Roll up, roll up, get yer bums on yer seats and prepare for the greatest show on Earth. The mind-meltingly creative minds behind the world’s-most-famous-restaurant™ have begun their undertaking of global gastronomic domination, and it starts right here, in the place the brothers Adrià call home: Barcelona. The big brother of fledgling food and drink group BCN 5.0, Tickets may be just two years old, and elBulli just two years gone, but the theatrical Poble-sec tapas bar has already established itself as one of the city’s most important dining destinations.
Under the creative direction of local designers El Equipo Creativo, Tickets exudes the showmanship its founders are famed for – as if impudently answering back to the concept of a ‘temple of gastronomy’; “now, it’s your turn, show me what you can do”. Starched suits and grovelling demeanour are replaced by pomp, drama and flair. The doorman wears a top hat for Christ’s sake. But of course here, the ringleaders are behind the stations, rinsing out every last ounce of precision from their gastronomic acrobats. Albert Adrià, the man who many in-the-know credit with being as important as Ferran in elBulli’s success, welcomes us upon arrival, but is soon beavering around the many open stations that surround the restaurant, offering advice to his supporting cast. Conceptual visualisations of Tickets’ philosophy adorn the windows of the large, eclectic space, but nothing can be as conceptual a visualisation of the Adrià’s philosophy as the food itself. And what of that food?…
Sangriá-infused watermelon whets the palate, impossibly delicate Jamón ibérico melts into those scratchy little lacerations that the perfectly crunchy pan con tomate has left behind. There’s taste sensations beyond simple description, including former elBulli favourite ‘spherical olives’: olives that look like olives, taste like the most powerfully flavoured olive you could imagine, but are NOT olives. There’s more straight from the menu of the world’s most famous restaurant too; ‘liquid ravioli’ follows the same scientific process as the aforementioned spherical olives, the moment when the liquid spheres (shaped into a virtual solid by a process called Spherification) burst in your mouth simply redefines the concept of a ‘taste explosion’. Senses are overwhelmed.
There is more theatre to be had; Pescaíto frito continues the ‘all-is-not-as-it-seems’ trend – basically a posh packet of crisps, where mixed fish (prawn, octopus, anchovy…) are literally transformed. I have absolutely no concept of the process this dish has taken, nor do I care to know, sometimes it’d be nice to still believe in Father Christmas and, when I bite into a fish-shaped crisp (with a perfect anchovy spine painstakingly re-attached) and am deluged by a torrent of flavour, I find a new fable to believe in. All the column inches I’d read, the lionising of the Adriàs, it was true. I’m as close to elBulli’s magic as I could be, and it beats any Father Christmas.
Mischievous exploits in molecular gastronomy aside, Ferran and Albert promised an air of tradition would permeate their ‘tapas bar’, and it’s felt in the dishes that largely comprise our 15 course sitting: oysters, tuna belly, sardines, ‘hamburguesa’… all realised with perfection and precision at their core. These may not resemble the overt traditionalism that you’ll encounter in the countless tapas bars that line the streets of surrounding Poble-sec, but from the hands that made foam famous, this is simplicity personified.
Its staff are friendly, helpful to a T, its space as flamboyant and cartoon-like as you may imagine from a restaurant where virtual solids pop on your tongue and fish bones are applied to crisps – but the ineradicable impression it leaves is one of honesty. Albert and Ferran Adrià could do anything they wanted when elBulli closed its doors; the three-star Michelin restaurant that topped the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants for a record five times received over two million reservation requests annually, and could accommodate only eight thousand of those. From the mid-’80s to its final days in 2011, the Adrià brothers traced a new template for cooking – Tickets could have occupied prime position in Monte Carlo, or Las Vegas, but the boys from Barcelona had something else in mind. An expression of their humble selves, and their extravagant cuisine; Tickets is boundary-prodding gastronomy for real people.