Two years ago in St Kilda, I was on a first date. Pressed for time, overwhelmed by the overstimulating strip of Fitzroy Street restaurants, and both too polite and nervous to make any definitive decisions on our way to our gig at the Prince of Wales, panic ensued and dinner ended up being a bag of chips. Fortunately the date was a success and left us in the position that, two years too late and in the extremely romantic setting of a large group of friends in town for the F1, we were able to discover the place we should have gone for dinner that night.
Barcelona is a small, narrow, unassuming shopfront in an otherwise overwhelming and overstimulating strip of funky Fitzroy Street restaurants in St Kilda. In line with the laws of physics, it's even smaller on the inside. However, in this tiny space, they have managed to cram in an enormous amount of atmosphere. It is dimly lit with tea lights on each table, and a fairy light sculpture pumping that little bit of extra mystique into the peripheral vision from the bar. The music is happy and Latin, and is played at a level that actually allows for fluent conversation with your dinner partner/party.
The staff are friendly, jovial, and attentive, and are careful to make sure you are happy throughout the meal. Because the place isn't big, it isn't hard to get looked after like an egg in a cake too.
Cheesy fried potatoes, a.k.a. my future life partner
At a glance, about 80% of the menu is gluten free, which makes it a much easier night for the digestively diverse. And the food. Is. Fantastic. Contrary to what the name of the bar would suggest, it's not strictly traditional Barcelonian tapas. It is more tiny versions of delicious food from all genres and nationalities to share. Tiny meatballs and stuffed mushrooms came on little plates of four and tasted twice their size, and I tried to take the cheesy fried potatoes home to bed, but they didn't last long enough. As much fun as we had (with our late-20s-to-early-30s mature senses of humour) ordering the goats cheese balls, we had way more fun eating them. It didn't even bother me that I could feel my arteries hardening under me. Dips with bread and beef cheek were other popular dishes, and there was plenty of seafood. The dishes were extremely rich, so I was grateful to the chef for pacing them carefully. It let us get the most out of it (and keep that most down for longer enjoyment). Never a massive fan of tapas before, all I could keep wondering was: who'd have thought tiny food could taste so big?
Meatballs, not exactly Spanish tapas, but immediately forgiven
For desert, there is a reasonable range of options, but it is hard to read beyond the churros. To be honest, they were a little overcooked on the night we were there, but they came dusted with more than sufficient cinnamon and sugar, and with a big enough bowl of melted chocolate (the real stuff too), that that was easy enough to move past.
Dishes are approximately $10-$20, so if you want to try a few things, it does add up. Serving sizes are quite decent though, so a few different dishes between two should be more than enough if you are brave enough to try to narrow down the delicious and infinite options that much.
Churros with authentic dark chocolate sauce
Everything about the place (with the notable exception of the terrifying, alleyway-style outdoor toilets) contributed to an ideal and rare ambience on the current Melbourne restaurant scene. For those looking to have a quiet dinner with a loved one, or a long overdue catchup with friends, it is a safe choice. If you have a first date coming up, I could not recommend it enough. The setting and ambience are perfect, and if the date does not go well, just go home with the cheesy fried potatoes instead. Honestly, they can promise you a far purer and longer-lasting love anyway.