The Lemurs are on a pre-Christmas mini break in Barcelona with the Crocodiles, and naturally eating is our top priority. Two months ago we booked a table at Ferran Adrià’s new venture Tickets and there has been much excitement and anticipation. On arrival, Tickets is studiously funky and laid back. There is a giant bank of Chinese wealth cats bobbing their golden paws in mechanical benediction around a video of the Adrià documentary. Waitstaff wear Michael Jackson / circus ringmaster t-shirts and every now and again an ice-cream cart goes by ringing a bell. It is undeniably atmospheric and more welcoming than austere Michelin-star style, but it is also a teensy bit precious. Humorous phrases are printed on the windows, among them ‘this is not a tapas bar’. Are you right now in your head singing this to the tune of ‘This is not America’? If so, then congratulations, you are me.
Our waiter suggested that the best thing to do is to let the kitchen bring food of their choice and, since we wanted the full Tickets experience we agreed. The thing is this: because is it, pace David Bowie, in fact a tapas bar, you’re not getting a tasting menu of seven or nine courses served to each diner but a procession of tiny dishes to share. Thus, we went through a lot of dishes and there are thus a lot of pictures. But bear with me, there is a lot of pretty pretty food to look at…
First up was olives, ceremonially dolloped onto special flat spoons. Of course these were not real olives but green olive and lemon thyme gel spheres that burst in the mouth. A bit of a cliché of molecular gastronomy perhaps, but these were delicious, boldly flavoured and fairly sang of fresh olives and herbs.
Next up was something out waiter described cryptically as fried fish. They turned out to be cod-flavoured potato crispy things, existing somewhere in the addictive overlap of bacalau, prawn crackers, and essence of fish supper. These went fast.
The third plate was more traditional: good quality Spanish ham with Catalan staple pan amb tomaquet. The ham – or ‘jam’ as our waiter adorably if confusingly pronounced it – was certainly top rate but the dish itself was simple. Still, you can’t got wrong with jam in Barcelona.
Now we’re getting to the dishes I don’t quite know how to describe. This next one is called Mini Airbags on the menu, so that’s no real help. They were puffy little breads, essentially, filled with manchego cheese mousse and topped with toasted almonds and what looks like caviar but is actually in some way hazelnuts. The first impression, what with the hazelnuts and the slight crisp followed by creaminess, is of a Ferrero Rocher. I know, but it’s true. Next you are hit with manchego and it all becomes a bit confusing. Why Ambassador, cheese? It is, however, really good.
This next dish was one of my favourites of the night. So simple looking but the taste was extraordinary. It is orange salad, with mint, orange and lemon peel, green olive and olive oil emulsion, and a sprinkling of ras el hanout. A good deal of the swoonworthiness probably comes from the amazing (again) green olives and we were all convinced the sauce had meat in there somewhere – maybe some chicken stock? Regardless, the sauce was heavenly. But if its secrets are no doubt safe with the Adriàs, the basic idea for an orange, green olive and ras el hanout salad is eminently stealable and I’m definitely going to be trying this at home.
Up next were little steamed brioches that were akin to the pork bun sliders at Momofuku, filled with cheese and truffle. This was the first dish that i didn’t really care for – I couldn’t taste the truffle at all and it felt a little flabby after the carefully judged dishes we’d just had.
I got a little glum at this point, as this dish also promised a touch more than it delivered. Little ice-cream cones of raw fish with, supposedly, a kimchee dressing. Mr Lemur said he could taste something fermented that could have been kimchee but I really didn’t. There was nothing spicy here, which would have been fine if kimchee wasn’t promised, but in the event, I found it just salty. The fish was very fresh though.
Things looked up with these artichoke hearts swimming in a pool of idiazabal sauce and olive oil and topped with more cheese. As you’d think, it was cheesetastic and though regular readers will know I am not a huge cheese gal, I will absolutely make an exception for really good melted cheese.
It was back to fish for this caterpillar of crab wrapped in avocado, with yoghurt sauce and dill spheres. Again, the dill for me could have been stronger – I essentially believe you can’t have too much dill and I want it carpeted like over a good borscht – but this was an elegant and pleasing dish.
My eyes lit up at the next tapa, a dish of razor clams dressed with saffron pearls and, er, some other stuff. I zoned out for a moment during the description. I adore razor clams and these are probably the best I’ve ever eaten. The little saffron balls brought a richness but the clams were just so light and fresh, I could have eaten sheds of these.
I don’t eat oysters but two of my tablemates do and even I was quite delighted by their presentation. They came with pearls! How clever, right? Neither of the oyster eaters could remember what was in the pearl but they were extermely happy with the result.
Instead of the oysters, we had anchovies with tomato seeds on toast, which looked less dramatic but were actually fantastically good.
And still the dishes came, one at a time. Next was confit tuna belly with roasted garlic, which was as rich and soft as you would imagine. I didn’t love this, but it was nice. It may have been about this time that we realised the downside of the endless tapas system, which is that there’s no narrative. With a tasting menu, you know the chef has a plan for you, and the meal is moving toward a climax. Here, our waiter basically told us that whenever we were full, he’d bring us some desserts, so we had no real sense of direction in our eating.
However, we told him we wanted more meat, so the dishes kept coming. Next was potatoes with ham and paprika, which was also nice rather than amazing, but elevated like many of the dishes by some truly spectacular olive oil.
Next were pork tacos. This dish was kind of funny – despite being made with good corn tortillas and filled with roasted pork, it tasted almost nothing like a taco. It was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure I realised that tortillas plus roast pork didn’t automatically taste kind of like a taco.
Somewhere in here we got more of the brioches, this time filled with pork and mustard. I didn’t love them the first time so I wasn’t especially thrilled to see them return. More exciting was this dish of roast quail and roast potatoes with cumin, coriander and other spices. This was succulent and juicy, and praise be to the starch gods, we got a potato! (This is how Tickets keeps you coming back for more – there’s little starch to be had so you’re never actually full…)
We were grumbling about not having a big concluding dish and tried to order something we’d seen other tables receiving in a plastic bag that was opened with great ceremony. We thought it looked fun and theatrical and asked for it. Sadly something was lost in translation because what we got instead was a hunk of beef, carved tableside. Now the others were actually happy at this turn of events: the steak provided the showstopping conclusion we wanted and the grilled lettuce that accompanied the meat was umami and delightful. I agree in principle, and I adored the lettuce, but the meat was a bit rare for me and ultimately I find slabs of plain grilled meat to be a bit boring, no matter how expertly cooked.
So it was onto desserts and here we took advice from David, the fit pastry chef that one of the Crocs had taken a particular shine to. First were little doughnuts filled with cold chocolate, a neat play on hot and cold.
Then came cheesecake with lemongrass icecream. I loved the smooth New York style cheesecake and the refreshing icecream, but I thought the apricot layer enclosing the cake was a bit bland. Mr Lemur disagrees with me, though, so maybe my tastebuds have been damaged by years of abuse.
We decided we wanted just one more dessert and I’m glad we did. David’s suggestion of almond cake was a real winner. It was a bit like a chocolate fondant but with almonds – I cut into the cake to find a warm custardy interior oozing out. There was some raspberry sorbet business too but really this plate was all about the cake.
So we made it through all twenty courses! Tickets was a unique experience and I’m really glad I went. Sometimes I thought the dishes had that problem I often have with fine dining, which is flavours that are too subtle for my personal taste, but many of the dishes were lovely and a few were transporting. Service was friendly although not perfect – one waiter spilled our wine and didn’t offer us a free replacement, which I thought was a bit off. But it’s hard not to get a bit swept away by the endless supply of cool, inventive, food and, truth be told, for a meal you literally couldn’t have anywhere else, it cost a lot less than you probably think it would.