Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tapas and Beyond in Barcelona, Part 3: Llucanes

Saying that I'm a Spanish food expert would be a far cry, but let's say I know my padrons from my piquillos. Every visit to Spain has always included lots of traditional tapas, and never really into the more avant garde offerings until this trip. Shame on me considering this is La Liga El Bulli. 

Restaurant Llucanes is situated in the Barceloneta market, south of the city. Upstairs from the covered market area, you walk through what looks like the casual dining bit to a metal warehouse above. It feels too wide and tall given the number of tables it could actually accommodate, and doesn't have the most welcoming feel with all that space and steel.

The tasting menu is the obvious choice here as the a la carte is pretty extortionate. First comes a snack which consists of squid and parsnip crisps, rice noodles and truffle popcorn. I'm feelin' the truffle popcorn but the rest of this really is just a snack.

The chicken broth with tomatos and scallops is delicate, delicious and has a Chinese accent. Those tear-drop vessels are the perfect slurping device!

Cream cheese quinelles were laced with hazelnut and white truffle, and was very much like recreated Boursin after some thought...

Goats cheese, a medley of vegetables with mushroom sauce didn't really do much for me, the mushroom sauce was lovely but the ever so well cut layers of vegetables were non-de script and in fact like raw unseasoned veg!

Red Mullet was perfectly cooked and came with green apple, berries and quite large parsley leaves, giving it a very fresh and springy zest. I enjoyed the vinegary glaze smeared brazenly on the side which brought the dish together.

The next dish was such a spectacle to behold but unfortunately an anti-climax upon taste. What looked like a giant conchiglioni bathed in a clear brown broth was made out of potato and also contained a some parmentier. Encasing stewed spinach and topped with a gorgeous blob of meringue cloud, it was a technically very interesting but hardly exciting in flavours. I almost called out for some salt!

Chicken cannelloni with a goats cheese sauce, again wonderfully created but really lacked any oomph. I was surprised that the actual cannelloni was made out of chicken stock which is usually so tasty. 

Llucanes however, seem to do the fish dishes very well. A silky and soft sea bass flaked upon touch and had a sparky pea puree to compliment. They also love their little crackers and rice noodles for texture.

Last in the main courses was the smoked foie gras with a coffee foam. Super interesting, and one of those dishes that gave plenty of debate. Did I love the slightly springy texture or did I prefer classic, spreadable foie gras? I really couldn't make up my mind. Bags of yumminess in contrast to the previous courses.

For dessert, the Gin and Tonic foam. Don't they adore their foams in these Michelin Stars? The nod to the English cucumber were tiny cubes of icy tasting cucumber, and my tongue was left tingling from the convincing foam replica of this famous beverage.

Lastly, white chocolate ice cream, chocolate brownie and coffee sauce. Expertly presented with chocolate cigars and a chocolate nest as decor, it tasted more home-cooked than cutting edge. But hey, this was a good thing when it looked and tasted as pretty as it did. 

Llucanes was a strange beast. The whole experience was like admiring a very handsome man without feeling the least sexually attracted. All dishes were cooked with supreme technical skill and mind-boggling to think about their creation, but overall didn't ignite any fire in my belly. Ferran Adria's influence in the Spanish food of today is far and wide, and it's obvious Llucanes has taken a few pages out of his book. I'm wondering though if this is just a step too far and not showcasing the real talent of Spanish food? The tasting menu was 70 Euros per person.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tapas and Beyond in Barcelona, Part 2: Bar Mut

It's all in the detail with Barcelona. Magnificent and intricate design is on the floors, ceilings, crawling up lamposts and mosaiced onto park benches. At the risk of sounding like an ignoramous, little did I know this extended to tapas as well...

We arrived at Bar Mut in true late Spanish fashion for 10:30pm. Even then there were numerous "Reserved" signs scattered on tables. The marble bar with a bronze edge instantly calls for glamourous elbow leaning whilst sipping a glass of clara. Beads of light cast from the glittery disco ball above circle the room, creating the perfect Friday night ambience. 

Bar Mut is what I'd call contemporary tapas, you can be sure there is a twist and turn to every dish that arrives despite the humble names. Our octopus salad was probably one of the more "normal" dishes: gorgeously marinated, octopus still bouncy and tasting of the sea. Diced tomato and chives that lay on top mixed into the dressing to add freshness.

We were transported back to spring with the wood pigeon salad, that came with green leaves, mushrooms, pomegranate and walnuts. A thin sliver of apple sat on top the wood pigeon mound and was also accompanied by an apple puree. Though an incredibly impossible dish to share, this was wild, light and sweet all in one go.

Every dish that arrived was a little picture perfect moment. Our next tapa was fried potato "noodles", so crispy it's more like the crunchy bits of Bombay mix. A broken egg lay beneath the noodles, sauteed prawns and pine nuts. This was surely the modern version of patatas bravas con huevos (fried potatoes with eggs), which is a lot less satisfying when you don't have a soft fluffy potato inside to soak up the runny egg! It was more of a assembly of items than the sum of interesting parts.

And then a breathtaking dish came along. Layers of crispy potato noodles (again), stacked up and slotted in between a mushroom compote. All topped off with a perfectly positioned bright yellow egg yolk, with a mini sprig of thyme. The egg was so meticulously placed, it reminded me of a bald man's head crowned with an olive leaf wreath. It also felt like an absolute crime piercing the yolk! The combination of items was incredible: a rich yolk, crunchy noodles and earthy and soft mushrooms were simply divine. There was a sweet balsamic glaze that smoothed it all out nicely.

Onwards to a hearty Wild Boar stew. I'm not sure I would have guessed it was wild boar if I hadn't known, but still a warming and robust dish, dotted with pomegranates to lift those deep flavours.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the seared steak topped with foie gras. Every bit as decadent as it sounds, the beef fillets were juicy, yielding and blushed like a schoolgirl after her first kiss. The foie gras provided a layer of velvety unctuousness, with a hint of thyme. So naughty, and oh so very nice. 

Like I said, this city is covered in immense detail, and it's food is no exception. Beautiful to the eye and delightful to the palate, Bar Mut is a must visit in Barcelona if you want to experience this exciting and evolving tapas scene. There is a fantastic selection of wine as well, and the staff go out of their way to be accommodating and helpful. The damage was £35 between five, for all dishes, 2 bottles of wine and a dash of beer. Muy Bien!