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Divine Dining at Diana in Barcelona's Ritz Hotel

The night was rainy and cold. It was nearly 10 p.m., a normal dining hour for Spaniards but not these Americans. Hungry and chilled, we had braved the elements to take the short walk from our hotel to the Ritz, Barcelona’s first five-star grand luxe hotel.

Located on the tree-lined Gran Via in the heart of Barcelona, close by the popular Rambla and the historic Gothic Quarter, the Ritz has long been central to the history and culture of this beautiful Catalan capital, a favorite of such celebs as Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, the Duke of Windsor, Arthur Rubenstein, Cary Grant, and the famed Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat whose drawings adorn the walls of a small lounge off the hotel lobby.

Seeking shelter from the elements, we squinted and looked up through the raindrops to catch a glimpse of the hotel’s stunning neoclassical façade. Designed by Cesar Ritz, whose other Belle Epoque hotels include those Madrid, Paris, Rome, and London, it was constructed in 1919 and totally renovated in 2000.

Our hostess for the evening, the lively and lovely Marina Ferrer from the hotel’s sales and marketing wing, was waiting for us in the lobby. After relieving us of umbrellas and raincoats, she popped the question: “Would you prefer to tour the hotel now or have dinner first?”

“Dinner please,” one us exclaimed.

Since the start of the last century, a fountain named for the Greek goddess of the hunt has stood opposite the Ritz on the Gran Via.  The Ritz’s restaurant appropriates the name and announces it with a classically inspired statue of Diana beside a Baroque arched entrance.

Divine Dining at Diana in Barcelona's Ritz Hotel Marina led us past the statue into a high-ceilinged dining room which grandly evokes the style and substance of a Gilded Age palace. There was gilding galore, walls covered in blue moiré, glittering sconces, glowing candelabras, a magnificent chandelier, floor-length mirrors on either end of the room creating the illusion of infinite space, and French doors looking out onto the Via Catalonia.
Divine Dining at Diana in Barcelona's Ritz Hotel A huge custom-made rug of hand-knotted wool replicated the colors and designs of the Ritz when it was first opened.

We took this all this in, but for the moment, what attracted us most was the friendly and warming fire in the huge marble fireplace. Then we noticed the piano player and heard the endearing strains of the Rodgers and Hart standard “Manhattan.” “He’s playing it in honor of you,” said Marina.      

Feeling warmed and at home, we followed Marina to a spacious round table. “This is a new restaurant now; it has a new image,” she told us as we settled in. “In the past, it was not the custom of people in Barcelona to go to restaurants in hotels. They were primarily for the guests of the hotels. But now this is changing. Diana is becoming a destination restaurant, drawing people who live and work in the city as well as visitors.

“Before, Restaurant Diana was more typical, more market-cuisine oriented,” she continued. “Now there is a real effort to move up to a new level, to a new gastronomy that is French but with Catalan influences.”

One of the changes in place is a new and talented sommelier, Diego Sotelo. Diego comes from Tarragona, a major city in the southern part of Catalonia where there is great interest in wines and excellent vineyards in the surrounding countryside. “Our wines are primarily from Spain: Catalonia, but also Navarre, Galicia, and Rioja,” he told us. “We also have some French wines, cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and champagne, and a unique mineral water menu.” At Diego’s suggestion, we had an aromatic and fruity chardonnay from a vineyard near Tarragona: La Bages produced by Avadal in 2001 which was excellent.

Diana also has a new and French chef.  Romain Fornell, who was born in Toulouse, brings to Diana an impressive culinary background having worked at a number of Michelin-rated restaurants in France and with such stars of the haute cuisine firmament as Alain Ducasse.

With Fornell in place, Diana’s aspiration for a Michelin rating seems reasonable. The attentive, smoothly functioning staff was primed and ready. The table was tastefully set with fine china and silver. Candles were lit and glowing. And so we began. There were tapas-like delicacies: dried fruit with white cheese, the white of a poached egg on a crispy cracker, foie gras in a cheese-flavored flaky pastry.  All preludes of what lay ahead.

As this week was the last for white truffles, we took Marina’s excellent suggestion that we have this delicacy atop a dish of risotto. There followed a savory pumpkin soup.  The influence here was decidedly French -- we’d had a similar soup at Les Elysees in Paris’ Hotel Vernet a few months earlier – but with oysters and crunchy onion chips adding a Spanish note.      One of us had the beautifully presented wild sea bass which came with “ceps” mushroom, cannelloni, and Iberian ham. The other went for foie gras and lobster with “rossiñol” mushrooms, a dish that pays homage to the legendary Augusto Escoffier who -- together with Cesar Ritz -- opened the hotel’s kitchen.  Flavored with fresh thyme and rosemary, it was one memorable dish.

Divine Dining at Diana in Barcelona's Ritz Hotel

Next came a fragrant muscatel to accompany an assortment of cheeses from the strong cabales to the medium mahon from the Baeleric island Minorca, to manchega and to a mild and runny brie.

Escoffier was evoked once again in the inclusion of his Peach Melba among the tantalizing desserts. But, chocolate lovers to the core, we went for the small savarin chocolate cake topped off with seasonal fruits.

Dinner completed, we took the Ritz tour with Marina pointing out how modern renovations had left original design elements intact. Then it was time to leave. The rain had stopped, the sky had cleared. Thanking our hospitable hostess, we ventured out into a starry Barcelona night, far warmer and more contented than when we had arrived a few hours earlier. The pleasures of an extraordinary meal lingered. Dining at Diana had been, in a word, divine.

Restaurant Diana in the Hotel Ritz
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes
668 08010 Barcelona
Spain

Phone: (34) 93-318-5200
Fax: (34) 93-318-0148
E-mail: info@ritz-barcelona.com

photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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