So, as you can imagine, we were keen to sample some of Barcelona's higher end fare while we were there - this is the region of Spain that gave the world El Bulli after all. D's initial suggestion was that we went for a Michelin star place every night we spent in the city - D does not always live in the real world. As it was, we had dinner at two starred Lasarte on the Tuesday and lunch at the one starred Cinc Sentits on the Wednesday and both had fairly significant food babies (and credit card bills) as a result.
Both meals were excellent and I'd be hard pushed to fault any of the dishes that were set in front of us. Unlike the couple at the table next to us in Lasarte who put ice cubes in Dom Perignon champagne, sent back a snail risotto because it contained snails and started fretting about a fag break when they were three courses in. Yes, if you've identified my tone as "incensed snob" there you would be entirely right - I don't care.
Anyway, let's start with Lasarte, because, er, it came first. I would describe the food as modern European - it didn't have any particular element that screamed Spain at me (although my lack of knowledge about Spanish cuisine could have meant that I was not picking up on subtle cues) and a lot of techniques on display were in line with the kind of food you'd eat in any good restaurant in any city in the world nowadays. But I would hate to come across as blasé because I'm really not - it was fantastic food, beautifully treated and some of the dishes were utterly superlative.
The afore mentioned risotto - watercress with snails and sea cucumber. Look at the colour of that risotto! This was a fantastic dish, rich without being cloying with a lovely range of textures. Not one to order if you don't like snails though.
And more green food! This was an Iberico ham and basil soup with oxtail cannelloni - D declared it his top dish of the holiday. The soup tasted as vibrant as it looks and the pasta added interest and smoky depth.
I do think the brown smear is rather unfortunate presentation, but this dessert of French toast with frozen coffee creme and plum compote was a sweet and sticky delight with a pleasing touch of bitterness from the ice cream. Very yummy indeed.
And check out the petits fours tower! Absolutely lovely presentation, a really nice touch.
So, yes, Lasarte was lovely. And if that had been the only high end meal of the holiday we would have felt ourselves very lucky indeed. The trouble was, the next day, in Cinc Sentits, we had possibly our second favourite meal ever (the first being EMP back in December). And, as with EMP, it was mainly because this was food that had evolved from a sense of place and tradition which always seems to add an additional dimension - an imperceptible seasoning of love.
We would be here all day if I shared all the pictures with you, so I'll try and contain myself. This "garden" course has to be one of the prettiest plates of food that I have ever eaten. Each individual component part was immaculately treated, some of the vegetables lightly pickled, others charred, and the whole was a lovely fresh start to the meal proper (we had already been presented with some fantastic reimaginings of traditional tapas dishes at this point to get us warmed up).
The main course was so clever - squab served in three parts. Which sounds like a bit of a gimmick but really worked well allowing you to appreciate the different components of the bird.
So first the breast, the meat blush pink and iron sweet the skin crisp and salty, served with compressed pear.
Then a little croquette made with the offal.
And finally a spelt risotto with squab leg. This bag was cut open at the table so the intense smell of game and wine and herbs hit you full in the face when you started eating. By the end I was picking out single grains of spelt at a time to try and eke out the experience. Glorious.
I think it is fair to say that Spaniards aren't as big into the cheese as some other European nations. What made the cheese course here special was the little accompaniments that came with each one. So quince paste (of course) and then (revelatory!) a little cube of dense, damp almond cake which worked amazingly with the saltiness, and finally a little carrot marmalade which added crunch. I've found a recipe for what I think would be a good approximation for the cake online so if I try to recreate it I'll be sure to give it a go - I love the idea of serving guests cake with cheese.
Finally (and I'm conscious that this post is turning into a bit of a marathon now - hope I haven't made you too hungry) the puddings - oh, the puddings. We had adored the french toast, coffee and plum combination the night before but it was just blown out of the water:
There were textures of lemon, and there was a version of the chocolate with olive oil and salt that we had enjoyed earlier in the week but to my mind the best (pictured above) was the cinnamon doughnut with toffee and apple and (I think) lemon verbena - a dish that was all the flavours of the funfair. I never wanted to stop eating it.
So, in conclusion, Lasarte is a lovely restaurant where you will have wonderful food. And Cinc Sentits is somewhere really very special indeed where you will have a near matchless experience. It reinforces my opinion that when talented people are cooking the food inspired by what they know and love they will far surpass those that follow fashion or seek to be edgy. And it has really fired my curiosity to learn more about Spanish cuisine, which is clearly has a lot more to offer than simply tapas and paella.
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