In my last post, I told you about the 5 amazing tapas bars I visited while I was in Barcelona a few weeks ago (you can also consult my Google map of Barcelona). This post is about Tickets tapas bar, a tapas restaurant that’s in a league of its own, if only for the simple reason that it is owned by none other than the Adrià brothers, yes, the same Adrià brothers of elBulli fame. It is run mostly by Albert Adrià who was the pastry chef at elBulli, as well as part of its core team for over 20 years along with his brother Ferran Adrià and Oriol Castro. I won’t lie to you, getting a reservation at this restaurant was not easy. The only way to do it is through the reservations system on their website and it is booked solid for several months. You have to think ahead – 3 months ahead that is – and be online when they release the 100 or so seats that will be available 3 months later… I got lucky with my reservations*. I also got very lucky and managed to get a very interesting interview with chef Adrià which I will transcribe and post on this blog very soon! Surprise!
But for now, back to this amazing meal I had at the adjacent 41º cocktail bar and Tickets tapas bar. The cocktail bar 41º has been open since January 2011. It is very different in look and feel to Tickets tapas bar next door. It is more sober, monochromatic and I imagine it would feel very “loungey” after dark. I was there at 7pm when it was still light out. We ordered 2 cocktails from the monthly cocktail section: the Apocalypto and the Mars Attacks. It was just as fascinating tasting these delicious concoctions as it was to watch them being made from our bar-side stools (watch a video I shot of the cocktails being made). The Mars Attacks was my favourite with its contrasting yet perfectly symbiotic floral and herbal flavours. Since we knew we were eating a full course next door, we asked to be served only a couple of nibbles of their choice. The presentations at 41º are definitely more impressive than at Tickets and the food has a more”experimental” feel to it as well, however, I want to be careful about what I say here because this is definitely not another elBulli, nor is it intended to be. The food is superbly executed but it is not “molecular gastronomy” nor is it experimental…
The first of the three appetizers we were served looked like pistachios embedded in a rock. They were in fact reconstituted pistachios made of ground pistachios mixed with cocoa butter and reshaped. They were fragile, hard to pick up with your fingers and felt cold but they immediately disintegrated in your mouth releasing an intense pistachio flavour. They were so much fun to eat, and so were the yogurt-sugar wrapped pistachios that looked like coral. The last two bites we had at 41º cocktail bar consisted of a crispy seaweed roll with quinoa and an excellent seaweed roll of spicy tuna before it was time to move to Tickets next door.
Tickets tapas restaurant has only been open since April 2011. It’s bright, very colourful and has the feel of a carnival or a fair. It consists of 2 dining rooms and several stations scattered around both rooms. The stations are each responsible for one thing or another but there is a main kitchen which chef Adrià works in every night and in front of which we were seated. In front of us was the colourfully illustrated menu and a very strange piece of cutlery, essentially metal tongs which were to be used to pick up the food. I took a look at the menu but then decided to relinquish control and trust the kitchen with our dinner choices. Chef Adrià – whom I had interviewed earlier – said he would take care of us and who am I to argue with that? Below are photos of the dishes we were served in the order they were served in.
Chef Adrià told me that he cannot get away with not making these time-consuming reconstituted olives made famous by elBulli because people keep asking for them. Ticket’s mission is to be a tapas restaurant serving the best possible ingredients and inventive tapas in Barcelona. Its mission is not to replicate elBulli and it’s not to make dishes that were served at elBulli for those among us who have never been able to go. I understood all of that while conversing with the chef but I have to admit that I was very eager to taste the famous elBulli olives just to see what all the fuss was about. Let me tell you that the fuss is justly earned because when you place one of these olives in your mouth, it bursts and coats the inside of your mouth with an intense oily olive flavour as if all the olives you’ve ever eaten in your life were just pale imitation of this one. I now understand why people keep asking for them…
At this point in the meal, we just couldn’t eat anymore. It would’ve been a shame to stop here and not taste what came next and I am glad our waiter managed to convince us to order 2 more dishes (it didn’t take much convincing!). The next dish, the tomato salad, was my favourite of the evening. It epitomizes the chef’s philosophy of having the best ingredient on the plate and having it simply be the star. We were instructed to eat it with a spoon and to pick up a bit of tomato jelly and a piece of tomato with every bite. It was simply the best tomato I’ve ever eaten and the taste of this salad will forever be imprinted on my taste buds.
Chef Albert Adrià was the pastry chef at elBulli for many years. He is the also the author of some very impressive pastry books but when asked what his favourite dessert is, he declares simple classics like tiramisu and crème caramel to be among those that he prefers. The desserts at Tickets are simple as well but they are well executed and there is always a little twist to them. One of my favourite dessert is the now classic molten chocolate cake but I will take Tickets molten almond cake with apricot sorbet over that any day! The cake is surprisingly smooth and absolutely delicious and the sorbet tastes like biting into a ripe apricot! The other dessert we ordered was the hot and cold chocolate fritters, cold on the outside, hot chocolate on the inside. I must admit that I would’ve preferred the fritters a little bit more crispy then the mushy ones we were served…
We ended this superb meal with a little shot glass of “pacharan” a homemade digestif made with hibiscus flower, orange juice and vodka. I had witnessed one of the chefs making it earlier as I was waiting to start the interview. He then brought some for chef Adrià to taste and approve of during our interview. It was just delicious, not too sweet and with enough of a punch to fool you while you’re thinking you’re drinking juice.
Tickets is a young restaurant “still looking for its identity” but to me, it was the best meal I had during my stay in Barcelona. The attention to detail, the staff’s knowledge and exceptional service, the fun ambiance as well as the chef’s warm welcome and generosity in sharing his food and his time made my dining experience an unforgettable one.
Note: Don’t forget to check back soon to read all about my interview with chef Albert Adrià!
* Allow me to insert a personal note here to say that I am very lucky to have great friends who I will never be able to thank enough for their great advice!
ADDENDUM: The reservations for Tickets has been reduced to 60 days (instead of 90). Check their website for instructions on how to reserve.
Tickets tapas bar
Avinguda Paral·lel 164
41º cocktail bar is right next door to Tickets