Smartly dressed and eager to please, the new Mr Porter restaurant carries its own bags into the Sir Victor Hotel, Barcelona.
Review: Mr Porter restaurant, Sir Victor Hotel, Eixample, Barcelona
Mr Porter has big boots to fill. The ground-floor dining room here was until recently home to Roca Moo, the excellent Barcelona satellite of the stellar Roca brothers‘ culinary empire. But that was then, when this upmarket 5* was the Hotel Omm, and this is now; it has become the Sir Victor, run by Amsterdam-based boutique group Sir Hotels.
The space has been comprehensively redesigned but it isn’t strikingly different in atmosphere. It’s still slick, sceney and sophisticated, a could-be-anywhere luxury lounge for international travellers. Mr Porter is as masculine and dashing as you’d expect from its name, with plush, semicircular black banquettes underneath dramatic circular lights, which despite their imposing size cast cast only candle-like levels of illumination.
The form-over-function, designer-over-diner impression was confirmed when I sat down at my large table in a wall snug and realised there was no way to eat and be comfortable at the same time. I could either recline in the cushioned leather — more than an arm’s length from my food and an antisocial distance from my companion — or perch bolt upright and unsupported on the edge of the banquette, where the too-high table offered opportunities for elbows-up exercise, like lateral raises with cutlery instead of dumbbells. Let us be clear: I am not a tall man. But I am not freakishly short, nor smaller than most women, and this table was too high.
So was the music. Despite most clients here being well over 40, Mr Porter has chosen to employ a DJ to drop banging house tunes in the evenings. This achieves ever-increasing levels of volume that will delight anyone who loathes conversation in general, or the company of the person they are with in particular. I am, I accept, not cool enough to appreciate this sonic backdrop, even in a prime place directly below a loudspeaker. But as the evening went on, and I cupped my ear again and again, asking waiters to repeat what they were saying, bellowing at my companion from my distant seating position across the vast expanse of the table, I wondered if perhaps the menu could be repurposed as a communications aid.
If this is not your idea of a good time, ask for seats at the bar alongside the large open kitchen, or in the centre of the room away from the walls. It clearly doesn’t put people off; the restaurant was completely full on a Thursday night.
Fortunately, the food mostly made up for the aural annoyance. A warm and welcoming focaccia (€4.50) — served with a spicy yogurt, tahini and chilli dip — was as supple as flatbread and redolent of the wood-fired oven that produces much of Mr Porter’s menu.
Beef carpaccio (€17) was butter-soft and perfectly seasoned.
And the spicy yellowtail sashimi was wonderful: capable of throwing a kick without losing its balance, revealing interesting layers of flavour with each bite.
Mr Porter’s roast leek is (whisper it) better than Catalan calçots. Peeling back the blackened and charred outer layer reveals a soft but not overcooked heart of concentrated leekiness, elevated with a hint of acidity.
On the advice of the friendly and attentive staff, we chose to share the house speciality chateaubriand with foie gras (€44). I regretted the choice. The chateaubriand was of evident quality and perfectly cooked, but drowned in a lake of red wine jus that detracted from the flavour of the meat. I cast envious glances at the spectacular steaks arriving unadorned at other tables. Our tenderstem broccoli side (€11) was, however, superb.
Our waiter advised us (using a combination of mime and shouting) that Chocolate Explosion, our first dessert, was worth filming. Again, style trumped substance as a white-gloved waitress presented a huge near-sphere of chocolate; she added liquid nitrogen to create billowing smoke then the whole thing was dramatically crashed into the table to reveal the colourful shrapnel of meringues and other too-sweet treats in gooey passion-fruit mousse. It’s a dish created for social media, not for eating. When the smoke clears and the applause stops, all that’s left is an oversized pile of under-flavoured chocolate and dull sugary rubble.
Less visually striking, but much more delicious, was the Thai Coconut dessert. In fact, it’s one the best things I’ve eaten this year. Smooth coconut-lime sorbet, lime, Tom Yam caviar and fresh mango, bursting with freshness and flavour. My advice is to watch another table order the chocolate bomb, film it from a distance, and eat this instead.
Choose your seat, and your dishes, with care and you’ll eat extremely well at Mr Porter. Prices are high (€70-80 per person not including drinks) but so is the quality. If you want a fine meal but you don’t like — or feel in the mood for — fine dining, it’s a solid option. Service and decor are top-level even if some of the seating literally lets you down. Ironically for a self-described “steak house” the vegetable dishes steal the show at Mr Porter. The food lacks any sense whatsoever of location; this is hotel dining with not even a passing interest in local cuisine but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mr Porter offers international, cosmopolitan, something-for-everyone dining that’s easy to enjoy.