Tickets, a one-star Michelin tapas bar opened by the world’s most influential modern chefs Ferran and Albert Adrià, is often revered as a pilgrim culinary pitstop in Barcelona, Spain, as it lends gastronomy devotees a small footing into the world of its legendary three-star preceder ElBulli (which closed in 2011).
With Tickets, chef Albert Adrià imagined a very different concept, one that would be fun, exciting, and perhaps a little less ‘haute cuisine’ for diners. Inspired by the theatrics of magicians and circus acts, a dinner here would not simply be a meal but an adventure, and its tapas menu imaginative and peppered with playful surprises. Alas, our first ever dining experience at Tickets this year was not quite the anticipated wow ride; the tasting menu recommended to us had more misses than hits and bore uncertainty that a meal here was worth a special journey. In all honesty, money and effort will be better spent at the more exciting and innovative Disfrutar, opened by three talented chefs who formerly held senior positions at ElBulli. We had one of the best meals of our lives there.
But if you are still hell-bent on ticking Tickets off your gourmet bucket list, here are some key observations from our experience, that could (hopefully) be of use to you:
- Iconic olives – The famous spherical olives were one of the best – and most significant – things to eat at Tickets. Green olives are first deconstructed, then engineered into delicate liquid spheres via a reverse spherification process, which gave them a burst of super intense olive flavour. A rite of passage at Tickets always involves a mouthful of spherical olive explosion.
- A couple of good dishes – There were a few really good tapas dishes, with the highlight dish being the popular “crunchy” octopus. Flavoured with kimchi mayonnaise, spiced with pepper and half-coated in panko flour, the octopus was delightfully tender and well-balanced in taste and texture. The crisp suckling pig taco – unmistakably inspired by the traditional Chinese Peking Duck pancake wrap – was also a joy to savour.
- Interesting dessert concept – Albert Adrià’s quirky culinary touch and reputation as the world’s best pastry chef probably explains why the tapas bar has a separate Willy Wonka-style dessert room – a concept that made the experience unique. After finishing our mains, we were ushered into this whimsical candy-land that had life-size sculptures of berries hanging from the ceiling. Several equally fascinating-looking desserts soon followed, starting with a very elegant palate cleanser made from cherries encased in rose water gelee.
- Mostly average dishes – Most dishes we had in the tasting menu were neither bad nor uncreative. The problem was that the dishes were largely of average taste and lacked wow-factor. For example, the quilted avocado and crab dish was beautifully executed but tasted exactly like how one would imagine it to be – avocado and crab. Mini airbags filled with manchego cheese foam, hazelnuts and pearls of olive oil caviar sounded cute and fun, but had no outstanding flavour combination. We were also not particularly impressed by another popular creation – the hollowed air baguette with jamon. Simply put, there were little surprises and plenty of disappointment involved, which led to our decision not to order more dishes from the ala carte menu.
- Inconsistent service – Service, while initially friendly, was a little clumsy, with an army of service staff hurrying around the restaurant to receive kitchen orders and attend to their dedicated groups of guests. It was also rather inaudible and difficult to make out what our server was saying while introducing each dish in the noisy dining room. But perhaps, the worst parts were the ridiculously priced and bland langostino (105 euros), long wait for our erroneous bill to be corrected after finishing our dessert courses, and seeing the nonchalant facial expression of another staff member who walked away without a word after handing us our change. Certainly not the most pleasant way to end a meal.
Concluding thoughts: Enter the foray of Tickets at your own risk
Some of the other dishes we had:
Av. del Paraŀlel, 164, 08015 Barcelona, Spain