High-concept cooking in the Hotel SOFIA Barcelona that’s designed to be sniffed at.
Review: SOFIA Be So restaurant | Hotel SOFIA Barcelona
The erstwhile Hotel Princesa Sofía, like its real-life namesake, has seen its circumstances change over the decades. Once an InterContinental Princesa, then merely a Gran Princesa, it has recently dropped its accent and even its royal rank to become merely SOFIA. A princess no more, with upper-case shouting replacing upper-class entitlement — perhaps fitting for today’s Barcelona.
The hotel itself, however, is more regal than ever. A comprehensive corporate makeover by the Hyatt group in 2018 made the 5* GL SOFIA glamorous again, and the the elegant hospitality of its gilded lobby and circular bar suggest that noblesse oblige is not forgotten. A major element of the modern SOFIA is SOFIA Be So, its star restaurant led by head chef Carles Tejedor and sommelier/’flavour expert’ François Chartier.
Tejedor, a well-known fixture on the Barcelona fine-dining scene with a great deal of international experience, aims to create a classic restaurant suitable for a grand luxury hotel, channeling the spirit of the Savoy where he once worked. The twist (there always, it seems, has to be a twist) is the equal billing of the Canadian Chartier who is there not just to pull corks but to be a ‘creator of aromatic harmonies’.
It works like this: choose from one of two tasting menus (the €80 Five Senses or €120 Seven Senses) or even à la carte, and you will be presented with a ‘box of aromas’ — a rack of stoppered bottles containing the key scents of each dish. Created in partnership with renowned local perfumier Ramón Monegal, these are designed to bridge to and enhance the relevant wine suggestion, all based on the science of smell. Wine pairings with the menus are €45 and €65 respectively and if you don’t want alcohol there are appropriate infusions available too.
So far, so far out. It’s high-concept stuff that they take seriously. Chartier has literally written books on the subject, and Tejedor has lectured at Harvard about science and cooking. If you are so inclined, the staff will take you on a deep dive of scent and flavour theory, indulging even hardcore gastro-geeks to the full.
Fortunately, they don’t take it so seriously that it feels like a science class. If you just want to eat and drink well, and skip the laboratory work, SOFIA Be So is happy to oblige.
Regular readers of this blog (*waves to all three of you*) will be aware that updates have been infrequent this year. While I have not been writing, I have been eating and I visited Sofia Be So in May. As a result of the delay ( and lack of notes) my memories are somewhat faded but I retain a clear impression of a superb meal. The rice was especially glorious, as was the Wagyu beef.
Sophisticated fine dining this may be, but SOFIA Be So’s food doesn’t lack robustness. Dishes are bold, balanced and unpretentious. Perhaps because they’ve got the gimmickry out of their system with the sniff-pot shenanigans, Tejedor and chef Ivan Cruz are confident to keep it refined but relatively simple, emphasising quality over quirkiness. The aroma-pairing concept will divide opinion: some people in my group loved it, others found it a distraction. It undoubtedly adds something different but even if you find the idea off-putting, don’t turn your nose up at it. SOFIA Be So is nothing to be sniffed at.