Hotel Neri: Barcelona’s secret ingredient

Food & drink

Hotel Neri: Barcelona’s secret ingredient

The Catalan capital is just the place to recalibrate a jaded palate says chef Jackson Boxer – and this private palazzi is the perfect base for tasting tours

Jackson Boxer

BY Jackson Boxer14 April 2023

Winding my way through the labyrinthine passages of the Gothic Quarter, refusing to consult a map, and relying only on my utterly misplaced confidence in an infallible sense of direction I have no reason to believe I possess, I couldn’t help but marvel on what an utterly wonderful and impractical vision of urban living these narrow streets provide.

At a time when living in a walkable city is considered an essential component of a happy existence, how marvellous to maintain an environment in which two pedestrians would struggle to pass each other in opposite directions, let alone motorised traffic.

To then stumble upon the discreet entrance to the hotel Neri, in the shadow of the ramparts of the magnificent old gothic cathedral, was to be whisked off the narrow alleys into a spacious temple of comfort and calm.

The hotel is situated in a beautiful old palace (or two, to be precise) which has been sensitively converted to feel both marvellously grand, and also approachably welcoming.

The team are very friendly, once I finally figured out how to open the large front door. If they were amused by the clumsy and flustered spectacle I made in the attempt, they were much too gracious to show it.

We’d taken an apartment in an adjacent palace, across the street. The rooms are comfortable, furnished with an unfussy modernity, the heavy brick walls of the old building in full evidence, giving a solid, protective feel to the space.

I specifically wanted an apartment, because they thoughtfully include a small kitchen, and it’s my greatest pleasure when visiting another country, not only to eat the magnificent local food, but to play with it too.

The food at Neri is a great point of pride for the hotel, and we enjoyed everything we ate there, but appreciated most especially the little extra touches they made, like bringing up little wraps of freshly candied citrus peel they’d made to the room unbidden, or leaving exquisite fruit out for me to find on our return from our perambulations, perfectly ripe kiwis for instance, whose sweet acidity perfectly restored the equilibrium of my palate one afternoon after a particularly heroic lunch.

Perched over the Gothic Quarter, windows flung open, the sounds and scent of the city filling the apartment, light streaming in, I couldn’t feel further from London (where it had been raining bitterly for something like the tenth successive week).

Trotting downstairs, I slid out to join the throng, and wound my way back and forth through the alleyways to get my bearings. The hotel is perfectly situated for my two favourite travel pastimes: ambling around with the sole purpose of working up an appetite; then eating with wild abandon to sate those hungers.

Barcelona is an eminently walkable city at the best of times, but to be so well placed for both exploration – half an hour to hike up to the Miro institute, 20 minutes down to the beaches of Barceloneta – and eating, felt like I’d struck gold.

The classic tapas institutions of El Xampanyet and Cal Pep are a stone’s throw, perfect for that first meal with no reservation, and well worth the ritual of queuing up for perfect small plates of enormous charm and deliciousness, as are the excellent restaurants of Estimar and Direckte Boquoria.

The latter is located in the the Mercado de la Boqueria, whose halls I haunted to buy beautiful things to prepare for our breakfast each day, taken after a bracing dip in the rooftop saltwater pool, happily listening to the church bells in giddy conversation with each other.

Indeed, Barcelona remains one of my absolute favourite cities for eating in, and an excellent place to recalibrate a jaded palate. The produce is superb, buying in the markets is fun, and I fully respect a city where the shops don’t open until well past 10am.

I generally breakfast light, but do my best to squeeze in a couple of lunch stops, and a serious dinner. The standout meals of this trip were Gresca (C/ de Provença, 230, booking essential), a menu with profound quantities of both offal and charm, artfully serving beautifully composed plates of archetypal Catalan staples with an unmistakably modern sensibility, and lunch at La Cova Fumada (C/ del Baluard, 56 no booking), a tapas bar traditionally feeding the local fishermen their lunch after landing the morning’s catch, now with a much broader audience, and always ferociously busy, but serving immaculate plates of simple and spankingly fresh seafood. Both were a pleasant 20-minute walk from the hotel.

As I checked out of the Neri, thanking each of the wonderful staff in turn, I reflected ruefully that, while it’s a terrible pity the city I’m bound to call home by birth, work and family is so much colder, bigger, less amenable to strolling, I’d almost certainly be a hell of a lot fatter here, to the point of no longer being able to easily navigate the narrow and winding alleyways, and what a cruel and ironic fate that would be.

Find out more about Hotel Neri and explore our complete menu of Barcelona hotels

Jackson Boxer is the celebrated south London chef behind restaurants Brunswick House and Orasay, the co-owner of Below Stone Nest bar, and is soon to be helming the menu at the Experimental Group’s reimagining of Cowley Manor.