kick back with the widow” and gaining access to a secret world. The sense of adventure shakes up your routine, makes you feel alive and part of something different, special, unique… Passwords, secret doors, hidden worlds – they have a way of bringing a little bit of magic into your life. And if this hidden world happens to serve exquisite food and drink, all the better.
Barcelona is the perfect city for secret culinary escapades. The Catalan capital is a hub of creative gastronomic experimentation, full of markets brimming with colorful, beautiful products, and a dining crowd eager for new experiences and willing to try the unexpected. As a result, several clandestine restaurants have popped up in recent years, inviting locals and visitors alike to an intriguing social and culinary experience.
From the outside the Tintoreria Dontell in the Eixample district looks like a run-of-the-mill dry cleaners. Jackets and dresses hang from rotating racks, different garment prices are listed in the window. Just one little detail strikes the unwitting passerby as odd. Why is a dry cleaners open this late? And what are all those well-dressed people doing outside its door? An unlikely time to get your shirts pressed. Those in the know, the chic crowd slipping in surreptitiously, have the password that’ll get them through the secret door.
What lies behind the door? An upscale, glitzy, 21st-century speakeasy of soft, pink lighting and white baroque-styled furniture, modern with a decadent twist. Dontell serves mediterranean market cuisine, and the open-plan kitchen allows us to watch the master chefs at work. The same is true at Dontell’s sibling, Chi-Tón, hidden above a cheesy souvenir shop near La Pedrera. Peering through the window, it’s hard to imagine that beyond the flamenco dresses and assorted tchotchkes, a hip, urban crowd is at play.
Tintoreria Dontell, Carrer Aribau 55, Barcelona
Tel. +34 934 520 720
At Chi-Tón, the “souvenir shop attendant” leads you to an elevator and the doors close on the humdrum world outside. There’s excitement bubbling in the pit of your stomach, the elevator doors open and you step into the modern, red glow of the restaurant. The bartenders at the cocktail bar make splendid drinks, and in the dining room, small groups sit around private cooking areas where the chef cooks up a creative fusion storm. This is a far cry from simply making food; it’s a fantastic live cooking show!
Both Dontell and Chi-Tón are the creations of Urban Secrets, a “clandestine gastronomic society” headed by Christian Rodríguez. Don’t worry, these aren’t illegal establishments; they’re clandestine in the sense of secretive, hidden gems where only those willing to put in a little effort get to play. Discovering these Urban Secrets means signing up as a member on the group’s website. It’s well worth it – joining this delicious secret society not only grants you access to great dining, but to a whole world of secret events: concerts, wine tastings, art openings and more.
Chi-Tón, Carrer Provença 300, Barcelona
Tel. +34 933 175 968
Prices: starting from 40 EUR / person
Become an Urban Secrets member: http://www.urbansecrets.net/
Jezebel is a different story. She doesn’t hide behind storefronts. In fact, you never know where she’s gonna show up next. The brainchild of American chef Kathleen Engelhardt, Jezebel’s Clandestine Dining is the city’s first “pop-up restaurant”. Within the span of a few hours, Kathleen transforms someone’s private residence (very lovely residences, we’re not talking regular flats here) into a gourmet dining spot that’s as exclusive as it is relaxed and fun.
Her monthly dinners are based around a theme and involve highly creative culinary experiments where you’re just as likely to find Cajun or Asian flavors as Mediterranean ones. At December’s “Sugar & Spice Dinner”, she served squid ink ravioli filled with goat cheese and butternut squash, slow cooked beef short ribs with stone ground grits and lemon confit, Manchego cheese with almonds and membrillo (quince jelly). Jezebel allows Kathleen to combine the flavors of home with those of her adopted country.
Despite Jezebel’s exclusive, secretive nature, the atmosphere is anything but snooty. Kathleen is a joyful presence, eager to give her guests an “awesome, cool, funky experience” with seriously great food and a laidback atmosphere that makes it easy to socialize. The dinners are long, languid affairs as befits a true supper club. Jezebel offers fine dining in what feels like the home of a friend with very epicurean tastes. After conversations over welcome cocktails, everyone sits down for several courses of exquisitely prepared and beautifully presented dishes, each paired with the perfect wine.
In Kathleen’s own words, Jezebel’s Clandestine Dining provides “hidden adventures for intrepid gastronomes, curious culinarians, and hungry rogues”. Exquisite, delicious, daring and just a tiny bit wild. Anyone wanting a taste of Jezebel can sign up online – but hurry, the list fills up fast!
Jezebel’s Clandestine Dining
Tel. +34 610 898 494
Price: approx. 60 EUR / person
Our guest author, Hildy Snow, writes a culture, leisure and tourism blog for BCNinternet, a company renting holiday apartments in Barcelona since 2003.
Tintoreria Dontell images by Cristina Drafta, exclusive for Argophilia Travel news. Please contact us for re-use.