Bar Roma is a bar restaurant on a nondescript stretch of road close to Sants station. If you squint at it, it looks like an old-timer local haunt. Somewhere that only people who live on the block go to, to have a beer and something fried or a coffee over a folded newspaper. Stop squinting and the logo makes it obvious that is not the case. A cursive “Bar’ and an all-caps “Roma” that you might find on an old Italian Lira banknote. The turquoise and the pink fizzing against each other, like the duo-chrome test at the opticians. A wall of white square tiles gently starts to curve at some point on its journey to the back of the restaurant. Across from it, a white painted wall with a wide band of green at the top, that continues onto the ceiling. And then there is the small framed picture of Woody Harelson and though I am not sure why, it enhances Bar Roma. Maybe because Woody Harelson’s default look is: “This is absurd”. (The ‘this’ can refer to anything from this moment to this life.)
All these elements are collected and reunited here from a time that I grew up in but I notice Gen Z have an inexplicable anemoia* for. ( *A nostalgia for a past they have never lived through.)
I found out about Bar Roma from Manuela, a Madrid-based chef when she held a pop-up here for St Jordi and posted a picture of a cake shaped like a heart with frilly icing and a few Carebears affixed in the corners. Manuela’s is an irreverent aesthetic that I see happening sometimes in the over-stylized, over-staged, complete-bullshit realm of social media. (Manuela was also the contributor for the Best Pastry Shops in Barcelona post).
The tables at Bar Roma are small, mottled glass on iron feet. The playlist from the days that I wore my fringe in a wave held in place ozone-destroying amounts of hairspray. The menu is a compilation of excellent things to go along with your drink. The deep fat fryer is cleverly enlisted to turn out calamari croquetas or one with Ceps. (I had that, like a baby’s fist with a zig-zag of bright mayonnaise.)
Calorific sandwiches at tiny prices play the role of mains. I have a kimchi fried chicken sandwich on a brioche so soft that as I near the end of my sandwich, the bread disintegrates into the sharp-edged crispy chicken. They’ve used chicken thigh but at no point do I find myself pulling at tendons or pushing out a glob of fat. No, they have pre-marinated the thigh so that it comes out perfectly seasoned and dense, like a pressed ham. There is a punchy kimchi mayo that when juxtaposed with a cool bottle of beer, leaves me completely at peace. A better combination than a fried kimchi sandwich with a beer, Woody’s gap-toothed grin above my head and some tune I didn’t remember I used to love. I half expect to find a dog-eared Hola! magazine with a picture of a big-haired John McEnroe, a white bandana worn unironically high on his forehead.
Then there is the flan. It’s meant to be worth the detour. It comes on an aluminum round plate. A vertical wedge of unsweetened whipped cream accompanies it. The flan is tentatively sweet, most of the sweetness coming from the blond caramel on top which has more in common with dulce de leche than a precariously dark caramel that I learned to make from my Eastern European grandmother.
When I step out onto the sidewalk in the weak winter sunshine I feel a little disoriented, ensconced as I have been for the duration of my lunch in a before this time – time. Not exactly as I remember it, since it hasn’t been curated by my age peers, but eerily close. Like a dream that clings to you in the moments after waking.
I like this little bar. I like that it’s nowhere near central enough to become unattractively busy, that the wall curves inexplicably, the ceiling is green and that the menu is dispatched from a deep fryer and a small counter.
Carrer de Valencia 104
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