05 Mar 2019
The Heart of the Neighbourhood
Pedestrians can find Tapeo as they stroll along Calle Montcada, one of the most famous and prettiest medieval streets in Barcelona and flanked by the former palaces of wealthy trade merchants, which today have become much-frequented cultural sites like the Picasso Museum. The street is usually bustling with tourists who walk around a little stunned by the weight of its history and natives who always find a hidden nook to enjoy in this part of the La Ribera quarter. Taking a break in one of the tapas bars is a must. And here, right at the heart of the route, we come across Tapeo, a welcoming local restaurant with an open kitchen. Always thriving, vibrant and keen to offer quality tapas that combine the classic with the current, it fits in perfectly with the essence of the elegant and stately Calle Montcada, which is also both eclectic and modern.
The recently opened Tapeo bar in the charismatic Gracia neighbourhood also manages to blend in with this quarter’s bohemian and international atmosphere.
Photos: Oriol Aleu
Simple, Familiar Cuisine
Tapeo is the manifestation of the soul and endeavours of Daniel Rueda, who, alongside his enthusiastic young team, has been captaining this venture for eight years. Having completed a long voyage around different restaurants in the city, he dropped anchor in order to work on the cuisine he favours most, an expression of everything he had learned during his career. Approachable, funny and a good conversationalist, Daniel likes to navigate between the stove and the saucepans, chat to the customers and explain his latest creation or the tapa he is still trying to perfect. He is a livewire. “I’ve made my work into a hobby,” he smiles, and it is clear he enjoys his trade. Daniel explains he chose to become a chef because “I had to do something and, when I was a boy scout, I cooked for everyone, even if it was packet soup,” and the truth is it has worked out pretty well for him, although he emphasises there is nothing romantic about his profession and that it didn’t come from his family, even though it sometimes seems he has been “anointed” with the magic of the culinary arts.
Quality and Honesty
For a restless man like Daniel, defining his concept of tapas is easy: “Tapas are like a made-to-measure daily menu.” And that is what he creates: exquisite little dishes to be eaten with a spoon or fork that suit all the diners’ tastes, achieving excellence in the humble tapas. “A tapa is sublime because of its flavour, its originality and, of course, its quality. If it has flavour, it hits the spot, its originality creates surprise and quality is basic in the products I offer. Then, everyone interprets it for themselves, because there are creations which I really like but perhaps others don’t.” His concept of tapas is the result of his experiences of different concepts, of his trying “things here and there”, small touches of the latest trends in this traditional cuisine which always postulates and, above all, honesty. “We all like to create marvels, but the important thing is the work. I think the key to success is being honest with what is being provided. A tapas bar has to be popular.”
Tapeo is a shared eating experience and “that gives people great pleasure”. Visitors go to Daniel’s restaurant to try the honey-and-mustard pork ribs, one of the stars on the menu (they serve 600 kilos of ribs each month), and, while he admits he finds vegetables tricky because it is complicated to give them the flavour and power they deserve, his caramelised leeks are simply excellent. All washed down with wine, sherry or beer. “The secret to my success is not defending the indefensible and, first and foremost, being self-critical. Knowing oneself, eating out and abroad a lot, and being willing to improve.
His professional training in the kitchens of Calella de Mar brought him into contact with illustrious chefs and, after working for three years in the Hotel Méridien on Las Ramblas, he entered the distinguished Michelin-star restaurant La Dama, a prestigious establishment then under the command of Josep Bullich, a legendary chef who had already earned a Michelin star at the Via Veneto restaurant. “At La Dama I learned to cook,” he states. After a subsequent stay in London, where he went for a change of scene and new ideas, he returned to Barcelona. But his restless spirit wouldn’t let him stay in one place for long and he had been hearing talk of the Comerç 24 restaurant, so he persistently tried to get an interview with its creator, Carlos Abellán. “All I knew was that I wanted to work there,” he recalls. Finally, he achieved his goal, but it was difficult for him to adapt as he came from a more classic type of cuisine and had a different way of doing things. Resilience, hard work, commitment, enthusiasm and a sharp learning curve. Following another trip, this time to South America, Abellán offered Daniel a position in the former’s exciting new Tapas 24 project, which represented a revolution in tapas at the time.