Photo by Per Anders Jorgensen
I’ve eaten so much good food this week, I think I might actually spontaneously combust, and I will be back with the details over the next few weeks. In the meantime I’d like to start with Tickets Bar (www.ticketsbar.es)—the place I’ve received the most emails and questions about over the past couple of months.
Presumably, because it is hard to get into but easy enough to walk past, the main question tends to be "what do I think of the design?" Well, actually I like it. It’s quirky and fun, and does a good job of defining spaces within the space, although the majority of people with an opinion on the matter find it a bit disjointed and overblown. I suspect that’s got a lot to do with the fact that there is an element of the American theme bar about the place, and it’s not traditionally tapas-y—a fairground theme takes up half the space, and there’s a huge flat screen TV in one section, described on the website as the corner for ‘rogues’ and ‘swine’, and, coincidentally or not, was where we were seated, while the other half is occupied by an organic-looking long-bar where Albert Adrià as captain conducts his star performance. In this project Ferran is very much second in command, and more likely to appear as a patron than a cook. I also liked the ice-cream cart, the theatrical greeting, "Welcome to the show!", and the word ‘tickets’ studded onto the back of staff jackets that actually lights up. It’s all a bit cheesy, sure, but it’s also refreshing that there’s no po-facedness about it.
More to the point, the food is good—tapas that is both recognisable and desirable as something to eat, and as something that might once have come from the legendary stoves of El Bulli. Indeed, there’s lots of El Bulli past going on here, not all of it likeable. I had trouble with the raw navajas with ginger-lemon air that were bitter and a little musky (personally I think navajas needs a bit of char to bring out the sweetness and the succulence of the flesh) and the tiny, breaded rabbit ribs that were basically lumps of batter masking not wildly interesting flesh. Still, when you need to have about 12 dishes between two to stand a hope of getting full, a couple of duds isn’t catastrophic. Of the highlights, there were many.
I was delighted to be reminded of the ‘olivas esféricas’ that were a major breakthrough on the spherification technique at El Bulli in 2005; the tuna belly shaved gossamer thin and brushed with rendered Iberian ham fat to the point it was incredibly difficult to tell which of the two creatures it was; stunning smoky steamed artichokes scattered with jamón powder, tomato tartar with green apple bread enriched with minerally top-knots of erizo (sea urchin); and an oyster with its own smoke-filled ‘pearl’.
What stands out as I write this though, is not so much the dishes born of molecular magic, but the simple, ingredient-centric dishes that evoke the land we live in. I’m talking about Maresme peas and mint—green, sweet, and so taut with juice they pop explosively when you eat them, a piece of toast topped with juicy, ripe tomato seeds and a lone, perfect anchovy, and mollete de papada—essentially pulled pork chin, stuffed between a bread wafer as soft, light and airy as candy floss and spiced up with a little pimentón-infused Iberian lard. I don’t mind saying it was one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten.
Everybody sponsors the place from Estrella Damm to Coca Cola, and the waiting list for getting in is like El Bulli all over again. The next available space is June, but if you’ve never made it to the mother ship, which closes its doors at the end of July, then yes, for my money it’s well worth the wait.
Just as a quick aside you also have to reserve a place at Bar 41º, the brothers’ coctelería next door. This serves just a small handful of futuristic bar snacks, and the cocktails are better elsewhere, but it’s something to consider if you can’t wait until June.
Tickets Bar, Avinguda Paral·lel 164, email@example.com, no phone, online reservations only. Metro: Espanya (L1 and L3) or Poble Sec (L3). Approx €70 per head incl. wine.