Bubbly Brunch at the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona

When it comes to brunches, I am a fan. Even though I always eat too much and come out feeling guilty and nauseous. I don’t know what it is that I am so fond of really. The food is seldom the best quality, buffets are not my thing (as other people tend to touch the food) and I don’t really appreciate the ‘all you can eat’ concept. I just like brunches, that’s it. And the sparkling brunch at the Mandarin Oriental was so good that none of the above negative comments had any ground. If there is one brunch in Barcelona (or the world) you should try, it is this one.

Lets start with the wines. The brunch includes a glass of Balma cava. This was a new acquaintance for me and a pleasant one. The cava was quite young and fresh with notes of stone fruit (like peach) and citrus. The bubbles were not aggressive and the mouth-feel had some creaminess. I would say it was nothing exceptional, but a nice aperitif. The only negative point was that the waiter clearly poured very unevenly for the whole group (we were 11) and I ended up with a significantly smaller glass than my friends. I switched glasses with M. For an extra cost, one could also choose to have champagne. The house champagne was Billecart Salmon, which is not that exciting that I would have felt like paying for it.

Light interior
Light interior
Bread and yogurt buffet
Bread and yogurt buffet
The house cava
The house cava

For starters there were two different buffets: one with cold cuts, salads and Asian dishes, like sushi and gyozas, and one with bread, yogurt and muesli. I especially enjoyed the small truffle sausages. Mains could be ordered from the menu. We had a perfectly cooked sirloin steak, egg and foie grass, surf and turf rice and eggs Benedict with salmon. The food was well made and the steak was perhaps one of the best pieces of meat on the whole trip. Sadly the service did not do justice to the great food. Some dishes were forgotten and when we ordered some more steaks (the first one was so good that we had to have more), they came out well done (MURDER). We had to send a steak back two times until we got one medium rare again. Luckily we were not in a hurry, otherwise I would have been quite annoyed. The great thing about the main dishes is that you can order as many as you want.

Moving on to desserts, the selection was quite astounding. A whole buffet of cakes and pastries, all very beautiful and inviting. We ended up tasting quite many, and of course feeling nauseous afterwards. Some of the cakes were not that exciting but others were excellent. Traditional in style I would say, with a lot of ingredients like chocolate, strawberries and vanilla, apple pie and cheesecake. So perhaps there could be some more innovation to make it even better. I was also missing some small nibbles like pralines or nougat, something small with coffee.

Fried eggs with foie grass
Fried eggs with foie grass
Tea selection
Tea selection
Creamy yogurt
Creamy yogurt
Beautiful cakes at the table.
Beautiful cakes at the table.

The brunch also included all the tea and coffee one could drink. The selection of teas was better than your average cafe, however the quality was quite mediocre. I will not even go into the coffee, as it was Italian dark roast. But this is what you can expect at a hotel.

All in all I think the brunch was great. One of the best I have ever had from a food point of view. The Mandarin Oriental is really beautiful and you feel very luxurious but relaxed. The service was ,however, poor. Friendly, but the staff made way too many mistakes for what one expects at a five star hotel. It was clearly the B (or C) team serving that day. We had to send quite many dishes back as they came out wrong, some dishes we ordered never came at all and, well, I already mentioned the pouring of the cava. Te brunch including cava costs 45€, so I expect a much better performance from the personnel. Otherwise the staff were very nice and attentive.

Wineweek 22: A Day in Paris

This week, I am writing to you on the road again. We are sitting on the train on our way to Reims to attend the 7th annual Terres & Vins the Champagne event. It is a cooperation between 24 small and medium sized champagne houses producing quality bubbly from solely their own grapes. Among the attending will be some of my favorites: Oliver Horiot, Laherte & Fills, Marie-Noelle Ledru and many more. This is the first time we are attending, and I must say there have not been many wine events this year that have excited me as much as this one. I will be writing more about it next week.

Now to the last 24h spent in Paris. We embarked on our trip already on Friday as we thought we might as well have a look around while we are here. It has been 5-7 years for both me and M since we were here, so much has changed (perhaps in our preferences and interests as well). So what do you go and see if you only have 24h? The Louvre, Notre Dame or the Eiffel tower? Well, we saw the Louvre while briskly walking past towards our real passion, wine shops, cafes and bars.
IMG_4068

Streets of Paris
Streets of Paris
Blessed with beautiful weather
Blessed with beautiful weather

Our expectations about Paris were mixed. We knew there would be great stuff, we were just not sure we would find it. With hours and hours of advance research on Google, we found a good number of recommendations. We were just not sure whether these English language sites would lead us to what we were looking for. You knever know if the French want to keep the gems of the city to themselves. Well, seems there were gems to share as we were very happy with what we found. And we didn’t even need to know French to find it. Here is a list of places we visited:

1. Vivant Cafe and Bar: Walking distance from our hotel in district 10, Vivant is a cozy bar serving mid-sized dishes and interesting wines. We had some great Austrian sparkling (8€ per glass), creamy foie gras with fresh apple, white asparagus and a spicy pasta. All dishes were great and prices did not hurt the wallet. A dinner for two with four glasses of wine set us back less than 90€ (we didn’t have any dessert though). Just prepare for a cozy atmosphere as the bar is small and people are seated close to each other.
2. Coinstot Vino: Located in a small passageway, Coinstot Vino serves tapas-like plates and pizzas. They have a good selection of wine by the glass, trend being natural production (this seemed to be the trend in the whole of Paris). We only stopped by for an aperitif glass of bubbly and were not disappointed by the staff recommendations. A glass of champagne (from Fleury, see below) was only 9€ (!!!). Next time, I will also try out the pizzas as we heard some good things about them along the way.
3. Ma Cave Fleury: A wonderful and quirky wine bar and shop owned by the producer, Madam Fleury. She produces great bio-dynamic bubbly (Champagne) and also some white and red wines. We tried out the Brut Nature (zero dosage) and Millessime 2006, both toasty with mineral flavors. I must say I preferred the zero dosage and we walked out with a few bottles to take home. Prices for wine by the glass and bottles are very reasonable (7-15€ byt the glass and starting from 27€ by the bottle).
4. La Derniere Goutte: this small wine shop carries a wonderful selection of Champagne, mainly from small producers. In the selection you can find names like Agrapart & Fills and Jaques Selosse being the most familiar of them all (you will not find Möet here). On Saturdays they have visiting wine producers introducing and sampling their wines, and we were lucky enough to meet a very interesting lady from South France. She produced fresh and light reds and whites with minerally notes (just the way we like it), so we ended up walking out with our bottles and her business card.
5. Frenchies Bar a Vins: This is a more casual sibling of the find dining Bistro Frenchie across the street. We were hesitating whether to go as we had read that the queues are long to this no-reservations wine bar, and it was no other than Saturday night. Luckily we decided to walk past at opening time (19:00) and saw that the queue was manageable. We got in at the first seating. Later we discovered that the Saturday opening was new, thus many (including Google maps) expected them to be closed. The wines were interesting (also following the trend of ‘Natural’) and the food was exquisite. We tried out some wonderful terrine with pickled vegetables, Ricotta tortellinis with pea sauce, Pappardelle with lamb and chicken with asparagus. The ambience reminded me of José or Bubbledogs in London: casual and relaxed with friendly staff.

Coinstot Vino
Coinstot Vino
La Derniere Goutte
La Derniere Goutte
Champagne Fleury Millissime 2006
Champagne Fleury Millissime 2006

There are several other great places worth mentioning: the beautiful wine shop of LeGrand Fillets et Fills, Le Verre Vole and numerous great coffee shops that we sampled along the way (M will have plenty of material for Coffee Mondays). One additional place worth mentioning, due to it being the biggest disappointment of all, was the Bar 8 at the Mandarin Oriental. We can admit it, it was a bit of a risk to go there, however we had read that it was one of The places to go for a glass of champagne. However, the selection was dead boring (Bollinger, Veuve Cliquot, Tattinger etc) and a glass of (basic, non-vintage) champagne closer to 30€. We had some tea insted. The ambiance also reminded me of an upscale 80’s disco, so we were not tempted to linger after our tea was finished. Not to be too negative, they did have spotless service though.
That was a quick recap of our day in Paris. All in all it was wonderful and I must admit that Paris has perhaps won me over. I am anticipating that the city will now be on our annual list of to-visits.