Wales’s love for leeks is well known, but it was the spring onion which was champion in Penarth this week.
Bar 44 hosted their second Calçotada festival and reporters Kirstie Smith and Bethan Perry went along to sample traditional Spanish celebration of the harvest of the calçot – a Catalan spring onion.
Wood-charred calçots are notoriously messy to eat. As to get into the juicy centre, you have to peel and rip the outer layer off before dipping into a Romesco sauce. The sauce, with just enough tomato to perfectly compliment the sweetness of the onion, manages to somehow get on the table, your hands and on the well-provided bibs.
Staff and customers alike seemed to delight in watching each other attempt to eat the traditional dish, avoiding eye contact as the rather obscene method gave most the giggles. And for those who managed to stay clean during the calçots, they did not escape the wine pouring.
A porron, a traditional drinking vessel of Catalonia, was given to customers for the wine pouring, which turned out to be the messiest and hardest task of the evening.
With the aim of managing to pour wine into your mouth, from a distance, diners attempted to straighten their arms as the liquor flowed. But most were left with wine dribbling down their chins and having to use their bibs to mop up the mess.
In all of the excitement, one of our reporters managed to put her paper bib on top of the candle and the resulting fireball threatened to make the evening even smokier. Luckily, the staff were jolly and laughed off the incident with great humour.
This friendly atmosphere made the small restaurant in Penarth feel like a traditional family gathering from Spain, despite the temperate difference.
Owen Morgan, director of Bar 44, runs the chain with his brother. The two set up the business after falling in love with Spanish cuisine on holiday. He said: “It’s always great fun to celebrate with food and that’s what it’s all about.
“It is great that we can make a party out of a vegetable- it’s what the Spanish do because they are so passionate about food.”
Mr Morgan prides himself on being able to provide authentic Spanish food, and imports a lot of his ingredients, including the evening’s calçots, which were imported from Valls in Catalonia. Sam Evans, one of the women behind Cardiff’s Hang Fire Smokehouse, also attended and said: “We’re big fans of Bar 44 and love their tapas! It’s great that their pushing the boundries of what a “regular” tapas joint is supposed to do, and bring these traditional Catalan celebrations to Wales.”
Kirstie’s View: The meal was all about trying new cuisine for me, I have never eaten spring onions and i was pleasantly surprised. The main and dessert were perfect and really showed off the food Spain has to offer. The evening was great fun for staff and diners and I would go again in a heart beat.
Beth’s View: The food was delicious and I did not feel as if I had lost out in being vegetarian. The calçots were delicious and far too amusing to watch people eating. The entire evening was made by the atmosphere in Bar 44 with everyone laughing and joking, I have no hesitation in recommending the restaurant and the event to everyone.