Mandarin Oriental's Small Gem in Barcelona

BARCELONA ( TheStreet) -- The Mandarin Oriental hotel chain is in expansion mode, which is good for luxury travelers. The idea of a Mandarin Oriental opening anywhere in the world is always a good thing.

In Paris, it will be on Rue Saint-Honore with a 138-room hotel near Le Bristol and Hotel Ritz. In Milan, three 18th century townhouses are being converted for a 104-room property on Via Monte di Pieta. And in the Turks and Caicos, a resort property is planned on 35 acres of beachfront for 197 posh hotel rooms and residences that can be occupied full time or on a fractional-share basis. This past year has brought the opening of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas atop City Center by MGM and the company's first of two Spanish properties, the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona on Passeig de Gràcia.

If you're in Barcelona on business, the location of the hotel couldn't be better. It's just across the street from a Gaudi landmark, walking distance to the city's main finance hubs and close enough to Las Ramblas or the Boqueria Market that you can look forward to tucking into its endless food stalls and counter restaurants between meetings. That said, the location lacks the charm of the Gothic District, or even La Barcelonetta, and the busy shopping street can feel like any city in Europe during rush-hour traffic. It was home to the gilded Circulo Eciestre member's club until the Spanish Civil War, then a federal bank before Spanish-born, Milan-based interior designer Patricia Urquiola created a tour de force that has been praised as one the best-designed new luxury hotels in recent memory.

Guests arrive through an atrium and towering foyer lined in multistory cutouts with intricate gold-webbed panels, staffed by two dapper young doormen in Mandarin-collared jackets and Asian caps. A long, narrow lounge doubles as the lobby, lined in low-flung loungers covered in sumptuous, creamy leather that wouldn't look out of place at Penelope Cruz's beach house. Beyond a simple screen is a counter-style reception -- smaller than you might expect, but so is the hotel at only 98 rooms.

Using recognizable design names for furnishings and finishing touches, Urquiola's choices of B&B Italia, DePadova, Flos and Moroso create a modern-day museum of design. Blanc, a cocoonlike casual dining room, is cast in geometric-patterned walls inspired by Oriental screens inside a rectangular room stuffed with Tiffany blue sofas, fluffy pillows and white wingback chairs with exquisite nail-head detailing. An all-day menu attracts a daytime business crowd for dim sum and tapas, while evening yields a chicer crowd for Asian-infused Mediterranean dishes. Outside, Mimosa Garden blossoms with a whimsical collection of washed rope chairs of rounded weblike texture. It boasts an all-day champagne menu during warm summer months.

The hotel's signature restaurant, Moments, is on the mezzanine level. A glass-enclosed dining room with wraparound terrace displays Barcelona food culture between a gold-leaf ceiling and floor of antique Spanish tiles and concrete. Chef Carme Ruscalleda, one of few chefs to hold five Michelin stars over their career, serves a Catalan menu of tuna cheek on parsnip sponge cake, Iberian pork with dried apricot and sea bass with cherry chutney.

Late nights are spent over drinks in the adjacent Banker's Bar, which aims to recreate the space's history as an esteemed gentlemen's club and bank. Under a ceiling made from the original steel safety deposit boxes, a cozy room with center bar is staffed by astute bartenders mixing up the hotel's signature Banker's Martini, alcohol-laced Japanese Tea and Honeydew and Mint Mash. Seating is in a dramatic arrangement of high-back chairs, but there isn't room for nearly enough guests. The space and crowd feel more like a good Admiral's Club at JFK than a chic bar in BCN, making the bar one of the few drawbacks of the hotel.

Rooms at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona are built for business, with comfortable, uplifting details. There are no floral curtains or tasseled bedspreads here: Entry-level deluxe rooms are laid in light oak floors with creamy beige rugs awash in natural daylight and cityscapes that benefit from sound-proofed windows. Beds with leather-upholstered headboards and integrated wall-mounted side tables marry western design with feng shui near open-flow bathrooms offering egglike bathtubs and counter-style vanities worthy of Dwell magazine. Larger rooms and suites come with furnished terraces and even grander bathrooms with city views; a top-floor presidential suite comes with an outdoor living room, private kitchen and full-time butler.

A rooftop lap pool is more for show than actual use, perhaps because the hotel's designers know Barcelona encourages trips to the beach over preening in the sun on a random rooftop. A mostly tourist scene occupies lounge furniture that's part of B&B Italia's outdoor collection -- a kind of "Cleopatra meets Charlotte's Web" people tend to either love or hate. The basement spa, accessed by private elevator, offers its own indoor swimming pool with eight treatment rooms, herbal steam baths and a fitness center.

Since W Barcelona has opened the same year, there seems to be a surplus of luxury rooms in the city. That means summertime deals available from 325 euros per night in entry-level rooms, or about $409, and 375 euros per night, or about $472, for coveted terrace rooms that include a 50 euro daily credit (about $63) toward meals and spa services.

RELATED STORIES:



Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.