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As I sit in the candle-lit dining room of The Witty restaurant (situated within the new Wittmore Hotel in the Barri Gòtic), surrounded by well-worn oriental rugs, dark wooden bookshelves, plush arm chairs and an open fireplace, I am reminded of how rarely I experience classic and elegant hotel dining in Barcelona. When compared to other boutique, five-star hotels in the city, the Wittmore is decidedly less design-focused and more retro than the competition, though there is just enough vintage cool here (from the intricate botanical wallpaper to the odd, ceramic, dog-shaped salt and pepper shakers on each table), to make this inviting space feel as if it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson film.
The central dining area of The Witty is also the core atrium of the hotel, shooting up some 25 metres and flanked on one wall by a lush vertical garden that stretches from the dining room floor to the hotel’s roof terrace. The food and service at The Witty are superb, and although they have no Michelin stars, this is the kind of space I imagine when I think of chef Marco Pierre White and the dawn of modern fine dining in the grand hotels of France and England during the Eighties. The Witty’s veteran chef, Albert Ventura (formerly of Coure restaurant), is supported behind the bar by famed Barcelona mixologist Patxi Paniagua, whose appealing cocktail menu tempted me to push back dinner an hour or two just to work my way through each boozy preparation (Oyster Martini, anyone?). The a la carte offering is the same for both lunch and dinner, and many of the dishes conjured delicious flashbacks to my studies in classic French cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America, labouring over textbook dishes like boeuf Bourguignon, sole à la meunière, glazed endives and rillettes of mackerel.
A stiff drink in the form of an oak-aged Negroni opened my palate for the barrage of divine flavours to come, and as soon as I bit into the warm slice of dark rye bread, slathered in rich beurre d’Échiré (butter from Échiré in west-central France) that accompanied my briny and plump oyster from Brittany, I knew this meal would be pure pleasure. The wine list is a fairly even split between French and Spanish labels, and our white-jacketed waiter recommended a bold and powerful bottle of Pintia 2011 (D.O. Toro). Bursting with aromas of stewed berries, plums, and cocoa, it was delightful.
The oysters were followed by mackerel rillettes, bright with acidity from the escabeche marinade and just a touch sweet from a studding of thin rounds of carrot. Served with several disks of room temperature herb butter and a little heap of pan-fried strips of bread, the combination of textures and the subtleness of the fish made me feel like I could have easily consumed the entire pot on my own.
In between courses, I smiled to myself every time the waiters meticulously cleared the entire table to make way for fresh plates and flatware. I love these little touches of professional service. They even de-crumbed the table with a special, metal crumb catcher, bringing me back to my days as a waiter, scraping tablecloths clean with controlled urgency just before the next plate arrived.
The final courses consisted of beef Wellington—a supple beef tenderloin wrapped in pastry, roasted medium rare, and bathed in a dark and rich beef jus—and the coquelet asada, a baby chicken (often called poussin), slow-oasted until practically falling of the bone and coated in a simple reduction of the roast drippings and butter that formed a decadent and deeply savoury glaze. It was out of this world. These main courses were accompanied by a purée of potato, which was a bit thick and pasty for my taste (the only fault of the entire evening), and a well-executed dish of glazed endives, slowly braised in chicken stock and orange juice, and mounted with butter and bruléed in the broiler to order. The dessert was cheesecake, a surprisingly light mousse sandwiched between graham cracker crust, topped with fresh berries and a sprinkling of dehydrated raspberries, crushed into dust. As a final goodbye, a tray of petit fours arrived; a pair of passionfruit macarons and some cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles.
Come winter, I can imagine The Witty being an ideal spot for a warming evening meal and cocktail. With the fireplace roaring in the lounge, rich stews bubbling in the kitchen and plush chairs inviting you to linger over your meal, the stage is set to savour each sip of wine and contemplate every delectable bite.