One general observation (not necessarily in the restaurants mentioned, but noticeable across the more casual places we visited) was the decline in service attentiveness. Generally I found this had deteriorated from previous visits to Spain (e.g. we were ‘mostly’ left to pour our own wines/bottled water and dishes were sometimes cleared away by reaching across patrons). Replacement of cutlery was also inconsistent.
Having said that, we still had some excellent food and prices were definitely below those encountered in other European venues.
But, to the specifics (ignoring casual places, and described in the order we visited):
Disfrutar was up first and it wowed as an outstanding meal. With 4 people we had hoped that we could have two separate tasting menus (at least; they offer three) but the rule that we must all order the same menu was rigidly enforced [ to be fair, allergies were handled by serving entirely different dishes, rather than adjusting ingredients within a dish, so we did get some additional courses].
Service was EXCEPTIONAL – with extremely knowledgeable servers and multiple ‘wow’ dishes. I think we had around 30 dishes and, of course, there were some misses , but the impact overall was of a genuine desire to impress, rather than a series of gimmicks (although some individual dishes were clearly a triumph of technique over flavour). A ‘gimmicky’ walnut presentation turned out to be (for me) the taste sensation of the whole meal – even if it did tend to wipe out the following dish. Regardless of flavour, some dishes wowed visually – instant Instagram classics – plus there was some playfulness (even more so if one considers the heritage/lineage of the cuisine e.g. for those familiar with spherification, there was a beautiful ‘twist’ where salmon eggs were re-constituted into a single ‘egg’).
The wine list was also excellent. Wine pairings were offered, but some of my favourites were available by the bottle (at what I considered fair prices), including my go-to Pazo Señorans, Selección de Añada – an outstanding match for the cuisine (as is Cava).
After an outstanding meal, where the wine flowed freely, we left without collecting our ‘souvenir menus’ but we were staying just down the street and popped back in the following day (the market across the street was our target for lunch) to see if we could get a copy of our menu. While we waited for them to be printed off, they comped all four of us a glass of Cava in the garden out back (can’t guarantee they’ll do this for everyone), but it was a lovely touch that sealed our impression of an outstanding meal. OK Enigma – top that!
Next up was Tickets – actually my third time there, but the first for two of us. The opening server patter was the usual “Have you been here before?” – but the response was ignored – the ‘standard’ speech ensued with an offer to supply us with a specially selected set of dishes “just for us”. I, as usual, wanted to see the wine list first (with a consequent delay, which may have unsettled the schedule, as clearly there was a timetable to turn the table). Sadly, the wine list has diminished from what I recall previously, so I settled for what was described as a Rose Cava, but when it arrived was as pale as possible (I’ve had whites that were darker), but was still a reasonable match. Subsequently this was poured liberally by the servers who had to be asked several times to top up our water glasses. But they did manage to prompt us to order more wine.
The menu at Tickets seemed identical to the one I recall both other times I was there (I assume the oysters had changed seasonally, but why go to Tickets for oysters if they aren’t adding any ‘value’ – other than choice?). Apart from the oysters we essentially ordered every dish on the menu (in various quantities) – ordering is an issue; some ‘plates’ are single bites; some can serve four people (and some two) without any easy identification of the size (yes, there are separate sections on the menu, but no indication of whether there’s enough for 1, 2…etc. bites; even the (in) famous ‘olives’ didn’t state how many (it was one) – obviously those aren’t suitable for sharing. And the order of serving (and frequency) seemed random (or maybe I just couldn’t figure it out). Sometimes one dish was on the table; sometimes two; sometimes more. Empty dishes were also removed randomly – sometimes reaching across us ‘in mid bite’ (yes, really)! One of my first-time guests was flabbergasted to find a hand reaching across while she was raising a bite to her mouth. So no pattern or flow to the meal. Inattentive (at best) service. And a menu that doesn’t seem to have changed in several years. Some excellent dishes, but overall a jaded time – even the Jamon Iberico de Bellota didn’t seem as silky and tasty as the one I had last time (I recall it was specifically identified as Cinco Jotas last time, but no branding this time).
This was my first time being invited to move to the dessert room, where service was a bit better (except only one menu provided for four of us to select from). We observed that ‘most’ of the empty tables here were pre-set with the ‘rose’ dessert (one for each attendee). Yes, it’s a ‘wow’ presentation (albeit gimmicky, and hardly worth the 10€) – especially if you haven’t had it before. But it also signalled to me that most guests must have opted for the ‘feed me’ approach pushed so hard at the beginning – how else would they know that the rose would be ordered?
Actually, the price wasn’t too outrageous overall (but we did order for ourselves). But the experience was lacklustre and everyone found this the weakest ‘fine dining’ experience.
The next fine-dining (sort of) was Gresca – an old favourite that usually punches well above its price-point. As always, value was superb, but again service was perfunctory and a little less ‘wow’ than usual. Another insistence on everyone having identical dishes and we had great difficulty with choices (the famous soufflé came on a menu with less-desirable dishes). They weren’t prepared to ‘substitute’ (even if all four had the same substitute) [hey, I asked politely – if the chef declines I understand that we may come across as ‘demanding, unreasonable tourists’]. It’s a small place and substitutions may be very difficult – both for the kitchen and inventory management. And in fact they did substitute for an allergy.
BUT the most memorable thing here was the wine (the food was good too) a 1964 Gran Coronas from Torres for 100€ (which of course includes taxes). I don’t know where this originated (I’ve eaten 3 times at Gresca and never noticed it before). I also don’t know if it was their last (or even single) bottle. Yes, I was nervous, and the cork was a challenge, but the wine was sound (albeit a bit past its peak) – maybe it topped out at 40 years – but what a treat!
And finally, the motivation for the trip – Enigma!
Don’t forget your pass code – that’s the only way in. You are faced with a VERY heavy door, inducing panic if you can’t (at first) open it - we saw the party ahead of us struggling, but it was only when the door seemingly failed to open for us that we experienced the same discomfort. But the message on the keypad welcomes you by name, so summon up your strength. Once you gain entry you will be greeted by a futuristic-garbed server and will enter the ‘experience’. The ‘rules’ will be explained and allergies, wine selection, questions etc., will be resolved and you will be allowed to take photos – but are asked to NOT post these anywhere for others to see, in order to keep the various activities as a surprise for subsequent visitors. It’s not clear why this is a concern, but they did ask nicely so I will keep the dishes themselves somewhat generic in my comments [you WILL be impressed!].
The actual meal is served at a series of ‘stations’ – you proceed sequentially through these [smaller parties might be accelerated; larger parties will meander a little longer]. At the first few stations you will be served a variety of snacks and drinks. Seating here is either casual or non-existent. You may (or not) have other parties in the same station at the same time.
Eventually you should reach a fish station (plancha) where several courses will be served while you are seated (again you might share this station with others). This station seemed to be a bottleneck on our visit, as one spends significantly longer here to be served a number of courses. It appeared to me that (at least) one party skipped this station (possibly they returned after following a different sequence) – but do ensure that you get here as this was (for me) the highlight of the meal. Several seafood/fish dishes cooked in front of you, with commentary, and that 30 mins (approx.) was just stupendous. Although I’ve had comparable seafood in other dishes elsewhere, the total effect of the sequence was almost magical. Highlight building upon highlight. Worth returning just for this!
After this you'll be escorted to the main restaurant area where a parade of 'mystery 'dishes will appear and you will be invited to identify the ingredients. We participated fully and did fairly well - not sure what would happen if you don't want to play the game. There were some ‘mini-themes’ within this set of courses but all (for us) were served as mystery dishes. I’m not sure what the point was, although this ‘game’ would clearly be pointless if people were posting descriptions and/or pictures.
Finally, you'll move again to the dessert and coffee area and choose dessert from a confusing dessert menu that gives no indication of the size of each dessert (I recall some additional charges here but don't have the bill with me).
Overall, excellent food but I still don't get why we had to keep moving. There seemed to be significant creativity at each station but, if there were any themes/techniques that required being at that place, I guess I missed it. I except the fish (plancha) station where the interaction wouldn’t be feasible in a large room.
Maybe I’ll just have to return with an experienced eye to see if the techniques employed are transportable.
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