February 3, 2007

The 10 Best Restaurants in Barcelona

By Verdict Staff

Bursting with fantastic restaurants, most of which seek to promote the wonderful cuisine of Catalonia, Barcelona is a delight for those with a taste for the finest gastronomy.

From seafood to tapas, Barcelonan food has a little something for everyone.

ABAC

Abac marco Pastori

Cuisine: Modern Catalan

Style / Ambiance: This two-star Michelin restaurant is generally considered one of Barcelona’s finest.

Situated in the newly constructed pavilion adjacent to the hotel’s gardens, the atmosphere inside can only be described as elegantly sophisticated, with a soothing color scheme of whites and light cream tones, perfectly complemented by tasteful lighting. The restaurant is intimate, with a total capacity of just 56 diners, ensuring that your experience in gastronomic excellence is a relaxing one. As a result of its superb cuisine, beautiful location and elegant design, ABaC’s reputation among those who prize high class dining is blossoming.

Andy Hayler visited AbaC in 2013. Read his review here:

Abac originally opened in 2000, moving to its current location in May 2008. It is within a boutique hotel just outside the center of Barcelona. The dining room seats up to 56 people at one time, and there are two additional private dining rooms available, seating 20 and 60 people respectively. The room looks out onto a garden through picture windows. Tables are widely spaced and generously proportioned, covered with impeccably ironed white linen tablecloths.

Head chef Jordi Cruz earned his first Michelin star at the unusually young age of 25. He studied cooking at the “Escola Superior de Hostelería Joviat” in Barcelona, leaving at just 14 to work at Cercs Estany Clar, where he received his first Michelin star in November 2004. He was the youngest Spanish chef to be awarded a star. In December 2007 he moved to become manager and head chef at the restaurant L’Angle de Sant Fruitós de Bages, also in Barcelona, gaining that a star by November 2008. In May 2010, he moved to be head chef of ABaC Restaurant & Hotel, whose kitchens had previously been run by chef Xavier Pellicer, who himself had been head chef at Can Fabes in St Celoni under Santi Santamaria.

Two tasting menus were available, one at €135 and a slightly longer one at €155. The a la carte menu would be only a fraction cheaper. The wine list had almost a thousand different selections. Examples were Zilliken Rausch Kabinett 2010 at €70 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €24, Shafer Merlot 2004 at €120 for a wine that retails at €57, and Leoville Las Cases 1999 at €344 for a wine that will set you back €187 to buy in the high street. Alion 2009 was better value at €85 for a wine that costs €69 in the a shop.

The meal began with a theatrical touch: passion fruit sorbet was made at the table using liquid nitrogen, served with a sugar cane stick infused with mojito on the side. The passion fruit flavor came through well and the sorbet had good texture, but I wonder whether passion fruit is an ideal start to a meal as opposed to being, say, a pre-dessert? (17/20).  Three breads were offered: plain white, seed bread and apricot and nut bread, all were lovely, the seed bread and the apricot and nut bread having especially good texture (18/20).

Mushrooms with curry sauce in citrus water tasted a lot better than it sounded, the spicy mushroom broth excellent, the mushrooms of high quality (18/20). Bloody Mary snow with mixed shellfish had good anchovies, prawn and squid, but the snow was too heavily spiced, even to my taste (16/20). Liquid Parmesan gnocchi with hazelnut and truffle with ceps and citrus juice featured very delicate gnocchi, excellent ceps and just enough acidity to balance the dish (18/20).

Duck foie gras with pistachio and hazelnuts was served on a crisp bread flavored with Pedro Ximines sherry. Boldly seasoned, the crisp was very delicate, the liver flavor nicely balanced by the nuts (18/20). Next was a modern take on steak tartare. Raw beef was smoked lightly and topped with cucumber and cucumber flower, Dijon mustard, aromatic herbs, egg yolks and breadcrumbs.  The overall effect was brilliant, the elements of the dish in lovely balance, with just enough mustard, the breadcrumbs giving some textural balance, the cucumber and herbs working well with the carefully controlled smokiness of the beef (19/20).

A prawn and wild mushroom infusion using prawn heads was poured over a single braised sweet prawn, crispy pork tail and a pork dumpling. Again this was very successful, the prawn superb, the jus having great depth of flavor (18/20). Squid in its own broth was served with baby cucumber and squid ink spheres. The squid was superb, very delicate in texture, the spheres avoiding the metallic taste that this technique often brings. The cucumber added useful lightness, the broth having deep flavor (18/20).

Red mullet came with sun-dried tomato, garlic and olive oil purée and pesto sponge. The purée had deep flavor, the pesto sponges very light texture and tasting of basil and pine nuts. Here was a nice example of modern cooking technique being used in a way that enhanced the dish rather than simply showing off (18/20).

Textures of veal consisted of sweetbreads, veal tendon and veal Royale, served with chanterelles, truffle and radishes. The veal was magnificent, the sweetbreads gloriously rich, the tendon delicate through slow-cooking, the radishes bringing balance to the richness (19/20).

A pre-dessert was called “Pink Panther” and comprised an ice cream of roses, white chocolate, wild strawberries, begonia flowers with yogurt and kumquat skin. This actually tasted very good, the strawberries having excellent flavor, the crisp kumquat skin bringing an extra texture (17/20).

Cookies with vanilla cream and hazelnut “veil” came with toffee ice cream, cacao leaves and toffee crumb. The crumb brought just the right balance of texture to the dish, the hazelnut flavor coming through well, the ice cream with silky texture (19/20). With coffee came petit fours: strawberry and rose sorbet, white chocolate with salt and olive oil, peanuts, a delicate cracker of almonds and cacao, liquid truffles and superb tangerine gum (18/20).

Service was faultless. The bill came to €232 (£199) for one person, but that was with a bottle of excellent Alion wine. With a more modest wine shared between two a more typical bill would be around €175 (£150). This seems to me a bargain for food of this quality. This is very high grade cooking indeed.

Marien Iñigo Schneider, General Manager

+34 93 319 6600

Avinguda del Tibidabo, 1

www.abacbarcelona.com/eng

Sauc

Smoked Tartar, Green Apple And Herring Eggs, Sauc

Cuisine: Postmodern

Style / Ambiance: Named after an elderberry plant with curative powers, Sauc is certainly guaranteed to leave diners feeling refreshed and satisfied, and is the perfect destination for those seeking gastronomic healing.

Expertly managed by Xavier Franco, the restaurant is renowned for its quality, rapid service and delicious food. Highlights include traditional Catalan ‘morcilla’; a black pudding style dish famous in Barcelona, which comes highly recommended on the menu. For those with a sweeter tooth, dessert is also well taken care of, and the restaurant’s chocolate and passion fruit pudding has earned rave reviews from some of the most demanding critics.

Xavier Franco, General Manager

+34 93 321 0189

Ohla Hotel, Via Laietana, 49

www.ohlahotel.com

Andy Hayler visited Enoteca in Barcelona. Read his review here:

Andy Hayler visited Enoteca in 2013. He says: “On the ground floor of the Hotel des Arts is Enoteca. The chef is Paco Perez, who trained with Michel Guerard and at El Bulli before taking over Miramar in Llance near Girona, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2006. This, his second restaurant, was given a Michelin star in the 2010 guide and a second in the 2013 guide.

“The tasting menu was priced at €145, and there was an extensive wine list, with 700 different options listed.

Service was superb, my Portuguese waiter friendly and knowledgeable.”

Read more of Andy Hayler’s review here. 

ALKIMIA

Bombó Am Tófona, Alkimia

Cuisine: Contemporary gourmet

Style / Ambiance: Alkimia means ‘alchemy’ in Arabic, and this restaurant certainly has a flair for turning exquisite ingredients into meals worth their weight in gold.

Its minimalist style has won praise from all corners, and the sumptuous menu on offer, the product of renowned chef Jordi Vila, leads the way in terms of delicious contemporary cuisine, showcasing the very best of Catalonia’s rich culinary tradition, but with a twist. Not afraid to experiment with traditional recipes, Jordi Vila has created a highly innovative menu. A favorite of Barcelona’s elite, the restaurant is equipped with a well stocked wine cellar that complements the fine food on offer.

+34 93 207 6115

Carrer de la Industria, 79

www.alkimia.cat

Andy Hayler visited Bar Mut in Barcelona. Read his review here:

Bar Mut is a tapas bar in central Barcelona. It has simple decor, with a few tables as well as bar stools, and a blackboard listing the menu of the day. The bottles of Krug and Cristal behind the bar seem slightly out of place given the otherwise casual feel, though apparently two hundred different wines are available here.

A scallop had nice sweetness, covered in a dollop of creamy sauce, but in the cooking they had singed the edge of the scallop, and a slightly burnt taste was duly imparted to what would otherwise have been a very enjoyable scallop (9/20). Jamon Iberico was nicely cut, a bellota grade ham; of course this is just bought in, but at least it was sourced well.

Croquetta of cheese was pleasant, with liquid cheese filling and a little spinach, the outside coating cooked capably enough (12/20). The signature dish of the restaurant is heuvos fritos, poached egg with pieces of prawn and thin fried potatoes, and supposedly some chorizo sauce. The prawns were of good quality, the potato giving some crunch to offset the egg, though the chorizo flavor was missing in action: an enjoyable, if hardly a difficult dish to make (12/20).

Service was friendly. The bill for one came to €46 (£39) for lunch with just soft drinks, which seems an awful lot of money for what appeared on the plate. This place seems to be popular, and perhaps there are better dishes that I did not try, but I worry about anywhere that actually manages to burn, and then happily serve, a scallop. Bar Mut is a decent tapas bar, but there are many better and cheaper ones in Spain, as a short walk around the old town of San Sebastian will quickly demonstrate.

CINC SENTITS

Cinc Sentis

Cuisine: Traditional cuisine in a modern atmosphere

Style / Ambiance: Cinc Sentis is one of Barcelona’s premier restaurants, and has achieved fame within the city for its selection of only the freshest ingredients from throughout Spain.

Cinc Sentits’ fish and seafood is always of the highest caliber, and after it is caught it is couriered directly to the city, while butter from the Pyrenees, veal from Galicia, and foie gras and duck from Bajo Empordán mean that all meals provide diners with a cross section of the finest authentic Spanish cuisine. Located centrally, this delightful restaurant is sure to, as the name implies, appeal to the ‘five senses’.

+34 93 323 9490

Carrer d’Aribau, 58

www.cincsentits.com

Andy Hayler visited Dani Garcia in Marbella. Read his review here:

Dani Garcia trained at Martin Berasategui before opening his own restaurant “Les Tragabuches” in Ronda in 1998, earning a Michelin star for it in 2000. In 2005 he moved to Marbella and opened La Calima, earring a star in 2007 and a second in 2011. In 2014 he moved premises and his establishment is now just called Dani Garcia, the restaurant being located in the Hotel Puento Romano. The man with his name over the door was not in the kitchen tonight. Judging by the bar and deli at Malaga airport with his name on it, Mr Garcia is not overly concerned about spreading his personal brand too thin.

The new flagship restaurant location is on the ground floor of the hotel and next door to a bistro owned by the same chef, the bistro having an attractive outdoor terrace. The dining room seats 22 when full, which it was not this evening. A dozen chefs work at any one shift on the quite elaborate dishes. The cooking style, very much molecular gastronomy, feels at times oddly dated when eaten in 2015. There was a lengthy tasting menu at €148, a short version at €75 and a full a la carte selection; a nice touch was that most dishes could be sampled as half portions, allowing a mini tasting menu to be put together.

The wine list had good coverage of France as well as Spain. Vino Sastre Pago 2011 was €75 for a bottle that can be found for €70 in the high street, the lovely Alion 2011 was €90 for a wine that retails at €62, and Didier Dagenau Pur Sang 2011 was €180 for a label with a current market price of €88.

The meal tonight began with some amuse bouches. The first arrived in a hollowed out book, a carrot and smoked cod muffin made of edible paper. The mousse was very nice, the carrot flavor good, though the paper was a bit hard (15/20). This was followed by a rice crisp with mushrooms and black truffle with black garlic and garlic flower. This was enjoyable, the mushrooms and garlic flavors working well together (16/20). Next was a “gold ingot” made of olive oil and butter, with black truffle grated over at the table, with caviar, breadcrumbs and summer truffle. To be honest this was just odd, the texture of the breadcrumbs too fine so that they ended up tasting like sand, and the ingot was just like eating a slab of over salted butter (12/20 is a kind score).

Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and comprised a choice of olive and walnut loaf, black bread with orange, focaccia, tomato bread, green tea bread, pretzel and a local flatbread from Andalucia. The tomato bread in particular was good, nicely seasoned (16/20).

My starter of quail egg and peas came with Iberico bacon and edible flowers. This was very enjoyable, the peas having good flavor and the quail egg working well with the bacon, the pea shoots a nice touch (16/20). Crab with cauliflower came with a white garlic soup with almonds, the latter a local specialty. The soup was surprisingly rich and enjoyable, given a luxurious edge by black truffle, the crab pleasantly sweet (17/20).

Sea bass was deep-fried and coated with black pepper and coated with a balsamic reduction. On the side was a plate of local vegetables including sweet corn, carrots and courgette. The fish was pleasant, the batter not of the level of top tempura in Japan, but I liked the bold pepper and the contrast of the vinegar (16/20). Iberico pork came with smoked aubergine and soufflé potatoes with a meat jus. Having eaten perhaps the best soufflé potatoes in the world at Michel Guerard last week it was always to be a tricky comparison, but the texture was enjoyably light, and the pork had good flavor, thought the aubergine could have been better (16/20).

Tropical fruit dessert comprised a “passion fruit iceberg” of meringue with passion fruit soup, which worked really well. The meringue was light and there was plenty of fruit flavour to offset the sugary richness (17/20). Coffee was Nespresso and was fine.

The service was excellent, my charming waitress having worked previously in Edinburgh, and overall the staff were friendly and attentive. The bill came to €222 (£159) per person, albeit with a lot of good wine. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per person might be £115, though if you went for one of the cheap menus then you could certainly eat for less. Overall the meal was quite enjoyable, with a couple of particularly good dishes, though there was one distinctly off key nibble. The menu felt curiously dated in some ways, as if stuck in the El Bulli era, though the simpler dishes such as the crab dish and the tropical fruit meringue were genuinely good.

ELS PESCADORS

Cuisine: Seafood

Style / Ambiance: Founded at the close of the 19th century in a district of Barcelona traditionally associated with fishing, Els Pescadors is Catalan for ‘the fishermen’.

It comes as no surprise then, that the seafood and fish on offer are among the finest you are likely to have the opportunity to sample in the whole of the Mediterranean. The restaurant’s cod is among the best in the world, and given that the restaurant’s prestige is growing fast in a town renowned for culinary excellence, making a reservation is highly advisable. Despite being located in a less-than-fashionable area of Barcelona this popular restaurant is worth the trip for fish lovers.

+34 93 225 2018

Plaça Prim, 1

www.elspescadors.com

Andy Hayler visited Akelarre in San Sebastian, Spain. Read his review here:

Chef/patron Pedro Subijana initially planned to study medicine, but switched to a course in hospitality in Madrid. He worked for a time at some simple restaurants in the Basque region, then moved back to Madrid to cook at a French restaurant called Zalacain. He then worked briefly in 1974 at Estella in Navarra before becoming chef de cuisine at Akelarre in 1975.

Akelaŕe (meaning coven, as in witchcraft, also spelt Akelarre) gained its third Michelin star in 2006. It has its own vegetable garden to provide herbs and other produce to the restaurant. There were three tasting menus, priced at €155 per person. Akelarre has a spectacular view over the sea, so is perhaps best enjoyed at lunch in order to appreciate the lovely setting. When booking, try and reserve a window seat if you can, as the seats at the back of the dining room have no view.

The wine list has over 600 different choices. It had selections such as Torres Mas la Plana 2006 at €63 for a wine that can be found in a UK wine shop for the equivalent of around €43, but Alion 2007 at €65 was a bargain given that its UK retail price is at least that much, and Vega Sicilia Unico 2002 at €250 was a touch less than you could buy this wine retail in the UK.

A tray of nibbles began the meal: oyster leaf, mussel with a chocolate shell, sponge with sea urchin cream, pebbles of shallot and corn, goose barnacle tempura and prawn “sand”, involving some tiny prawns. These were pleasant but not exceptional nibbles, the best being the sponge with sea urchin cream inside, which had interesting texture. Around 16/20 for these.

I much preferred the first dish of the menu, prawns cooked at the table in an iron pot, flambéed in a red wine spirit, then served with French bean puree. This was a simple enough dish, for all the theatre, but what was impressive was the sheer quality of the prawns, which had superb, sweet flavour (19/20). I also really enjoyed the next dish, pasta made with red pepper, on which was served a variety of wild mushrooms and slivers of Parmesan. The pasta had excellent texture, the red pepper flavour worked surprisingly well, and the mushrooms were superb (18/20).

This was followed by sautéed foie gras with “salt and pepper”, which was really flakes of puffed rice and sugar. The texture of the puffed rice worked well against the silky foie gras, but the key to the dish was the really top class foie gras (19/20). My wife had white asparagus, with asparagus cream, mushrooms and peas, which was pleasant and pretty not particularly memorable (16/20). Turbot was served with a false turbot “cheek” of slow cooked turbot intended to hint at the local specialty hake cheek, but the turbot itself was merely good rather than anything more than that, and with such a simple dish it is hard to get excited about this. By comparison, I preferred the turbot at Elkano up the coast. Perhaps 16/20.

Grouper with asparagus was carefully cooked and had plenty of flavour (17/20), which was more than could be said for red mullet, which had a grainy texture and very little flavour. Red mullet can be a marvellous fish, but this was simply not a good example of it. It was served with its liver, which was excellent, and fusilli pasta shapes made from parsley, soy and garlic. The trouble is that the mullet itself was just not very good (15/20 at best).

Suckling pig was better, served with tomato “bolao” (ball) and tomato jelly. This was very good, the crackling excellent, and there was some lovely confit garlic as a garnish (17/20). Crystallized cod was served with cod tripe, edible shavings made from pasta and  a white tomato. This was surprisingly salty but quite nice (16/20).

For dessert, a ball of egg yolk and sugar was served with a coconut foam ice cream that had a remarkably light texture and plenty of coconut flavour (18/20). Also good was an apple tart wrapped in edible paper made from chocolate and apple. The puff pastry was very good and the edible paper was fine, but for me there was not quite enough apple, so the overall effect was a little dry, despite the blob of cider jelly. Still, a clever and enjoyable dish (18/20).

With a bottle of Alion between us, the bill came to €218 (£186) a head. Service was generally very good although not quite as slick as one might expect e.g. at one point we were asked who was having which dish, but topping up was well handled. This was a better meal than my previous experience here, and the best dishes were very good indeed, but it was a little erratic in standard given the high price point.

COMERC 24

Comerc24

Cuisine: Contemporary traditional

Style / Ambiance: Situated in a building that used to house a traditional Barcelonian store selling pickled foods, salted fish and preservatives in the El Born district of the city, Comerç 24 takes its name from its address, and the restaurant is a mouth-watering melting pot of old and new.

The Michelin star the eatery proudly bears was well deserved, and the tasting menu comes highly recommended for those who cannot bring themselves to choose any single dish. The food may offer diners a contemporary angle; however the service is defined by elegant tradition, a perfect blend which is certain to leave guests more than satisfied.

Carles Abellan, General Manager

+34 93 319 2102

C/ Comerç, 24, 08003

www.comerc24.com

Andy Hayler visited Club Allard in Madrid, Spain. Read his review here:

Club Allard began as a private club in 1998, but in 2007 opened its doors to the public. Its head chef is Diego Guerrero, who gained a Michelin star for the restaurant in 2007 and a second one in 2011. He is from the Basque region, and trained at Martin Berasategui. Club Allard is on the second floor of a handsome 1908 building in central Madrid. If, as I did, you arrive at the unfashionably early hour of 9 p.m. you may find the imposing doors of the building firmly shut, but eventually a kindly and slightly bemused passing local found the appropriate buzzer to summon a doorman to open up. The dining room is up a flight of stairs and is very grand, with high ceilings, widely spaced tables with crisply ironed white linen tablecloths, chandeliers and thick carpet.

There was no a la carte menu. Instead three tasting menus were offered, entitled “rendezvous” (nine courses for €86) “seduction” (11 courses for €98) and “revolution” (12 courses for €115). No clues there then, but at this point the diner may infer that traditional Spanish cooking will not be the order of the day. The 35 page wine list was mostly, but not entirely, Spanish, with wines such as Imperial Gran Reserva 1999 at €51.21 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €29 and Hacienda Monasterio 2006 at €71.32 for a wine that retails at around €37; Unico 2000 was €332 for a wine that costs €219. I drank the very enjoyable Pintia 2006 from Vega Sicila at €58.69 for a wine that retails at €37.

The chef came round to ask about dietary requirements and then we were off, the dishes arriving at a gallop. Peanut salsa appeared first, a little printed menu card on the table turning out to be an edible crisp (very Mugaritz). The little card tasted pretty much exactly as I imagine cardboard tastes if you try and eat it, so in this case I was far from convinced that the molecular tricky really worked. The peanut salsa was not overpowering, but this was not a dish that I would choose to have again.

This was followed by a much more enjoyable dish of Spanish truffle with foie gras and shredded venison, served over a base of tomatillo smoke that was released when served, the foie gras tasting properly of liver but not overwhelming things, nor too smoky. For me this could benefitted from an extra dish element to balance the richness, but it was otherwise a carefully made and enjoyable dish (17/20).

Bread was a choice of rolls: white, tomato, olive, all with good texture (17/20). The next dish was caviar cream with a “caviar leaf” and a topping of caviar. I was unconvinced by this in terms of balance, the saltiness a little too strong though the caviar cream was enjoyable (14/20). Better was a culinary joke: “Babybel”, the red supermarket cheese. In reality this had a coating of beetroot but inside was high quality Camembert flavoured with truffle, served with a savoury tuile. This had excellent flavour, the rich cheese nicely matched by the thin beetroot layer, an example of modern technique where the effect actually added an effective flavour balance rather than just being clever (17/20).

Next came a Japanese influence. Butterfish was placed on top of a thin seaweed tuile, over a soup described as sukiyaki. It was really a vegetable consommé (sukiyaki is a hotpot) but it had clean flavour and tasted of dashi. The seaweed crisp was delicate and easily broken as a dip for the soup,,while the butterfish had good flavour. I am not sure how Japanese this really was, but the taste combination was effective (16/20).

This was followed by a soup of chanterelles and vegetables from Navarra, served on papilotte on a bed of hot stones, the casing cut open at the table. This seemed to me a case of style over substance. Take away the bed of hot stones and the theatre of cutting open the casing and you are left with a vegetable soup, which could have been served hot anyway without the drama. The broth lacked intensity, though the chanterelles themselves were excellent and the vegetables fine (14/20).

Salmon cheek was smoked and served in a bouillon of saffron with a little sea urchin and baby broad beams, garnished with “coconut air” and banana crab crisps. The salmon itself was very good, the bouillon tasting of saffron but without the metallic tang that this ingredient can bring, though the coconut air evaporated as far as I was concerned, and the sea urchin was subtle to the point of invisibility. The banana crab tuile was a curious garnish that did not taste very strongly of either main component (16/20).

This was followed by a dish of egg with bread served over a potato cream sauce with pancetta. The egg itself had excellent flavour, and the potato cream was good, but the pancetta flavour was missing in action (16/20). Turbot was served with spring onion and basil perfume. This was a surprisingly classical dish, the turbot carefully cooked, the spring onions in the sauce nicely judged, the basil flavour mercifully subtle, the stock a little watery (16/20). The best dish of the night by some margin was pigeon (from Bresse) roasted and served over truffled rice which had been cooked in a mussel broth. The pigeon itself had superb flavour, served with excellent assorted wild mushrooms (18/20).

A rather odd course followed, frozen cucumber cylinder with Hendricks gin and tonic flavoured with rose petals. Although refreshing enough, I was far from sure of the wisdom of mixing gin and cucumber. This was pretty but for me not a great dish. Next was a dessert “fishbowl”, where the “mussels” were really dark chocolate, white chocolate provided a crunchiness and raspberry was the “coral”. Finally, a poached egg was of course no such thing. The eggshell was made of chocolate, encasing “egg white” made from coconut and “egg yolk” from mango, the egg served with salsify crisps. I actually enjoyed this dish. Ignoring the trickery for the moment, the flavours of mango and coconut balanced the richness of the chocolate nicely. Moreover the little play on the egg was fully developed, as when you broke the chocolate shell it really did look like a poached egg inside. In this case the molecular trickery did not come at the expense of flavour (easily 17/20).

A range of high quality teas and coffees were offered, served with a plate of petit fours including a sugar Buddha, meringue with raspberry, plum cake with cinnamon and a rather theatrical flourish of dry ice. The bill came to €162 (£129) a head, albeit with a full bottle of nice wine. This is clever molecular gastronomy, which is far from my favourite style of cooking, but nonetheless I had to admire the high level of skill here. While some of the flourishes were not original, the flavour balance of dishes was generally good, and the culinary technique was precise. Service was excellent, staff friendly and efficient.

MOO

Chef-Felip-Moo

Cuisine: Catalan with a twist

Style / Ambiance: The culinary branch of Hotel Omm, Moo is fast establishing itself as a place to see and be seen on Barcelona’s gastronomic circuit.

In addition to excellent food, served up by head chef Felip Llufriu, Moo boasts one of the world’s finest wine waiters Roger Viusa, winner of the 2007 Best Wine Waiter in Europe and runnerup in the 2008 global award list.

The restaurant’s cellar stocks more than 600 varieties of wine, ensuring that Moo satisfies both the wine and food lover in equal measure.

Joan Roca, General Manager

+34 93 445 4000

Rosselló 265

www.hotelomm.es/moo

Andy Hayler visited Santceloni in Madrid, Spain. Read his review here:

Santceloni, in the basement of the Hisperia Madrid hotel, opened in 2001. It was established as the little sister of (now closed) three star Michelin Can Fabes, which was in the sleepy village of Sant Celoni near Barcelona. The restaurant Santceloni gained a Michelin star in its first year, and a second in 2005. Its kitchen is headed up by Oscar Velasco, who worked for many years at Can Fabes but did not grace the restaurant with his presence this evening (he was apparently in Mexico).

The dining room has smart, modern decor, with a slightly raised section on one side of the room. The floor is tiled, and there is a central display of hanging copper pots and pans. Tables are large and generously spaced, with 42 covers the normal capacity level, though there is also a private dining room. In the kitchen there were a dozen chefs. There was an a la carte menu, but we went for the tasting menu at €142.

The wine list arrived in two hardback tomes, and had deep coverage of Spanish and French producers, with a reasonable selection of wines from other countries as well. The mark-up levels were fair by London standards, but significantly higher than the other two Michelin star restaurants in Madrid that I tried on the same trip as this. Examples were Remelluri Reserva 2006 at €56 for a wine that you can pick up in a shop for €20, Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 1998 at €90 compared to a retail price of €29, up to prestige wines like Mouton Rothschild 2003 at €901 for a wine that will set you back around €421 in the high street (albeit a very smart high street). We drank the excellent Torres Milmanda 2007, and the 1998 vintage of the lovely Rioja Alta 904.

Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen, and had a selection of four large loaves that were presented at the start of the meal before being sliced. The bread was pleasant rather than anything to quicken the pulse, the cereal bread the best of the ones I tried (16/20). Initial nibbles were a clam from Cadiz, a nice fried veal sweetbread, and octopus with pear cream on a little crisp. These were around 16/20 level, but there was one better nibble, a quail egg with paprika served in a little pastry case, which was delicate and delicious (18/20).

Blini with broccoli cream and caviar of flying fish had a nice blini, but was otherwise uninspiring (14/20). A chickpea salad with oxtail had tender enough chickpeas but less oxtail flavor than it might have done (15/20). Next was pasta stuffed with cod, cooked with red pepper and garlic oil, which I found rather bland (15/20). Better was a very good leek and potato soup with aubergine caviar, which was accurately seasoned and had deep flavor, with a piece of tender pork dewlap (neck) that had been cooked sous vide (17/20).

This was followed by a ravioli of smoked ricotta with Petrossian caviar, a dish that was surprisingly lacking in flavor (barely 15/20). Better was smoked cuttlefish with vine shoots, served with roast tomatoes and pepper oil, with the cuttlefish having good flavor and the smokiness not dominant (16/20). Next was gilt head bream served with glazed carrots and mustard yogurt, which worked quite well (16/20). The main course was a success, roe deer loin with endive confit, the deer cooked rare and having good flavor (just about 17/20).

A vast cheese board had a dizzying array of choices, the cheeses I tried being in good condition. For dessert there was quince tartar roasted with pepper cream, which was pleasant enough (16/20) as was soft cheese ice cream with nuts, brandy and honey (16/20). Coffee was of high quality and served with a large selection of petit fours.

Service was friendly and largely efficient, with a particularly nice sommelier. The bill came to €240 (£205) per person, which included some good wines, but was still pretty hefty. Overall this was a pleasant meal, but for me was not of two star level other than the price. This was actually my second meal here (I ate here five years ago) and my recollections that the earlier meal was a notch or two higher in standard than the meal tonight. I am not sure whether this a symptom of a general decline, an off night or something to do with the absence of the chef, but I was a little disappointed with the meal overall tonight. There were no really bad dishes, but only one or two dishes came near to what I would hope for in a two Michelin star meal.

LASARTE

Lasarte

Cuisine: Classic Catalonian

Style / Ambiance: Run by the extremely talented Martín Berasategui, one of Europe’s most renowned chefs, this two-star Michelin eatery located in Hotel Condes has earned a reputation as one of Spain’s finest restaurants.

Having reached the two-star threshold just four years after opening its doors, Lasarte’s gastronomic success has kept diners coming back in droves. Elegant decoration combines with exquisite food to create a mouth-watering experience you are sure to remember. With just 35 spaces and popularity at an all-time high, a reservation is strongly recommended.

+34 93 445 3242

C/ Mallorca, 259

www.condesdebarcelona.com/es/lasarte

Andy Hayler visited Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian, Spain. Read his review here:

Martin Berasategui opened in 1993, gaining a third Michelin star in 2001. Mr Berasategui trained at cookery school in France in 1977, working over the next few years in several prestigious kitchens, including those of Michel Guerard and Alain Ducasse in Monaco. In 1981 he took over his family restaurant, el Bodegon Alejandro, earning a Michelin star for it in 1986. The restaurant is situated in the next village to San Sebastian, around twenty minutes by car. It is in a dedicated building on a hillside in a residential area. The dining room has smart, modern decor, with a tiled stone floor and generously spaced tables, each covered with an impeccably ironed white linen tablecloth. On each table was a large bowl of tall white orchids, and there was no music to distract from the food. On the à la carte menu the pricing was €36 for starters, main courses around €60 and desserts at €25. The wine list contained choices ranging from Mouton Cadet Reserve 2007 €38 for a wine that you can find in a shop for around €13, Alion 2006 at €120 for a wine that you can buy for around €56, and Torres Reserva Real 1998 at €192 for a wine that you can purchase for about €83. We drank Torres Mas La Plana 2007 at €77 for a bottle that retails at €38.

Bread, a choice of white, corn or cranberry, was pleasant with a good crust, but unexceptional (16/20). The meal began with a neat rectangular slab of eel, foie gras, apple and spring onions, a pleasing combination of flavors with the apple providing just enough acidity to balance the richness of the foie gras (comfortably 18/20). Next was a sphere of raviolo of onion and squid ink, a consommé of squid poured around the sphere with a single squid ink crisp on one side. The flesh of the squid with the consommé was tender, though the technical trickery to contain the liquid center of the raviolo seemed to me to be just that: culinary wizardry rather than anything that really added to the flavor of the dish (16/20).

Variations on fennel was a better dish: fennel emulsion combined with raw fennel on a fennel risotto. The fennel itself was of impeccable quality, the risotto having good texture, and this seemed to me an interesting and unusual dish (18/20). Also very good was a pretty salad of warm vegetables, with ripe slivers of avocado and tomatoes amongst well dressed salad leaves, with a little langoustine tail tucked under one leaf (18/20).

For main course, sole was served off the bone alongside smoked fish snout and little spheres of mild green chilli. The sole was carefully cooked but the little blobs of almost liquid spheres of chilli seemed to be a way of showing off a piece of culinary technique rather than really being an ideal flavour pairing for the sole 16/20). Much better was pigeon with wild mushrooms and little pasta parcels with truffle. The pigeon was carefully cooked and had good flavour, the pasta was lovely and the assorted mushrooms were an earthy foil to the richness of the pigeon (19/20).

Almond cake with honey ice cream was served with honey croutons. The honey ice cream had smooth texture but the almond cakes, with a liquid centre, had strangely little in the way of almond flavour (16/20). Better was apple tart with Granny Smith sorbet, two slices of excellent pastry containing slices of apples that were carefully cooked but were not quite tart enough for perfect balance, though the sorbet had lovely texture; a little bowl of chantilly cream was served on the side (easily 17/20). Coffee was served with an array of petit fours: lemon and almond biscuit, caramel of chocolate and orange, pistachio with chocolate, a grape infusion with passion fruit and a hazelnut cream cake. These were good rather than great petit fours, the lemon biscuit very good but the passion fruit flavour subtle to the point of invisibility, for example (17/20).

The bill came to €393.80, which works out at £158 a head with a decent but not excessive bottle of wine between us and a glass of dessert wine apiece. Service was impeccable throughout the evening, the smartly dressed waiters providing seamless and unobtrusive service, with water, wine and bread carefully topped up at all times. This was a vastly better meal than the one I ate here a decade ago, with the pigeon in particular a very fine dish. The dishes that seemed to me to work best were the ones, perhaps ironically, that involved the least culinary “technique”, whereas the tricksy spherification seemed to subtract from rather than add to the sole dish. Ingredient quality was very good, shown in the excellent fennel and tender squid, for example.

VIA VENETO

Via Veneto

Cuisine: Catalan with a twist

Style / Ambiance: José Monje and Pedro Monje, a father and son team, lead a team of 40 professionals who combine their talents to make Via Veneto one of Barcelona’s most sought-after venues for excellent cuisine.

This award-winning restaurant has received numerous awards over the years for excellence in both food and service, and diners are sure to be delighted by head chef Carles Tejedor’s sublime menu, with sautéed espardenyes one of many local delicacies that have to be seen to be believed. Private rooms are available upon request for exclusive gatherings, and Via Veneto’s wine list is one of Barcelona’s finest.

Pedro Monje, General Manager

+34 93 200 7244

Carrer de Ganduxer, 10

www.viavenetorestaurant.com

Andy Hayler visited Etxebarri in Bizkaia, Spain. Read his review here:

Extebarri (“new home”) is located in the foothills of the limestone mountain Mt Anboto in the Urkiola range, 25 miles south east of Bilbao, near a village called Axpe. Chef and owner Victor Arguinzoniz restored the old stone house that houses the restaurant, which opened in 1988. A former timber worker, he has designed adjustable grills that raise and lower ingredients over open flames, creating his own charcoal from woods including apple, olive and oak in order to impart the flavors that he wants to the ingredients being cooked. He even grills the ice cream here to impart a subtle smoky note. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2010, which it has retained ever since.

Extebarri has a large barn-like main dining room, with a smaller additional dining room available. The tasting menu is usually €125, the exact price depending on the particular products used. It is a celebration of local produce, with hardly any garnishes used. Tables were generously spaced, with no music to distract from the food. The wine list, as often the case in this region, was very generously priced.  Alion 2009 was €65 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €69, Didier Dagenau Pur Sang 2011 was €140 for a wine that retails at €85, and Vega Sicilia Unico 2000 was a bargain €199 for a wine that will set you back €342 in a shop.

Pretty much everything served here is cooked to a greater or lesser degree over the charcoal grills. The shellfish was prepared using apple wood, other dishes with a local wood which did not seem to have an English translation but was referred to as “lillex”.

White bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and was hearty and rustic, served with goatmilk butter freshly churned on the premises (16/20). Edamame beans were lightly smoked and salted, very tender and a world away from the dried up creatures of the same name that one might encounter in London (17/20). Sliced chorizo had a bit of smokiness too, and was unusually good, without any hint of stringiness (16/20), while the char-grill treatment even applied to some buffalo mozzarella on the side. A tomato was treated in the same way, this also having excellent flavor (17/20). Porcini slices on little crisps used mushrooms picked from the nearby hills (16/20) while a local anchovy had impressive flavor and was not overly salty (17/20).

An oyster served in its shell was also excellent (17/20) but even better was a pair of red prawns caught in the waters north of Barcelona, served in their shells. Reminiscent of the prawns from the Italian Riviera, these were very lightly cooked with just a hint of smokiness, and had superb flavour. There are perhaps limits to how high a score is reasonable for such a simple dish, but the prawns were really dazzling (18/20 may be a mean score). Porcini smoked in a local wood came on a bed of aubergine, and were also very good (16/20).

The other star dish was lightly seared tuna, liberally salted, from a 120kg fish caught locally. Again this was such a simple thing, yet the quality of the fish was superb, up there with the quality you might encounter in a top Tokyo restaurant (easily 18/20). Whole bream was good, though not of the level of some of the previous dishes, and suffered from being cooked just a touch too long, served with a few vegetables including carrots and beetroot (15/20). Rib eye of Galician beef had plenty of fat content, and was enjoyable though not quite as tender as, say, highly marbled beef from Japan, here served with a little dressed lettuce (16/20).

For dessert, figs in beer granita were rather overwhelmed by the hoppy taste of the beer (13/20), and milk ice cream with beetroot juice was pleasant though not an immediately obvious combination (14/20). The bill came to €200 (£157) a head including tip, though this was with some very good wine. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill with water and coffee might be €160 (£126) a head. The only thing that drags my overall score down a little was the slightly overcooked bream and the desserts. Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, the ingredients used of impeccable quality. Etxebarri this time around felt even better than I recall from my last visit, with the very best dishes genuinely stunning, and is highly recommended if you are staying anywhere near Bilbao.

GAIG

Cuisine: Modern and classic

Style / Ambiance: Founded in 1869, Gaig is an established presence on the Barcelona restaurant scene, and enjoys a long-standing reputation as a restaurant steeped in a tradition of gastronomic superiority.

The philosophy underpinning the eatery is to extract the best from each fresh, handselected ingredient to create an unbeatable overall culinary experience. The food will surprise even the most seasoned and well traveled of experts, and the diverse and succulent menu is sure to feature something for every palette.

+34 93 429 1017

Carrer Aragó, 214 (Esquina Aribau)

www.restaurantgaig.com

Andy Hayler visited Viridiana in Madrid, Spain. Read his review here:

The black and white Bunuel prints on the wall remind the diner that the restaurant is named after the controversial 1961 movie Viridiana, banned by the Franco government at the behest of the Catholic Church. This restaurant serves traditional Spanish food, the main dining room upstairs with additional seating downstairs. There is a marble floor, quite small tables and banquette seating. Muzak played in the dining room, but was not too intrusive.

Chef Abraham García is a movie buff, but has also acted. He has appeared in small roles in a few films, including as a barman in a Pedro Almodovar film (“High Heels”). These days his creative skills are confined to the kitchen, though he came out to the dining room quite a lot this evening to chat to regular customers. There is an a la carte menu, but this evening we put ourselves in the hands of the chef, who produced an impromptu tasting menu. Most courses were around €30, with desserts €15, if you went a la carte. The 16 wine page wine list had plenty of excellent Spanish wines, but also some good choices from other countries, including Germany. The list ranged in price from €25 to €615, but with plenty of choice under €40. As so often in Spain, the markups were modest. Examples were Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2005 at €36 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €19, the lovely Alion 2007 at €70 for a wine that retails at €52, and the glorious Unico 2000 at €321 for a wine that will now set you back €269 in a shop.

The meal began with a simple nibble of pork jowl on toast, but this was no ordinary pork. The Iberico pork came from a pig that had been fed just acorns in the latter stage of its life and cured for two years, longer than the minimum requirement for the top “bellota” classification. The pork was from a small farmer in the north of Spain, who produces 5,000 pigs a year. I find this kind of very simple dish hard to score, but it tasted sublime.

This was followed by a pair of soup dishes, one hot and one cold: “new v old world”. The gazpacho was made with tomatoes from the south of Spain and had little pieces of mackerel added, which to be honest were superfluous since the gazpacho itself was superb, the tomato flavor intense despite their not being in season, the seasoning carefully judged (17/20). By contrast the warm soup of new world vegetables (pumpkin, chestnuts) was quite ordinary, the stock not having much flavor, the vegetables decent but no more; the contrast was striking (13/20 for the hot soup).

Ham and guinea fowl croquettes were nicely made, crisp on the outside with plenty of flavor (15/20). Game pate was next, and this was lovely, the texture soft but the game flavor truly intense, balanced by a much needed salad (16/20). Mozzarella from Naples with smoked ratatouille was less successful, the smokiness just too much (13/20). An egg was served with a rich purée of porcini, with black truffles (from north of Madrid) grated at the table. This was good, the porcini flavor coming through well, but badly needed some acidity for balance (14/20). Cod tripe with chickpeas and chorizo is a traditional peasant dish, the “tripe” being the air bladder of the cod. This was yet another very rich dish, and though the chickpeas were tender and the chorizo good, by now the succession of heavy dishes was starting to take its toll. There was no relief with the final savory dish, venison served with gnocchi and an intensely flavored, dark sauce of the cooking juices and fortified wine. In another meal I would have enjoyed the deeply flavored sauce more, but by this stage of the meal it felt just too much; also, the gnocchi were a little heavy (14/20). To finish, fig ice cream tasted properly of figs but was too sweet (13/20).

The meal came to €100 (£80) a head, though in this case I was accompanied by regular customers who brought their own wine, so the realistic price per head with wine from the list would be higher than this. To be fair, there were a lot of dishes in this menu and portions were distinctly generous. Service was very pleasant, and dishes arrived at a steady pace. This was an enjoyable meal, with the best dishes such as the gazpacho and the game terrine very good indeed. However the savory dishes were consistently very rich, and the dessert course quite evidently over sweet, so the meal was far from faultless. Nonetheless it was a good example of authentic, hearty Spanish cooking. On average the cooking was between 14/20 and 15/20, but with some highs and lows outside this range.

TICKETS

Cuisine: Contemporary Tapas

Style / Ambiance: The unique restaurant is converted into a culinary amusement featuring five small-plates bars and open kitchens encompassing the restaurant, each specialising in different preparation methods.

Tickets is headed by Albert and Ferran Adrià and the Iglesias brothers.The fun, innovative tapas bar bring your imagination to life.

+34 932 92 42 53

reservas@ticketsbar.es

Av. del Paraŀlel, 164, 08015 Barcelona, Spain

http://www.ticketsbar.es/en

Andy Hayler visited Sacha in Madrid, Spain. Read his review here:

This restaurant is in the north of the city, near the Paseo de la Castellana. It was established in 1972 by a couple, Carlos Hormaechea and Pitila Mosquera. Their son Sacha Hormaechea now runs the restaurant, which serves Spanish food with a Galician influence. The place is tucked away in a quiet side street in a residential area, next to a large Brazilian meat restaurant. The dining room has a cosy, old fashioned feel to it, and was full of locals on the Monday evening when I visited. Lighting was very low, hence the limited and murky photos.

The kitchen offered a selection of their specialties, so we tried these rather than ordering a la carte. Anchovies were pleasant though not of dazzling quality (13/20), while fried artichoke crisps had good texture and were enjoyable (14/20). Local tomato bread was also nicely made, with tomatoes that had real flavour (14/20). The best dish by some way was a raviolo of spider crab, with pasta that had excellent texture and a filling of fresh crab enlivened by a little red chilli; this was genuinely classy (16/20). A porcini omelette was cooked just on one side, and had good quality mushrooms (13/20). Sea bass was reasonable, offered with a few rather overcooked vegetables, though its texture suggested that this was of lesser quality than the crab (12/20). Better was beef served with bone marrow separately, the beef of high quality and cooked and seasoned carefully, the bone marrow having good depth of flavour (15/20). For dessert I had a Galician dish called folloas, a crepe in syrup, which was fine if unexciting (13/20).

Overall this was a very pleasant neighbourhood restaurant, whose best speciality dishes were very good indeed. Service was friendly and the bill, with a glass of sherry and plenty of Spanish wine, came to €81 (£65) a head, which was not unreasonable for what we had.