One of the most thriving of European cities, Barcelona is also a gourmand Mecca with probably every Catalan, Spanish and multi-ethnic dish available in its many restaurants. With such a wide selection, here are a few leading lunch venues to try.
Opened last November, this chic, ultra-modern Michelin star restaurant is brainchild of owner-chef Jordi Artal, a former leader in the California IT sector and a passionate foodie.
Entry is through a nondescript off-street sliding door to a vestibule where black-clad hosts and hostesses serve appetizers such as grilled arengada sardine with tomato sofrito and a sliver of pork shoulder tupina tartlet washed down with a glass of refreshing Pla de Bages vermouth. Polished wooden stands and sticklike ceiling and floor lights aim to create the ambience of La Torre del Español, a village where the owner’s ancestors originate.
Beyond is the restaurant proper, which at first glance reminded me of an elegant geisha house. With minimalist décor, it features 10 tables with crisp white linens, a few strategically-placed plants, a Catalan vault ceiling and acoustic panelling. Here we lunched on an artistically-designed tasting menu on a parade of eye-pleasing cutlery. Reflecting chef Jordi Artal’s emphasis on local produce, each course is accompanied by little information cards explaining exact source and content. These include herbs and vegetables including carrots, parsnips and celery from the Collserola region, oysters from the Ebro Delta and calamari and trout from local Mediterranean fishermen.
Add to this razor clams with grilled avocado and sea urchin garum as well as venison cooked in two different ways and a final sweet temptation of maple syrup, sea-salt, chilled cream egg-yoke, all whipped with caa, and you have a tasting menu that is a veritable feast for the senses.
The cellar provides abundant choice with more than 1,000 Spanish wines. A separate room seats up to 28 people for private functions. Artal uses terms such as ‘modern,’ ‘quiet luxury’ and ‘tranquil’ to describe Cinc Sentits. ‘Discreet, efficient service’ also applies.
High above the city with large curved windows granting panoramic views over Barcelona harbor, Maremagnum Shopping Center, Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral and the city’s Columbus column, this 24th floor restaurant is popular for its seafood menu.
Varnished wood flooring akin to that on a yacht and table settings made from sail-cloth from La Rochelle help highlight its nautical design. Rounding off the theme, friendly serving staff wear striped sailor tops and cutlery features piscatorial designs with knife handles shaped like fish.
Watching cruise ships docking quayside below and an array of white sail triangles bobbing in the bay make for an enjoyable afternoon. As does the quality of the food in this 3-year-old restaurant. Diversity is a hallmark of this restaurant in the sky – turbot from Guetaria; hake and red bream from Puerto de Cudillero in Asturias; seafood and crustaceans from Vigo and La Coruna in Galicia; red shrimp from Palamos; king prawns from the Ebro Delta; scorpionfish from Cap Roig; and sea-cucumber from Catalonia.
Try a taster of rock fish in an espresso cup, mussels bathed in paprika sauce, lending it a smoky taste, a stew of tuna cheek with white beans, or the softest cod you might ever savour mixed with curd, honey and shavings of black truffle. Following lunch or dinner, you can then retire to the bar one floor below for further relaxation.
Entering Mandarin Oriental on Passeig de Gràcia feels like being a model on a catwalk, strolling along a narrow, carpeted hallway to the reception desk, beyond which, one floor below, is Blanc, offering all-day dining.
The restaurant’s elegant décor reminded me of a lace-enclosed room. It was as if a giant hand had draped it in a huge flamenco shawl. With a menu by award-winning chef Carme Ruscalleda, whose restaurants have won seven Michelin stars, brunch here is a treat to be savoured slowly, with free-flowing cava and potent Bloody Marys sinful pleasures. Seating is varied, from armchairs and settees to high-backed chairs, from intimate tables for two to the large, friends-and-family variety.
Service is buffet-style though an interesting aspect is that waiters move from table to table periodically offering warm dishes ranging from tortillas to mini-burgers.
Having skipped breakfast, we roamed the three food counters voraciously, finally deciding on what we considered was somewhat healthy selection: passion fruit with plain yogurt; Caesar salad; langoustine and salmon; and sushi of tuna and salmon.
But then temptation rushed at us mercilessly after we spied homemade corn tortillas, beef with guacamole and fresh cilantro and a dim sum of seafood, meat and veg. We politely declined the waiter’s platter of extras. Not out of a sense of decorum or self-discipline, but merely to leave room for desserts, amuse bouche portions of lime pie, chocolate and mango mousse and cheesecake.
In this stylish ground-floor restaurant at The One Barcelona hotel we chose a snug corner table near the reception desk beside a window festooned with potted plants from where we people-watched along the Carer de Pau Claris.
‘Ginger Lover,’ a lemongrass and ginger infused whiskey, and ‘Bold and Beautiful,’ comprising tequila, port, Campari and rosemary, our choices from an impressive cocktail list, coaxed us into the mood for a lingering, relaxed afternoon.
Chef Miguel Munoz deserves strong praise for his extended menu. No more appropriate starter in Spain than Jamon Iberico DO Guijuelo Joselito. While by no means an expert on cured hams, I had no complaints about the aromatic flavour of the thin slices spread fan-like across my plate.
After that, selection became more challenging. Consider for example partridge pate with pistachio and pears from Lleida cooked with Priorat red wine; cannelloni stuffed with roast duck with truffle bechamel and foie gras; and a dry-aged chunk of organic Salers beef from the Pyrenees with cafe Paris butter.
For added delight, don’t miss the dramatic presentation of the tartare dish with eel. Not just tasty but an excellent photo op as it arrives under a rising plume of smoke. For such a lunch, an Augustus Cabernet Franc 2015 from Penedès provided the perfect complement.
Upon entering Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I, a gleaming metal and glass resort-style hotel flooded with natural light, one’s eyes are immediately captured by the stunning atrium, its sheer walls soaring Heavenward.
Here lunch is served in a cavernous open space on smooth marble-topped tables with slender torch-like lights hanging above and thick carpet underfoot.
A la carte and tasting menus are offered, the latter being divided into ‘Raising Anchor’ – ten courses and ‘At Full Sail’ – fourteen courses.
A speciality dish entitled ‘Fairmount Vermouth’ is a fun way to start. A gold-colored ball arrives at table and magically opens into several sections containing Spanish omelette, anchovies, mussels, shrimp, cheese, olives and cockles.
After that, it’s a gourmet glide through surf and turf. Tapas dishes include a delectable seaweed salad with ginger, sesame, roasted tofu and berries and Galician octopus with roasted potatoes, green pesto and paprika from Vera. Nor will you be disappointed if you indulge in the artichoke heart with black chanterelles, free range eggs, foie and vermouth juice; peas from Maresme with squid and crisp Iberico; or the entrecote from Girona with toasted shallots. Try the fleshy hake jaw cooked with charcoal, a Basque country delicacy known as ‘kokotxas.’ Live piano music entertains guests during the afternoons and a DJ keeps the place lively in the evening. With 25,000 square metres of landscaped gardens around it, a post-lunch walkabout is probably necessary, and convenient.