Girlahead is still in the marvellous Priorat area of Catalonia, 90 minutes’ drive south-west of Barcelona. Much as she would have adored spending the day merely lazing at MAS D’EN BRUNO, the new Relais retreat that will set the luxury travel world ablaze when it is oficially open April 2024, it was time to see something of the area.
First, a quasi-troglodyte lunch place. See above. A century-old stone hut atop caves at the top of Siurana, a car-free village with winding streets and seemingly no people out in the midday sun. The ‘Refugi’, as it is called, was built, if that’s the right word, by a Reus-based businessman, Ciriac Bonnet, who sadly died just before it opened in 1934. Bonnet hired as architect Domènec Sugrañes, also from Reus. He was disciple of Antoni Gaudí, and succeeded him leading the work at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Here at Refugi, the main door is normal. Thereafter it’s a case of ducking and twisting to avoid cave roofing and stored supplies or a massive fridge (you pass the one-person kitchen enroute). The restaurant itself is long-tail tadpole shaped, with about 20 crammed on to benches at tables on a wood floor cantilevered 300m above the river below. Don’t look over….
This is Catalan food, ideally patatas bravas, spicy potatoes, cubes or paper-lined metal baskets of long-cut big fries covered in a highly spiced sauce. They love their starch, these Catalans – some lunch-takers then went on to thick slices of country bread, thick crusts. Spread with tomato flesh or purée, spiced naturally, and plop two slices together as a sandwich.
Oh the Catalan sandwiches.From typical to taste sublimity. That night, back at Mas d’en Bruno, chef Josep Averalt – who surely will get his first star when Mr M next calls – presented a tray holding fist-sized boletus. He suggested he sauté them, with slivers of pork belly. Divine. As is his wont, he had already sent out tapas-style one-biters, wafer-thin fried ‘sandwiches’ of local bacon and truffles. Actually every single dish he produced, from a caprese to slow-cooked suckling goat shoulder with cauliflower and black sesame cream and roast garlic chimichurri, was memorably magnificent. Perhaps, just perhaps, it will be feasible to try his entire Vinum five-course tasting menu.
And then to room #11, back through the light and airy bar, to the hotel’s main lobby, taller than it is wide. Look up to a gallery around three sides. On the other facet there are a couple of paintings, one David Hockney, the other a Frank Stella. There’s also a 30cm-diameter clock with an exterior, circumferential ‘halo’ holding spines of dozens of real books. This ‘halo’ turns continuously so the pages of the book flap, fortunately almost noiselessly, as they turn. The clock, one of a limited edition of two, is by former banker and individualistic artist Ben Jakober – at 93, he’s still producing and the Jakober Foundation, the Mallorca home he shares with his octogenarian wife, Yannick Vu, was effusively written up in the Financial Times, 2nd September 2023.
Up 23 stairs, or take the elevator, to the hotel lobby’s gallery. This is a genuinely welcoming space, taupe and leather, well-displayed books. Colombia: Patrimonio Cultural y Natural; Salvat del Vino and dozens in English, French, German. Finally, to room #11, where the standing television is thoughtfully positioned not to obscure even a sliver of tomorrow’s breathtaking sunrise, awakening behind distant mountains….