Soho House finally opened in Barcelona. In October.
It took me a while to get there because I had to find a member to take me (Soho House is a members only club: €1,500 for a local membership and €1,800 for an international one). To be fair, you can have Italian food at Cecconi’s on the ground floor without being a member. But if you want to go to the Soho House restaurant or the rooftop terrace (higher is always better – right?) with a view over Port Vell – then you need to be a member or be with a member.
A little background. Soho House was founded 20 years ago in a town house on Greek Street in Soho, London – hence “Soho House” by Nick Jones. With Richard Caring buying out 28 small investors for an 80% stake in 2008 (the latter being the owner of Caprice Holdings which includes The Ivy.) Then, in 2012, the billionaire American investor Ron Burkle bought a majority stake in the group for an undisclosed amount. (All this to say that Soho House is about to explode worldwide because the best way to make something lucrative is to make it big.)
20 years ago, London was full of clubs – for solicitors, for bankers – generally for men in suits with money. People who thought they could interchange showing off their ski vacations or newest acquisition for a personality.
By opening in Soho, Soho House chose a different target: creatives and film people. Suits were not welcomed. (In fact – in 2010 Soho House New York rescinded the membership of 500 people for being too corporate.)
Soho House Barcelona has got this chintzy this-was-my-grandmother’s, this is new, can’t-put-my-finger-on-it-but-I-love-it British style. Comfy and idiosyncratic all at once. A jumble of mismatched chairs and every corner has some small pleasure lurking in it. Beautiful coffee table books to peruse or a 2 meter tall candy dispenser to which you can help yourself.
The menu is mainly modern tapas – things you would expect to see on a En Compania de Lobos menu but with that unmistakable British twist: Baby squid with spicy avocado mayo (9); Shrimp and pumpkin tempura, jalapeño, spicy sauce (14); Clams, coconut, coriander, chilli (15). You’ve seen all these guys before but they are dressed differently at Soho House. The sea bass ceviche (12) I have features mango and is missing the Cuzco corn kernels it usually comes with.
Then there are the vegetables. If you want vegetables in Barcelona – you have to go to a specific restaurant that is focused on them, otherwise you’ve got tomato salad y y’esta. The Brits though – so often derided for their love of a roast with a side of potatoes – embraced and championed this category two decades ago. So there is a beetroot salad (golden and red, roasted and raw) with smoked ricotta and black sesame (5/8). A kale salad with chickpeas, green apple and toasted walnuts (6/10).
For the unimaginative orderer they have the “House Regulars”: Cheeseburger (14), Chicken (16) and Rib eye steak (24). Protein needs are met with 6 main dish choices ranging from a Hake with green sauce and clams (19) to a Catalan veal shank casserole (20).
I will tell you the moment when my cynicism wears right off though. It’s when I order a cortado and ask the waiter where it has come from.
“It’s an Ethiopian blend.” he tells me.
“And the roaster?” I ask.
“Oh, it is a local roaster called El Magnifico.”
And there you have it. Right there. While Albert Adria is still serving La Vazza in his empire, Soho House has chosen to go local on coffee. Coffee that has the most ephemeral properties of anything we ingest. The devil is in the detail. If you spin me a tale and I step into your world I don’t want to discover half way through that the walls are made of paper mache.
I’m not going to become a member at Soho House (I’m not even sure I am creative enough). I’m a bloodhound of sorts, I pick up a trail somewhere and set off, discovering, learning, piecing together a story and eating in the process. If I was a member at Soho House, I would get eaten alive by some plush sofa and stare at my computer screen bereft of any material to regale you with. (Insert winking emoticon here)
Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli, 4
08002 Gothic Quarter