Like a freshly poured glass of sparkling cava, Cataluña’s capital is bursting with energy. Spain is suffering a prolonged bout of low self-esteem – the word ‘crisis’ has been an active part of the nation’s vocabulary for over 5 years now. Yet upon arriving in Barcelona, the city’s effervescence spills over, intoxicating you within moments, confirming that you are in a very different place.
Style and the City
The city’s elegant avenues, where Barcelona’s iconic black and yellow taxi cabs deftly negotiate the traffic seeking out the fastest route, have a seductive, New York City flavour.
I decided to walk the last few blocks to the hotel, enjoying the autumn sunshine filtering through the fading leaves of the plane trees. The Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, probably one of the city’s finest hotels, was beckoning and I was getting in the mood for a few days of urban luxe and glamour with my stroll along the world-class Passeig de Gràcia. Comparisons to NYC’s Fifth Avenue or London’s Bond Street are more than fair; it combines big city clout with glamour, elegance and refinement.
As one of Barcelona’s most elegant avenues, this majestic boulevard is where one can find some of the capitals most striking architecture (two of Gaudi’s architectural and design masterpieces are here, Casa Milà/La Pedrera and Casa Batlló), its most luxurious designer boutiques (find Prada, Stella McCartney, Luis Vuitton, Valentino, Chanel and others) and Spain’s finest hotels.
Recently revamped, Passeig de Gràcia is looking better than ever, the walkways are now paved with stylish hexagonal stones and the occasional art Art Nouveau street lamps are fully restored.
Making an Entrance
Ahead on my right I catch sight of the Mandarin Oriental doormen, formally attired in smart coats and stylish caps, standing each side of the architectural hotel entrance. An inclined contemporary glass, carpet-covered catwalk seems to draw you effortless up through the modern atrium of this fully remodelled mid-20th century building towards the sophisticated reception.
Formerly a bank, this property has been transformed by the Mandarin Oriental Group into an exceptional hotel. Architects Carlos Ferrater and Joan Trias de Bes have retained the bold façade with art deco detailing, whilst creating thoroughly up-to-date, light filled spaces of generous proportions inside.
The magic one feels upon entering the hotel is thanks in part to Spanish interior designer, Patricia Urquiola. She was responsible for the interiors including the original 98 rooms, as well as the design of the new 5 guest rooms and 17 suites added this year.
The MO Welcome
Check in was swift, polished and friendly. My paperwork was prepared already, with my details and booking correctly detailed (it still amazes me how few hotels do this for guests with reservations). I was offered a cup of warming lemongrass tea, an elegant reminder of the hotel’s Asian roots. In fact Mandarin Oriental’s focus on service is evident throughout the property. I am taken to my suite, in the new wing, by Maite who tells me more about the facilities of the hotel.
Swinging open the tall guest room door, reveals my suite, located in the new wing. It’s a lofty space with a generously high ceiling and classic balcony with full height French windows opening out onto the Passeig de Gràcia. When open, I can enjoy the buzz of Barcelona as it passes my window, yet once closed, it is like a hermetic seal – I am cocooned in the tranquillity of my private suite.
Like the public spaces, the overall feeling in the room is of contemporary Catalan style, but there are lots of classic touches as well as clever Asian-inspired details, like the screen wall along one side and pieces of furniture and uses of colour that ingeniously integrates the MO identity. Urquiloa has collaborated with international furniture brands such as B&B Italia, so it should come as no surprise that she has chosen subtle yet robust pieces from leading names such as Flos, Moroso and B&B Italia to furnish the suite.
Devil is in the Details
The super king size bed is immaculate – not a crease or wrinkle in sight. There is a welcome amenity placed on the minibar, a handmade white chocolate in a red Asian box.
Opposite the bed is a sofa, and tables dressed with hardback books including a beautiful art reference tome on Gaudi. There is a writing desk equipped with stationery, reading light, iphone speaker etc. Lighting is fully adjustable and there are plenty of sockets.
The dressing room, with draw-mounted safe, is equipped with a generous selection of hangers and there are robes, kimonos, slippers, shoe trees etc.
The bathroom, with separate rainforest shower and separate W.C. is compact yet full of light. Smart amenities include the full range of expected 5 star toiletries from shaving kit through to mouth wash.
The bedroom suite can be closed off from the dressing room and bathroom by a full height smoked glass door that slides shut.
Turn down was delivered with discretion and the room was returned to a pristine state with towels and amenities refreshed.
Taste of Barcelona
Breakfast is in the ‘BistrEau’ restaurant, a light-filled salon with statement seating, comfy sofas and retro chic dining tables and chairs.
BistrEau is one of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona’s restaurants. During the warmer months, the hotel also opens its intimate ‘Mimosa Garden’ (offering shaded seating under delicate mimosa trees) as well as its ‘Terrat’ roof bar and plunge pool – both spaces offer alfresco dining, light bites and drinks.
Then there is ‘Moments’, the acclaimed Michelin starred eatery by Carme Ruscalleda. Ruscalleda, a self-taught chef who opened her first restaurant in 1988 on the Catalan coast, is the world’s ‘most award-winning female chef’. She has a total of seven Michelin stars!
Chef of the Sea
Angel Leon, the ‘Chef del Mar’ or Chef of the Sea is a sensation in Spain. Hailing from Cadiz in western Andalucia, where he has opened his ‘Aponiente’ restaurant, he is the latest talent to bring his cuisine to the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona.
He has recently taken direction of BistrEau, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to lunch and experience part of his latest menu.
Presented in a relaxed and approachable style, with recommendations for sherry pairings, the menu clearly reflects Leon’s passion for his homeland of Andalucia and the sea. He has created a revolution in cooking by developing a method to farm plankton! Yes, those microscopic organisms that drift and flow with the oceans’ currents. Angel Leon has incorporated this richness of the sea into his dishes and has started a whole new phenomenon in Spanish gastronomy.
At the MO Barcelona Ismael Alfonso is the hands-on talent in the kitchen at BistrEau, preparing a range of dishes using ingredients from the sea and land. His team at work are visible from the dining room, as the kitchen is open. There is also an extended Chef’s Table where a small group or guests sharing the long table can watch first-hand the drama of the kitchen unfold.
From the plankton infused butter, through to the truly tasty plankton risotto, sea urchin burrata, to blanched squid in ink, and an exceptional tuna steak, my meal was a celebration of the sea.
Eating well is an integral part of Barcelona’s culture, so don’t come here if you want to diet. Instead, tuck-in and enjoy some of the best bites in Europe. Make up for it with some exercise and at the Mandarin Oriental its much less of a chore, since the subterranean, 1000 square metre spa is a seductive place to relax and rejuvenate. There is also a pool and compact gym, so no real excuse not to enjoy a run or some training.
Cocktails you can Bank on
The city’s sparkling bar scene is reflected in the ‘Banker’s Bar’ at the Mandarin Oriental. The walls and ceiling cleverly incorporate safety deposit boxes from the original 1950s bank. The ambiance is urban and sexy. The staff are impeccably presented and knowledgeable. On my visit the barman had a vintage look, with visual references to the bar’s financial history.
The Mandarin Oriental Barcelona is a large hotel – yet the team maintain a very personal approach. They addressed me by name and wherever I was needing a helping hand to find somewhere in the hotel, they never simply pointed me in the right direction but instead accompanied me.
With such a glamorous and luxurious address in Barcelona I was reluctant to leave the hotel – but the city beckoned, it neighbourhood bars, its cultural institutions, the architecture, the pioneering restaurants and its Mediterranean shoreline all have to be enjoyed. That’s the Barcelona buzz…
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 93 151 88 88
(Hotel photos by award-winning photographer, George Apostolidis – photos marked andrewforbes.com are my iphone shots).
I was hosted by MO Barcelona but this has not influenced by piece. Please bear in mind that this site and my articles are intended as entertainment only and not a definitive resource for purchasing decisions. Before making any travel or purchasing decision I recommend that you seek as much information as possible from various sources including review sites, guide books and other blogs. If you act based on my writing you do so at your own risk. If you wish to add anything to this piece, simply comment using the WordPress or Facebook plug-in.