After a year of great eating in Barcelona, countless noteworthy meals accompanied by outstanding bottles of wine, I now feel that I must make a contribution to my fellow Chowhounders.
The following are my impressions of Tickets, Manairó, Hoffmans, and Hisop. While many posts already exist on all of these fine establishments, not many have had the unique opportunity to attend them all one after the other putting them head to head on all levels and aspects of the dining experience.
We had to wait 2 months for this reservation...and I know I'm not alone in that club! The online reservation system only takes reservations up to 2 months in advance. We were constantly checking for weeks until finally we found an opening and jumped on it.
Walking into this restaurant is like stepping onto the set of a Fellini film with Albert & Ferran Adría handling craft service. Everything about this tapas bar is whimsical from the maitre'd's uniform to the decor, to the food coming off the dessert cart being panhandled as if it were mere popcorn at a carnival. The restaurant is separated by different stations, all specializing in specific parts of the menu. You can be seated at one of the tapas bars or at a table.
There is no tasting menu here, however your waiter will offer to make a recommendation of the menu's highlights. We began with a fantastic cava from Juve & Camps and then proceeded to try 15 different dishes, all of which were outstanding in their own unique regard. We tried some of Ferran's famous alginated olives, which were even more of a delight due to the fact that our waiter insisted (with a straight face) that we must be very careful for the pit. We all seemed to bring the olives to our mouths with care, however once inside our mouths we almost simultaneously experienced a sense of amusing shock as the olive burst in our mouths with the pure essence of the olives flavor....and no pit. The waiter stood near and laughed with us and we all knew we were in for an unforgettable meal.
Out of the restaurants that I will mention in this post, none of the others came close to the carefree, eccentric gastronomic experience at Tickets. There was no mystery that we had to wait 2 months and I am already excited for round two.
This was the first of my Michelin starred odyssey, and while quite an exceptional restaurant, it was the least appealing. The place is small and charming and the chef seemed to be following a common theme among many of the Michelin restaurants in Barcelona, to create traditional Catalan dishes with modern techniques and flare.
The food was playful, however we felt that many of the dishes were "trying too hard". For example the amuse-bouche was Polvo de Jamón Iberico (Iberian Ham dust) and a Geletina de Pan con Tomate (Tomato bread gelatin). While in concept these are quite interesting and amusing, the flavors were not quite there and it was as if they were focused more on the concept than on the actual dish. That said, there were other dishes on the tasting menu that I found to be terrific, such as the rabbit croquetta wrapped in a julienned strips of fried dough and served with a serafina sauce. Everything about this dish from the texture to the flavor was superb! I would recommend Manairó as a stand alone restaurant and am actually incline to give it another try, however compared to the rest of the places I enjoyed that week, it was a clear 4th place.
Hoffmans was terrific! We went for lunch and as it was a special occasion tasting menu, they had two starters and two entrees to choose from. One set was a winter time combo; Terrine of Carn d'olla in escudella and then a low temperature cooked filet with a tart red wine reduction and potato pure) and the other was more summer time oriented (Green vegetable salad with chilled shrimp and a mango vinaigrette and then roasted salmon wrapped in zucchini and served with smoked eggplant pure and "mosaic" of peppers).
The desserts were the real standout here though. They served a perfectly cooked chocolate lava cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and a foam of cheese cake with a coulis made from of strawberries and a sorbet of blueberries.
The service was outstanding and the wine list strait out of an oenophile's dream! The level of excellence was exactly what I had expected from this establishment and plan to return soon!
Hands down one of the best meals I've had in Barcelona, much deserving of its Michelin star. The space is very minimalist and modern. The focus is on the fantastic food. The tasting menu consisted of one delicious creation after another. Not a single plate was disappointing in the least. While many young chefs these days are playing with modernist cuisine, I believe that far too often they try too hard and make bold statements with their flavor and texture combinations. In contrast to the rest, Oriol Invern (the chef of Hisop) uses an unparallelled playful subtly that I fell in love with.
It was a truly unforgettable week and I hope that this will help anybody trying to make some difficult dining decisions when planing for Barcelona!