Very few luxury hotels are so iconic that a mere outline of their exterior identifies them, immediately. Probably Dubai’s Burj Al Arab sail-like shape, with its protruding helicopter pad, comes first to mind, followed by the Marques de Riscal, Frank Gehry‘s hobbit-meets-knitting-wool shape in Alava, Rioja. Hotel Arts Barcelona, also in Spain (see picture above) is another instantly-recognisable outline. Skidmore Owings and Merrill‘s 1994 sculpture soars 43 floors high. Down at level one, English style, is the outdoor pool. Look across this at a huge fish-shaped sculpture – coincidentally also by Gehry (there is a miniature of this fish, in a lucite cage, in the lobby of St Regis Singapore).
Ever since it opened, this 455-roomer has been a haven for the food for which Barcelona should be even more renowned. Its Arola restaurant cleverly has a bright gentian-blue sign down at ground level, which means many do not associate what is a sensational eating venue with the hotel. Spain’s current best bartender, Diego Cabrera, invented a special cocktail for this evening, a kind of surf-and-earth, a cleansing beetroot-infused drink with, held to the glass with a miniature clothes peg, a tiny bamboo cone holding barely-visible crispy crustacea. The dishes were similarly imaginative. Look at this vegetable medley, so beautiful it was tempting to carry on photographing rather than eating it. Arola is a tribute to Sergi Arola, whose food first intrigued me at W Paris.
Here, his onsite chef is an Argentinian, Mauro Ciccarelli, an absolute charmer who came to our table – the six-seat Chef’s Table, right next to the glass-walled kitchen – to explain the menu. This is sharing food. I loved the square shape, and taste, of a tuna tartare, presented next to swirling, Gehry-shaped crackers of fried calamari. I loved the desserts, including strawberry cheesecake which turned out to be a wood block holding two ‘strawberries’, formed of unflavoured cheesecake mixture coated in fine pink crumbs, with more crumbs, and fresh raspberries and blackberries, around. As hotel GM Raul Salcido declared, food in Barcelona really needs to be better recognised, worldwide.
In all honesty, however, although this luxury hotel also has an Enoteca, and indoor-outdoor Veranda café and a bright apple-green Bites snackery off its lobby, it must be very tempting for those canny enough to have a room with access to the 33rd floor lounge to eat all meals there – from breakfast on, right until closing, there is unlimited Laurent-Perrier, and stunning food to go with it (see the videos below). The really canny, by way, join celebrities and others wanting privacy in booking one of the hotel’s 28 upper-floor duplex suites (and you get club access). Suite 3402, for instance, gave a bit of exercise climbing the 16 wood stairs up from enormous living room and full kitchen to bedroom-snuggery-bathroom, and both levels allowed two walls of full-window views down to the marina below, and along the beach. Although there was not time to use the pool, I did manage a couple of work-outs in the 24/7 Technogym – and of course there were a few minutes for half a glass of bubbly before heading for the sanctum that is Arola.