If you've been to Barcelona before, you'll know it's a city you can make the best of with pretty much any budget: if you want to stick to a low-cost hotel in the centre and get merry on sub-two-euro vermouth and sodas and tapas, you'll do just fine.
But that might feel like a missed opportunity once you set your eyes on Hotel Arts Barcelona, a monolithic, Tetris block of a skyscraper that stands tall over the rest of the Barceloneta district and out across the sea. The hotel is possibly the most luxurious in the city, with staggering penthouse suites that feel like entire homes. Needless to say, I check into the Hotel Arts with high expectations, and I have them met immediately, reclining on a deep sofa and drinking a cold glass of cava while waiting for my room.
I stay in a presidential suite on my visit: set across two floors at the top of the building, it opens out to a spacious lounge, with a fully equipped kitchen tucked away on one side, as well as a bathroom and a huge dining table. Up a flight of stairs is an entire floor dedicated to the bedroom, a king-size bed that looks out across a panoramic window with an impossibly magnificent view over the marina and out to sea, like a cross between a cinema screen and a moving painting, which drenches the room in cool blue light. I find out that the suites' interior design takes a lead from that of yachts – fitting for a location with this level of opulence, and one that looks out onto the best boats in Barcelona.
The bathroom is a beguiling design – perfectly mirrored and lavishly decked out in sumptuous marble, it contains two identical basins, centred around an enormous bath fit for an emperor, and a giant cylindrical shower. Leaving the curtains open at night is a must: waking up to that strip of clear blue sea is a sight to behold as the day breaks.
If the superyacht interiors, panoramic views and regal bathrooms didn't give away quite the level of opulence you can expect at this suite and the ones like it at Hotel Arts, the guestbook on our way out brought home the point: on the second-to-last page, a cartoon of a monkey was scribbled in black pen by one of the suites' most recent visitors. A short caption underneath read, simply: "Thanks – George and Amal."
I love the aforementioned combination of affordable wine, spirits and snacking on time-honoured dishes that take a matter of moments to prepare, but I'm also someone who loves satiating curiosity with food, so after a day or two of casual dining in unassuming tapas bars, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant is most welcome.
Catalonia's fine-dining scene is challenged only by the Basque Country in Spain: after all, this is the region that gave birth to Ferran Adria and elBulli, regularly cited as the best restaurant in the world when it was open. One of the Spanish region's most celebrated exponents is chef Paco Pérez, a luminary of Spanish gastronomy, with five Michelin stars to his name across three restaurants: Miramar in his native Llanca, 5-Cinco in Berlin, and Enoteca. The latter is the flagship restaurant at Hotel Arts, alongside the more casual Arola and Marina, breakfast bar Café Veranda, champagne bar Franks and tapas bar Bites.
Pan-fried seabass with cockle and whelk is plated up like it had been imagined by Picasso or Gaudí
For a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in a hotel that spares no expense whatsoever, Enoteca is surprisingly approachable in feel, with an airy dining room and patio, some of which looks out across the marina, and a jamón slicer that takes centre stage. Perez's signature is a blend of certain aspects of Catalonian culture: invention in food – specifically seafood – with a high-art feel to the aesthetics, using specialist seafood to push the boundaries of flavour: think nigiri of squid and urchin; a 'carbonara' that substitutes linguine for finely sliced sea cucumber that imparts a mushroom-like umami taste to the dish; or pan-fried seabass with cockle and whelk, plated up like it had been imagined by Picasso or Gaudí. There's also a beautiful tuna tartare, muscular flesh as well as fatty belly, with 'tastes of umami', which consists of a consommé, tiny cubes of gelatinised umami essences, caviar and tiny clippings of samphire – each of which lends the dish spiky punches of saline character.
Elsewhere on the ten-course-plus tasting menu there's bread made with heritage varieties of rye, wheat and spelt grains, and served with Perez's own olive oil. A pea dish is a celebration of the vegetable: pea consommé, nitrogen-frozen pea 'hollandaise' and fresh peas, served alongside a sauvignon blanc blend from Catalonia (which is where most of the wine here is sourced from) that's bursting with fresh nectarine flavour.
It's not all just seafood: Perez still excels when he tasks himself with more rustic dishes, like a signature 'creamy rice' that appears on all of his menus in different guises. In this one, it comes as a risotto-style stew that's creamy, hearty and comforting, especially by fine dining standards. And there's an almost British-feeling dish that marks the end of the savoury courses: squab (baby pigeon) served with 'meatballs' – one made with pancetta, the other with mushroom – plus a tiny brioche filled with parfait, two Adrià-style spherified olives and a pan reduction that's so dark and savoury it's almost Marmite-ish.
It's a menu that more than lives up to the hotel's grand design, but it's one that would hold its own in any of the world's great culinary cities. And in a city that takes such delight in simpler-than-simple food, it's a dazzling and effective counterpoint.
Room rates start from €295. Carrer de la Marina, 19-21, 08005 Barcelona; hotelartsbarcelona.com