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Food Hotel: Enoteca at Hotel Arts, Barcelona

Hotel Arts
Marina 19–21, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08005
+34 93 2211000
Cuisine: Spanish
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Steve Tallantrye: One of a pair of towers built for Barcelona's 1992 Olympics, the 5-star Arts rises beside the Mediterranean for 44 stories of glass and steel into the cloudless blue sky, offering peerless views to its privileged guests.
 
Paco Perez has mastered the art of keeping the plates spinning. Responsible for seven restaurants, with five Michelin stars between them, he commutes between Berlin, Barcelona and his home town of Llançà in the north of Catalonia.
 
Two of those stars belong to Enoteca, the flagship restaurant of the Hotel Arts. One of a pair of towers built for Barcelona's 1992 Olympics, the 5-star Arts rises beside the Mediterranean for 44 stories of glass and steel into the cloudless blue sky, offering peerless views to its privileged guests.
 
Perez doesn't spend every day at Enoteca but his presence is always strongly felt. The staff speak enthusiastically about his inspirational qualities; of how he can tweak and add elements to their dishes lifting them from the superb to the sublime. He shares the same energy and drive as Ferran Adrià of El Bulli who trained Perez to combine his honest love for simple flavours with spectacular top-level technique.
 
Enoteca is a beautiful place to eat. Its white-on-white interior, all clean straight lines and natural light, is elegant without being pretentious. Studiously placed wine bottles line the far wall, as befits its name (enoteca means 'wine repository' in Italian).
 
The sky behind the palm trees outside was fading to indigo as Jonatan Moran, the sommelier, poured me a glass of 2005 Recaredo Brut de Brut Gran Reserva Cava. Before the meal started I was greeted by head chef Javier Mendez and Sous-chef Marcos Gonzales. The animated pair are in charge of realizing Perez's vision and clearly enjoy their jobs.
 
The meal that followed was a ride through some of the best dining that Catalonia has to offer. Amuse-bouches (pine-nut snacks, foie gras dunkin, a shot-glass Waldorf salad and '¡Viva México!') drew smiles with the foie-and raspberry dunkin donut and nods of appreciation with Viva México's three mini-bites of gentle chipotle and deeply complex mole taco.
 
Jonatan presented an Emilio Rojo 2012 Ribeiro, a five-grape white of which only 20 bottles exist in Spain – all of them in the Hotel Arts. It heralded the arrival of my waiter, Alex Casanovas, bearing a translucent lobster ravioli which captured the essence of the sea.
 
Technique took a supporting role to great ingredients in 'tuna with hues of the orient'. Tuna sashimi and dice were delicately draped with edible seaweed and sauces, complementing but never overwhelming the fish.
Even prettier was the sea cucumber with 'Thai memories' and baby shrimp. Sea cucumbers are a favourite Catalan shellfish that look almost like fusilli pasta and taste like lobster. I never imagined that I'd ever salivate over a combination of coconut and crispy shrimp but this was an improbable triumph.
 
'The vegetable patch and foie-gras' was delicious but the foie was unnecessary: these vegetables were good enough to stand proudly alone in a 2-star menu. A white Jerusalem artichoke sauce snaked around mouth-watering endives, beetroot, tiny onions and baby carrots. It's the kind of dish that makes vegetarianism seem like a good idea (minus the foie, obviously).
 
The sky outside was ink-black by this stage, dotted with stars. Inside the restaurant the bubbles of blown-glass bulbs, clustered into chandeliers, threw a gentle glow over my rice a banda. This traditional seafood dish smelled incredible. Saline zings from the mussels and clams shot through the dark, deep-sea flavours of the rice and the juice of the shrimp's head.
John Dory, a Mediterranean white fish, was matched with calamari risotto, herbs sabayon and lemon cream in the next dish. Simple and effective, this was one of the highlights of the tasting menu.
 
I admit to being a little unsure about 'Wagyu 10': rare beef with 10 contrasting flavours. Was it too ambitious? The first few bites left me unconvinced but the dish came together as I ate. I admired it more than I loved it, but it remains a showcase of well-executed high concept.
 
Dessert was 'Black Forest'. Not the gateaux, but a deconstructed pile of chocolate, cherries, kirsch and cream. Not the most attractive dish I've ever been served, but it tasted good enough to make my eyes roll and draw a quiet moan of happiness.
 
Then it was time for the final dish: 'By Tarantino'. A perfect, virgin-white shell of creamy confectionery that bled red strawberry when cracked with the spoon; a visual joke, and a good one, with a simple flavour combination designed not to spoil the punch line.
 
It was a light-hearted finish to a seriously good gastronomic experience.
 
 
 
 
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11 September 2014
By: Steve Tallantyre
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