In the past ten years Barcelona has arguably become one of the best food cities in the world. An epicurean paradise of field-fresh fruits and vegetables, sushi-worthy seafood, artisan sausages and farmhouse cheeses; not to mention olive oil like molten gold and boutique wines in the hundreds (Catalonia has ten wine regions, much of it organic, with an emerging trend for biodynamic and natural methods, as well as the odd experiment – smoked cava anyone?). Barcelona also has devoted gin-and-tonic bars, clandestine cocktail lounges, some of the world’s most innovative and daring chefs, tapas that looks like art, and – increasingly – food trucks, street food festivals and pop-up supper clubs. No wonder over 9 million visitors come here each year just to eat.
Never one to rest on its laurels, in its twenty-first century incarnation Barcelona insists nonetheless on shaking things up. ‘Posh’ in the traditional sense is on its way out, but globalism is most definitely in, and its arms are flung wide open. Culinary influence in the day-to-day is from all over the world, mixing Catalan flavours, traditions and techniques with those of Peru, Mexico, Japan and China. Rogue smokehouses produce divine pastrami on their rooftops; cafés roast their own rare coffee beans and ferment tea; chefs spend as much time in their gardens as they do in their kitchens.
Neighbourhoods have become virtual dining rooms, with nearly as many bars as people, and diners – as well as the chefs that cook for them – are embracing a more relaxed, eclectic and ultimately fun approach to eating out. Fitting it all in is the biggest challenge on any visitor’s list – an impossible task – but in this town at least, you can have the time of your life trying.
If there’s one place to stay whilst you attempt the challenge, it’s The Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. Set in former bank headquarters on the famously chic Passeig de Gràcia and across from Gaudí’s spectacular La Pedrera, it’s by far the most luxurious place to lay your head. With much of the original structure retained in the redesign, it’s the four geometric pillars that form the striking entrance that first catch your eye, intricately carved with scenes of men and women labouring in fields, factories and docks. Once inside, the interiors are equally impressive, and with famed designer Patricia Urquiola at the helm that should come as no surprise. The hotel has many jewels in its crown, the first of which: the rooftop bar and pool. The pool aside (which is gorgeous, of course, and provides a much welcome respite from the city heat), the panoramic vistas are the main attraction. Nine floors up, you can enjoy your champagne with views of the Tibidabo on one side and Casa Batlió to your other. On a clear day (of which there are many in Barcelona), you can even see the sea.
As the little-known (okay, okay, totally unknown) saying goes: come for the views, stay for the food. With four different restaurants to choose from, you certainly won’t go hungry. Our top pick? Chef Carme Ruscalleda’s focus on traditional Catalan flavours makes the two-Michelin-starred Moments hard to beat, featuring dishes including rare pigeon stuffed with Duroc pork & Sakura leaf, and an excellent tasting menu for those looking to go the whole hog. The less-formal but no-less-delicious, BistrEau, helmed by Angel Leon, serves seafood from dawn to dusk including an impressive breakfast shellfish station.
Before you go, don’t forget to seek out the hotel’s hidden courtyard - the Mimosa Garden - which, happily, does exactly what it says on the tin.