BARCELONA - When Aicard Guinovart tells us we’ll be dining in a steakhouse that’s located in a former bullfighting ring, the wise guy in me can’t resist. “No bull?” I respond.
The proud Catalonian, who has spent the day showing us around his beloved Barcelona, has arranged for us to dine at Mussol, which sits atop Las Arenes, once Barcelona’s main bullrings, which now is the city’s most fashionable shopping mall.
“The bullfighting stadium was converted into the shopping mall in 2011 but it was a long and expensive process,” Aicard tells us. “The company that started the conversion actually went bankrupt and the project was abandoned for many years until it was finally completed in 2011.”
Las Arenes was known as Plaça de Toros de les Arenes when it first opened for bullfighting in 1890 and much of its original red brick facade remains today. Designed by legendary Catalonioan architect August Font i Carreras in a Moorish style, Las Arenes features a monumental horseshoe shaped entrance decorated with colourful tiles.
Above: Las Arenes was known as Plaça de Toros de les Arenes when it first opened.
The compact arena — 52 metres in diameter — was built to hold 16,000 fans but was rarely filled.
“Bullfighting was never very popular in Catalonia,” says Aicard, who quickly adds with distain in his voice, “not like in Madrid and the rest of Spain. The last bullfight took place at Las Arenes in 1977 and the “sport” was officially banned in Barcelona in 2012.
Las Arenes was then used for concerts and actually hosted a sold-out Beatles performance in 1966.
These days, instead of dodging bulls, shoppers have to dodge high prices because Las Arenes is home to some of city’s most expensive shops — 116 — and restaurants — 20 — spread over its six floors. The mall also features bars, a cinema, a sports centre, concert hall and the Rock Museum of Barcelona.
Mussol’s reputation was built on serving up some of the city’s best steaks, but its menu is peppered with lots of Catalonia favourites like Paamb Tomàquet, a bread that’s topped with crushed tomatoes and olive oil, which accompanies almost ever meal here — yum! — and Escalivada, a medley of smoky grilled vegetables.
Above: The last bullfight took place at Las Arenes in 1977.
I opt for the “brocheta de cordero y pollo con patata al caliu” and the chicken and potato dish is superb.
Each meal at Mussol ends with diners gathering on Las Arenes’ open air Skywalk Terrace where they feast on some spectacular nighttime views of the landmark Montjuic Hill, the twinkling lights of the Plaza Espanya below and its spotlighted Magic Fountain and the Palau Nacional off in the distance.
So if someone asks if you can direct them to a good steakhouse here, point them in the direction of the bullring.
Mussol restaurant is located on the Skywalk Terrace of Las Arenes. For more information, go to www.angrup.com
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/ For information on Barcelona and the rest of magical Catalonia, go to www.catalunya.com