Saturday, 13 September 2008

Barcelona I: Cinc Sentits or mouthfuls of loveliness

We have already been back two weeks and I still have not written up our Barcelona trip. It was full of some excellent food and some excellent cocktails, not to mention great weather and lots of relaxing. This time I was a little more laid back about the eating schedule and tried to have only one proper meal a day with tapas the rest of the time. As you will see it is probably more correct to say we had small plates than tapas, but whatever they were they were helpful in tricking our poor over-worked tummies into thinking they were not having to work that hard! Many people write about the fact that Barcelona is not really a city for tapas and that Madrid is where one should go.. Maybe next time.

Anyway, optimistic as ever I had booked us in for lunch at 2pm at Cinc Sentits, the day we arrived. This would be my fourth time eating there and HI's third. We first ate there about four years ago and really liked it. It is a family owned and run concern, with Jordi Artal in the kitchen, his sister Roser as Sommelier and mum as one of the lovely wait staff. We came back the year after but the menu had not really changed and I thought we should try some new places, so it never made it back on my list till I read this blog post by Trig, also known as Aidan Brooks.

Aidan is a trainee chef who, although in his early twenties, has worked in some pretty good restaurants including Commerc 24 in Barcelona. I think his post, elaborates in an altogether more articulate and technical way, what I hold to be true. That if the ingredients are good there is no need for fancy combos or to hide behind foams and airs and that the chef's skill is in a simple showcasing that enhances the innate flavours of the ingredients.

Well, I think that's what he said, and if it's not it's what I am saying. A case in point will be to contrast this meal with a meal we had at Hisop later on that week.

Cinc Sentits is modern enough for me, the environment is contemporary, the menu doesn't rely on foams and airs and nitrogen as I said, but it is obvious that skill lies behind what is put on your plate. Perhaps the skill is in making something that tastes so good look so simple. That to me is the test- I know that I wouldn't be able to make any of these dishes at home. Now I am not a chef, just a intermittent cook, who is not completely clueless. I can turn my hand to most things and from the reactions from my friends it seems to work out for the best, most of the time. So I can replicate most dishes at home, but not these dishes.

Modern, thoughtful cooking that doesn't distract you with odd colours or 'interesting' combinations, is what I like and that is what we got.

We rushed there from the airport and found ourselves to be the only people there. Given it was their first day back after their holidays, I guess it's not too much of a surprise. The white minimal interior was a welcome haven from the heat outside. We had a number of menu options but decided to go with the lunch menu which allowed you to pick you starter, fish, main and pudding from the ala carte menu. It said they were half portions and I don't know if that is true, because the portions we got were pretty generous.

What followed was probably the best meal of the trip.

The most delicious olives I have ever eaten, better than those at Alkimia and they were pretty darn tasty too. They were big, juicy and tasted a little of orange peel.

Our first amuse bouche: Jordi's now famous maple shooter with cava foam and sea salt base. This tasted better than I remember it too, as if it has been refined over the years. Really good mix of sweet, savoury and salt.

(I need to apologise for the odd light in the photos, it is an entirely white restaurant with spotlights placed over the tables, therefore the photos seem overexposed)

Amuse bouche: Jordi's take on a deconstructed Pan amb Tomate. I prefer it to the version at Alkimia. The tomato sorbet was intensely savoury and worked well with the fuet/salchichon crisp and olive oil base.

low temperature egg baby garbanzo beans from alta anoia, chorizo sauce, "migas" and quince
HI's starter. This was very moreish. Something homely done in a sophisticated manner.

Foie Gras "coca" thin pastry crust, balsamic-glazed leeks, burnt-sugar shell, and chives
This is one of my favourite dishes here, and my most favourite way to eat Foie Gras. As you can see it is quite a substantial portion but the combination of the sweet cocoa the savoury leeks and crispy base made it difficult not to finish.

Sea bass and shellfish "fideuà", foamed "allioli", and squid ink
as it was the first day back there wasn't any sea-bass so they substitued a local white fish which was very similar. The white fish worked very well with the strong flavours of the squid ink and the fideua. Very umami.

Tuna very rare, with smoked tomato water, whole lemon confit, and black olive salt
Just look at how the Tuna is cooked. Perfect. And the tomato water. I could have eaten a bowl of that alone.

Iberian suckling pig crisp and succulent, with apple in two textures and "ratafía"
As it says crisp and succulent at the same time. Beautiful porky goodness. It seemed unfair to compare it to the next dish which I can only describe as mouthfuls of loveliness

Galician veal cheek foie gras and bacon "migas", parsnip purée, and summer truffle glaze
This was amazing. Slightly odd given the weather outside, as it made me want to be holed up with a big plate of it, all tucked up and warm inside as it snows outside. The meat was so tender it fell part and it was just one mouthful after mouthful of satisfaction.

Strawberries from the Maresme, mascarpone sorbet, fennel, and rosewater
This was a standout dish. So much so I dragged HI back for lunch again later in the week. Primarily so I could eat this. Light, sweet. And if that is sorbet I will eat my hat. It was so delicious I thought it was ice-cream.

Grand Cru chocolate 67% instant soufflé, arbequina olive oil ice cream, shattered bread, and sea salt
I can appreciate the sophistication of this dish the chocolate and the salt with the olive oil but in comparison to the strawberries it was way too much.

So, at the end of the meal there were many highlights, many moments of delight and satisfaction. Many moments of contemplation and mmmh-ing.

It set the bar high for the rest of the trip, and given the fact we ate very well, and have eaten well in the past, it is testament to the Jordi's skill that it is one of my best meals to date.

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