Rising star, chef Jordi Cruz, is a man on a mission. In May 2010 he took up the reins at ABaC as well as opening two other restaurants—Tens Barcelona and L’Angle—in the city centre. More recently he embarked on a TV career as one of the judges on Spain’s Master Chef, but ABaC is his flagship. It is well worth the high price tag, for Cruz is one crazy-brilliant, mind-blowingly energetic guy who reminds me in some ways of a younger Ferran Adrìa. He’s got that same intense energy and mad passion for his craft that leaves you feeling almost bulldozed, but never less than awe-struck. It can only be a matter of time before he takes over the world, but for now he’s firmly Barcelona-based, with a repertoire of some 2000 recipes behind him, which go into creating his daily changing ABaC Grand Tasting menu.
I need a nap just thinking about the kind of effort this takes, but Cruz is anything but tired. He’s like a juggernaut of creativity turning out dishes of such blazing genius it’s fireworks all the way, lessened only by an architecturally beautiful, but rather sombre dining room. When the food and service is this fun, stimulating and brave, why not the space? I guess it gives you breathing room to really focus on the food, which surely deserves your full attention.
We begin with a pineapple pisco, a jaunty little shot that opens the taste buds just so, before launching into foie on toast alongside a crunchy pigeon croquette floating on a deeply savoury pigeon broth that is lifted by a cheeky streak of ginger, intensified by a thimble of quail jus. Clever! We move onto raw navajas piled onto fresh shitake mushrooms that curl into flowers as a hot Thai consommé is poured over the top. It’s plump, salty, delicious and deftly paired with a pale ale from the Cabo de Gato that’s all hoppy, citrussy delight. This is followed by a natty little palette cleaner of ceviche of lulo (one of those mysterious South American citrus fruits) that is sharp and sour with hints of rhubarb and lime, and slickly contrasted by eel brioche with aioli and fresh wasabi grated at the table to cut through the rich, butteriness of the eel. It’s devilishly good, though Cruz explains while grating that he used to use Japanese mustard, which he preferred. Evidently, the chap who supplied it died and he hasn’t been able to source it since. I ask if he’s ever been to Japan. He hasn’t, but believes that Catalan cuisine shares many of the same attributes, especially in terms of a deep respect for the product itself.
With it we sip a biodynamic Garnacha Blanca by Frisach in the Terra Alta that’s transformative. I’ve never much enjoyed Garnacha Blanca, but this was sprightly and elegant, sort of grassy, like spring in a glass. Next up, comforting onion soup sweetened by an eel and foie spherico and ‘calamarisotto’ with caviar and toasted chufas (tiger nuts) that make a perfect partner to a crunchy German Riesling that’s a bit like sucking stones (in a good way) and wildly fresh. Rare is the occasion I’ve enjoyed a wine pairing this much, but the inimitable maitre, Pablo Sacerdotte, nails it every time. His choices are simply dazzling.
The next dish is the only one that falls short. Steak tartar with herb mustard and cucumber flowers, which is too finely minced for me—I don’t like the mushy texture—but Cruz is back on form with Palamos prawns, romesco gnocchi and seaweed, a sort of homage to the Costa Brava; roast sole with crayfish, leeks and coconut, crossed by whisper-thin spears of wild asparagus; salmonetes (red mullet) topped with the crunchiest prawn crackling, and silky grilled Wagyu sprinkled with sake ash, pairing it all with a vegetal Beaujolais that is light enough for the fish and big enough personality-wise to hold its own against the beef.
The grand finale comes in the form of gin and tonic ‘bubbles’ with mango, white chocolate rocks with summer truffles (possibly the best petit four I’ve ever eaten) and a raspberry sorbet packaged up as lipstick lollipop. What can I say? Dining a la Cruz does not come cheap, far from it, but if you want to treat yourself to one mega gourmet experience this Christmas, this is it.
Avinguda del Tibidabo 1. Tel. 93 319 6600. www.abacbarcelona.com.
Open Tue-Sat 1.30pm-3.30pm, 8.30pm-10.30pm. ABaC Tasting Menu €135 / €65 wine pairing; 16-course Grand ABaC Tasting Menu €165 / €85 wine pairing.