On the 1st floor of the W Hotel in Barcelona, the luxury Peruvian eatery Coya has opened up. They’ve made the glass-fronted panoramic space feel cosy and intimate through the clever deployment of partitions, warm low lighting and piles of pillows. Currently only open for dinner, there are a set of gatekeepers first the ear-pieced doormen at the main entrance of the hotel, blue-skinned from the bright lights of the two Mossos d’Esquadra vehicles parked in front (no doubt in anticipation of all the theft waiting to happen) and then the hostesses at the gold and granite entrance in front of the restaurant itself.
Already at eight p.m., there is a steady pulse of music vibrating upwards through the floor. The volume increases insistently as the evening progresses until the extended conversation is rendered difficult. The clientele can be described broadly as Dubai, as in, have lived in Dubai or vacationed in Dubai. There is a table of 10 women who have all had a blowout with the ends dramatically curled in the Sleeping Beauty fashion. A couple in their sixties next to us have eaten at almost every Coya on earth (there are 11 including 4 in Arab states and places like Monte Carlo and Mykonos) but they like this one the best. Three tables celebrate a birthday and the music pauses to allow for an energetic rendition of Cumpleaños Feliz from the staff.
The staff member training is a highlight – as is the food. I spot the tall young Italian woman I am used to seeing at Soho house, whose distinctive David Bowie in his Gentleman phase of the 80’s style I’ve admired before. Long limbs exposing ankles and men’s style dress shoes, she always pushes her suit sleeves up at the elbows and boasts many dangling bracelets and strings on her arm. Meanwhile, our server is a French man who has learned Spanish from his Argentinian friends so it’s peppered with “aka”’s and “achio”. All his fingers are jewelled and as he gestures and indicates, cradling a terracotta pot of gherkin sauce to go on the sea bass in one hand, he mesmerizes the two of us like a magician with a deck of cards. Or maybe that’s the cocktail talking.
Coya is also about the cocktails. But even before that, there are enough types of ice that they could get their segment on Shabazz Says. My Don Ramón (16€) with smokey mescal and tequila comes with rough-edged fuzzy chunks while my friend has a large clear cube with a lemon peel frozen into the top in hers. The pisco sour (14€) I have later in the Pisco Bar has C O Y A written out on the egg white foam.
The food shines through even with the fancy backdrop and pedigreed servers. True, Barcelona is blessed with primary ingredients to begin with but the flavour is there in every dish we try. The vibrant Padron peppers, delicious with just a scattering of salt flakes and charred corners do one better at Coya with a sesame miso coating that is sweet tangy and nutty all at one. The trio of corn sounds deceptively simple on paper but the contrast in textures and the aggressively tart leche de tigre means no kernel is left behind.
We try two types of ceviche the Classic Sea Bass (15€) and the Tuna Chifa (17€) (there are 8 ceviche at Coya). They are served in the middle to share and the idea is to spoon a little into the small shallow bowls we have been using to keep our discarded Padron stems. Our bejewelled server explains that to us subtly, skilled in the art of serving sensitive egos I imagine.
As mains, we have the Arroz Nikkei (45€), a risotto-like rice but softer, with a tender sticky fillet of Chilean sea bass. Like the table side serving of paella Barcelona is used to, this dish is mixed with, the flakes of fish folded through the rice with a spoon. Swiftly on the heels of this dish, half a sea bream – deboned – with ceramic pots of Chimichurri and pickled peppers to drizzle over and a dish of Papitas con Ajo. Coya’s take on bravas but with new potatoes, the skin loose and grizzly and a drizzling of vibrant coriander aioli. I can’t stop eating them. Though there is a lot of food, they are buttered popcorn at the movies moreish.
Dessert is four slender churros and a moat of chocolate dulce de leche with a hint of citrus. The breakfast as dessert idea provokes a mental smirk, that is wiped off the minute I bite into the crispy bevelled sides of the churro.
There you have it – out of 5 – Food 5, Service 5, Interior 5. Clientele… I would say it’s the people some of us came to Barcelona to leave behind. On second thought, maybe the clientele counts as part of the entertainment.*
Plaça Rosa del Vents, 1, Final Passeig de Joan de Borbó
*I was a guest of the restaurant for this meal. Regardless all the views expressed are my own.