Stroll through Barcelona’s Eixample district and you’d never know the country was in the depths of recession. Unlike the well-trodden rabbit-warren streets of the Barri Gòtic and the chic but equally labyrinthine Born, Eixample is a neighborhood of wide, leafy avenues, smart restaurants, designers’ flagship stores and dazzling architecture. It’s also home to a burgeoning trend for lifestyle supermarkets, where residents run out to pick up a little something for dinner and combine it with a long lunch with friends.
Barcelona has always been known for its fresh produce markets. There are 40 of them in total, nearly one for every barrio. But not everyone has the time to use them. If they do, chances are it’s during a lunch hour when many market stalls — with the exception of those in the Boqueria, which is invariably crowded with tourists — are closed. Enter the new ’supermarket’, a meticulously designed food hall where you can socialise, shop and eat, all under the same roof. Cornelia and Co was one of the first to appear on the scene and sums up the concept neatly, calling itself the ’all day picnic store’. Different stalls sell hand-cut deli meats, viennoiserie, fresh pasta and cultish snacks like Bonilla a la Vista’s ’paint-cans’ of crisps. Service is thorough: simply hand over a shopping list and your order will be packed, bagged and waiting for you by the time you finish a hunk of burrata drizzled with truffle oil, or a simple plate of grilled local fish. Unsurprisingly it’s a hit with ladies who lunch and with local bachelors looking for something more interesting to put in the fridge than last night’s leftover pizza.
A block away, Mary’s Market is fronted by a bustling coffee shop that is fast gaining a reputation for serving the best cup of java in town, as well as the fixings for lunch on the run: think freshly made salads, generously stuffed sandwiches and homemade muffins. Behind it, a large deli-style shop framed by matte black ironwork and large windows boasts more than a thousand international brands, including over a hundred and fifty wines and a hundred different cheeses, alongside gourmet Catalan charcuterie. Then there’s the deli-style La Cuina d’en Garriga, with a small bistro out back serving perfectly executed crowd-pleasers like steak tartare, braised lentils topped with grilled foie gras, and comforting egg en cocotte. The warm, bright dining room, complete with a cream enamelled Aga range, cossets and comforts as if you were eating in someone’s home kitchen. On the way out you can stock up on excellent bread, fancy chocolates and boutique Spanish wines as well as a selection of top-quality organic vegetables, including several local tomato varietals.
A haul from any of these places far outshines most room service menus, and given the Eixample’s other riches it’s a pleasingly off-piste base for visitors looking for an alternative taste of Barcelona. It’s no surprise then that this is where the city’s most sophisticated small hotels are also to be found. Hotel OMM was the first proper boutique hotel to open in Barcelona, and with its hip lobby bar and its avant-garde Restaurant MOO, it continues to shine. Rooms are spacious and elegant enough, but the key reason to be here is to feel part of the in crowd: it’s a true haven for locals and discerning visitors alike. A little more upmarket, the Mandarin Oriental opened in late 2010 and is testament to Patricia Urquiola’s design credentials — and the acclaimed Banker’s Bar serves some of the best cocktails in town. If you want to take the weight off your feet mid-afternoon, head for the hotel’s luxe Mimosa terrace. With its generously proportioned garden chairs and shady corners, it’s the city’s best-kept secret for escaping the crowds and reposing after all that shopping and eating.
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