Since I moved to Barcelona over 18 months ago I’ve had one food destination at the top of my list… Tickets restaurant.
If you’re not crazy about food then you might not know of this place. It’s run by the Adria brothers, Barcelona’s award winning gastro-geniuses who, between them, pretty much invented modern fancy-pants food. You know Heston Blumenthal? He definitely owes a big debt of inspiration to the Adrias and their former restaurant – elBulli (pronounced “El Booo-ee”).
That restaurant was voted the best in the world a record five times running. It held 3 Michelin stars and each year more than a million people would enter the lottery for one of the 8000 available reservations. It was also where many of the ideas now known as ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ first emerged. So if you’ve ever eaten a foam or a sphere of something, you’ve probably got Ferran and Albert Adria and the team at elBulli to thank for that (or not, depending on how nice it was).
However, elBulli closed in 2011… and Tickets opened… And I’ve been trying to get a reservation for months… And then last week I struck lucky and got us a table for two on a balmy Wednesday evening.
We arrived and were greeted by a top-hatted door(wo)man who looked a little like a circus ringmaster. Inside the fun continued with a shiny, colourful interior, with different themes for each section. It was fun and engaging and immediately felt relaxed and inviting.
I’ve been to other fancy restaurants with Michelin stars before and they can feel a little stuffy. Often the decor is very subdued (I’m assuming to let the food stand out) and the atmosphere can be similarly quiet. It was refreshing to come somewhere with a buzz, some life and colour to the interior and where the staff are friendly; chatting about the food and serving promptly, without hanging over your table the whole time.
But enough of that… this is a food blog, so I bet what you want to know is… how did it taste???
I thought, before arriving, of what the food might be like. I knew it was a tapas bar, but I expected some tricksy dishes and perhaps some challenging flavours. Luckily for me the flavours were clean, pure and – most of all – delicious. Even though some of the descriptions and ideas might seem lofty (or, if you want to be cruel, pretentious), the flavours are anything but.
Take, for example, the “olives”. These are a staple on any tapas bar menu and Tickets is no different. Except that the waiter explains that these are elBulli olives as he brings over the jar, and it turns out they’re not really olives at all. They are a sphere of the most intense, olive-flavoured liquid you can imagine, which bursts on the tongue and floods your entire mouth with fierce flavour.
They are wonderful; peppery, pungent and a tiny bit fiery. You can’t help but go back for a second. So a process which could come across as high-faluting, results in a flavour which is basic, down-to-earth olive, but in the most pure and intense form. And that is kind of how all the dishes are. I’ve watched Masterchef a million times and seen them saying how ‘clean’ flavours are and how ‘simple’ a dish is, but here I really saw that in action and really understood the idea.
So, here’s a quick rundown of the enormous number of dishes we ordered and ate every last scrap of… I’m not going to go into full detail of each dish, just some highlights, as I don’t want to spoil every surprise for anyone who gets to go!
– Solid cocktail with apple, beet and yuzu…….7,80€
– False sea cucumber with quinoa………………..6,50€
– False peanuts………………………………….2,00€ / u
– Tickets’ olive-S…………………………….8,10€ / 6u
– Click to see any of these pictures in a larger size
We ordered a second false peanut as my husband liked the first one SO much (see pic above)!
We also ordered some bread with tomato. This is a Barcelona classic dish – ‘Pan con Tomate’ in Spanish, or ‘Pa amb Tomàquet’ – and the best versions are a crispy chewy bread rubbed with plenty of a special local tomato and finished with olive oil and sea salt. We’ve eaten some pretty good versions of this around town and – to be honest – when we ordered it I didn’t think there could be any major improvement on it.
How wrong I was! I guess it’s a mark of a fabulous restaurant to be able to take something so everyday and turn it into a dish you want to write a whole blog post on. Their bread was incredibly thin, incredibly soft inside and incredibly crispy on the outside. I think they must bake a special recipe to create that very thin crust while still retaining a pillowy softness inside. Amazing. I could’ve made a meal just out of that, but then I am a bit of a bread fiend!
So, I should probably say now that my husband’s favourite dish on the entire menu was the first thing we ate… the solid cocktail. This was crunchy juicy pieces of apple with a deep sweet beetroot flavour and the bright zing of yuzu. It was amazing, refreshing, deeply flavoured and satisfyingly juicy. And a quick mention for the false cucumber – not my favourite flavour of the night, but the texture made it incredibly satisfying to eat – super crunchy, light and dry with not a drop of oiliness about it.
– MANCHEGO CHEESE………………………….….9,50€ / 6u
foam in a mini airbag bread with hazelnut oil caviar
– AGED COW…………………..………………………4,80€ / u
cured, with its malta bread and smoked cheese
– MOLLETE…………………………………………..3,50€ / u
“Krustychicken” with its crunchy peel
– Click to see any of these pictures in a larger size
My favourite dish came in this round… the Mollete. If you get the chance to go then make sure you have room for two of these. It was unbelievable. The only way I can explain how good it is is to share this clip from the movie Ratatouille:
I wasn’t eating Ratatouille like my mother used to make, instead I was tasting the most beautiful, delicate chicken flavour, backed with a deep savoury taste (like the caramelised bits of skin on the bottom of a roasting pan) with a whisper of lemon to make it all sing.
It was akin to eating the ‘oyster’ of the chicken, with the best roasted chicken skin ever all dipped in pan juices. I am doing my best to convey how delicious it was, but I don’t think I can do it justice. And yet it looks so unassuming. There lies the genius of Tickets.
(Side note… when Anders went to the bathroom I messaged the other Glutton, Sally, this on facebook: Oh my god I just ate the best chicken thing ever…. EVER! It was a tiny ‘burger’ of chicken, like an oyster from a roast chicken topped with the thinnest crispiest skin ever then with a blob of chicken sauce made from all the caramelised bits in the pan reduced down and turned into a thick lemony sauce… In a burger…argehhggjdjdkdvkcy (homer noise)
Sally’s green with envy response? “Shut up”)
in a pickled sauce tribute to lúculo
KING OYSTER MUSHROOM…………………………14,80€
in spaghetti with funghi porcini
in salmorejo style
… AND a special which was a basil macaroni in a cream sauce with pine nuts, parmesan and some things we have forgotten.
Out of this selection I think the basil pasta and the pork ribs were the winners. The basil pasta smelled like the heady aroma which is released when you brush your hand over a basil plant on a summer’s day and the thin cream sauce was incredibly light, almost milky.
It had a comforting texture with subtle flavours, but my husband said he felt like he kind of got all the flavours separately, rather than them coming together. I think the fact that you eat with tweezers was probably part of the difficulty with this, you couldn’t get a big spoonful of everything together.
The pork ribs were meltingly soft, but still held together and had a ‘meaty’ texture. I’m not keen on meat which is cooked for so long that it just falls apart, but similarly if it is too chewy it’s also disappointing. This was the perfect combination of softness and chew, which meant you had the indulgent pleasure of a rich, fatty soft meat dish, but you also got to relish chewing it and releasing all the flavours. Speaking of which they were dark, subtle and never overpowered the pork.
– Chocolate air ice-cream, crushed wafer and chocolate sauce……9,80€
And a Tickets’ cone filled with tatin apples and topped with cream.
Oh and dessert wine. Of course. We’re not animals.
– Click to see any of these pictures in a larger size
I should say that by this point as well as racking up a fairly hefty bill we were also incredibly full and a bit tipsy. We had a few glasses of wine, trying the various whites in the interests of research… happy to report they were all great, crisp, chilled, varying depths of flavour and sweetness. Not a bad one among them!
We really didn’t need dessert at all, in fact we should’ve definitely eaten two ‘main’ dishes less, but we figured we would probably only get to come here once, so we really had to throw ourselves into it and try everything. So, when our waiter asked if we would like to go somewhere else in the restaurant for dessert we answered a resounding yes. It was a real treat to be taken through the restaurant to another section – I’m not going to say anything more other than it was a little bit magical in there.
Normally in a fancy restaurant the desserts are the best, most elaborate and most beautiful bit – especially for people like me who have a very sweet tooth. However, I have to say that, here, I really didn’t think that was the case. The desserts we ate were lovely, but the savoury dishes blew them away. I find that Barcelona is not a great city for desserts overall, so perhaps that’s reflected here.
The tarte tatin cone tasted lovely, but it was hard to get all the flavours together in a bite which was a bit of a shame.
Luckily the ‘Chocolate Air’ wasn’t just a box that smelled deliciously of chocolate (although I was so full by this point that that probably would’ve been better for me!), it was the lightest chocolate mousse I’ve ever eaten. In fact calling it a mousse does it a disservice as it is more like eating chocolate snowflakes. As soon as you put it in your mouth it has almost already melted and you’re just left with a wonderful creamy chocolatey flavour. This is what catching snowflakes on your tongue will be like in heaven.
All in we spent about 150 euros for two to eat more than they should, with plenty of wine to go with it. For a Michelin-starred menu I didn’t think that was too bad and if you were on a stricter budget you could certainly enjoy the delights of Tickets at an affordable price.
PRETTIEST DISH: Manchego airbags
CLEANEST FLAVOUR: Tickets Olives
DON’T MISS: The chicken Mollete
THINGS WE DIDN’T EAT: Fish of any kind – Anders is veggie and I’m allergic to shellfish so it was a no-go for us, but I’m sure it would be a highlight for other people.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: The simplicity of the flavours
AND ANOTHER GREAT THING: The exciting, lively atmosphere
VALUE FOR MONEY: Pricey, but not bad for Michelin food
Our happy Tickets faces:
So, if you’re in Barcelona then try to get a reservation. The website releases reservations for tables 3 months ahead, with new reservations going live at midnight each day, so check then for your best chance. I checked for weeks before getting lucky. They also release cancellation spaces on the website too, so keep an eye out and you could be eating liquid olives and chocolate air before you know it!
p.s. if you can’t get in at Tickets then you could try Saboc, Quimet & Quimet or Tragaluz. Not quite the same, I’ll admit, but they are all worth trying – especially Quimet & Quimet which is a Barcelona institution.