Known as one of the hardest restaurants in the world to get a reservation at, I challenged myself with the task of booking a table for four during our trip to Barcelona. After many fruitless attempts, I finally secured a booking near the end of the trip. This would be our last Michelin-starred dinner in Barcelona. Will all the effort be worth it?
So why does Tickets have the reputation of being one of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation at? Well it’s due to numerous factors. The head chef, Albert Adria, had been working the pastry section at his older brother, Ferran’s, legendary restaurant El Bulli. While he may have been in the shadows of his brother there, once he opened Tickets after El Bulli closed, it became one of the most talked about restaurants around the world. In the latest S.Pallegrino Best 50 Restaurants List it ranked Tickets number 43 in the world. In that same list it titled Albert Adria ‘the best pastry chef in the world.’ Then there is the reservation method, which is ridiculously competitive as they only take reservations two months in advance. So as a date becomes available at Midnight (Barcelona time) hundreds of people are trying to get a booking for this day two months ahead. Most times I tried getting a booking, the website crashed – it was that busy!
The concept of Tickets is based around carnival with lots of bright lights, fast paced action, and a strong sense of fun. This place is certainly like no other Michelin-starred restaurant in the world!
Upon arrival we were led to our table, which was smack bang in the middle of the restaurant. The interesting thing about the kitchen is that they split the kitchen into sections and spread them around the dining room. For example, the oyster bar is on one side while the snack section is on the other side of the restaurant and the grill section is in another area. On our table we had our own chef tweezers in place of the ubiquitous knife and fork.
At Ticket there are two options of ordering. You can pick the dishes you want to eat like usual or let the wait staff pick your dishes. We decided to let our waitress decide but just a word of warning if you choose to do this, be prepared to spend a lot of money on the meal. Anyway, I’ll get back to this later.
We kicked off the meal with an El Bulli classic which had made its way to Tickets, Spherified Olives. Spherification is the chemical process whereby a liquid forms an outside skin, holding the liquid within. A large green olive bowl was brought out to the table. Inside were the little spherified olives sitting in a flavoured olive oil. The waitress then carefully took out the olives and placed them onto little green bowls. We were instructed to place the whole olive in our mouth and bite down onto it. The olive popped releasing an intense olive flavour generating looks of amazement from my fellow dining companions.
Next out came Blackcurrant meringue churros with horseradish cream and Spicy corn tentacles. The meringues were delicately light with a slight sweetness and tang from the beetroot, which went superbly with the strong pungent taste of the horseradish cream. A well thought out combination of sweet and savoury. The corn crackers looked like octopus tentacles with the way they popped and curled up. They were crunchy with a mild spice from the dust sprinkled on top.
A Japanese-influenced snack, called Nigiri of tuna, arrived next. But at Tickets, nothing is as it seems. What looked like a ball of rice underneath was actually a light lemon meringue. This made for an interesting combination with the thin lean slice of tuna on top but was nothing too memorable.
A stunning take on pizza, called Crunchy pizza with Buffalo Straciatella, landed on our table. The pizza was more like a crispy cracker with dehydrated tomato dust, grated cheese, micro basil and spherified basil and olive oil balls on top. The buffalo mozzarella burrata was served in a little bowl alongside and we were instructed to place some on top of our ‘pizza’ slice. The creaminess and slight saltiness of the cheese complemented the crisp savoury ‘pizza’ perfectly. This was seriously like no other margarita pizza we had ever eaten!
Next up was the ‘bread’ section of the meal. The first bread snack was a Mini airbag with manchego cheese foam. In one bite sized snack the small puffed hollow bread ‘pillow’ was filled with creamy manchego cheese foam and topped with a thin slice of manchego, hazelnut oil caviar and toasted hazelnut crumb. Two words: utter elegance! The Air baguette with aged cow wasn’t as mind-blowing but nevertheless very tasty. The ‘baguette’ was crispy and completely hollow allowing the cured beef to shine.
Ceviche crunchy with shrimps came in two parts. There was a paper thin round ‘toast’ with whole shrimps and underneath in the bowl was a tangy citrus sauce, which cleansed the palate. A nice dish I must say but nothing to rave about.
Now the next course was one I could rave about. Nordic landscape with smoked cheese arrived at the table to astonished looks from all of us at the table. It all starts with a thin rye cracker (yes another thin cracker thing) and on top it is layered with veal tartare, lingonberry, slices of shallots, smoked cheese and a garnish of Nordic greens. Lastly, it is finished with a healthy dusting of vinegar ‘snow’ to add some tangy contrast and enhance the Nordic theme. Brilliant!
Around this stage we were wondering how many courses were to come because there was no correspondence between the waitress and us about where we are up to in the meal. It was already adding up to a very pricy meal and we weren’t even past the snacks section yet! When we asked she listed off another six or so savoury dishes to come so we had to let her know we could only do a couple more before dessert.
The first dish we received from the tapas section of the menu was Mini mussels with buerre blanc air. In each little mussel there was a hint of yuzu that complemented the light buttery foam very nicely. This is a dish that I would have left out if I was choosing what to eat and as it turns out, I would have deeply regretted it.
The last savoury course we received was Crunchy octopus with pickled piparra and was voted our favourite dish of the meal. The succulent grilled octopus sat atop creamy kimchee mayo and fried panko breadcrumbs and served alongside was a jar of pickled green chilli’s. We were instructed to alternate eating a slice of the octopus and then a chilli. This was a genius plan because the mild chilli was quite vinegary and refreshed the palate for the next slice of octopus.
I was really looking forward to the desserts here given that the head chef is “the best pastry chef in the world.” But before getting to the desserts, one of the waiters asked us to follow him into another room of the restaurant. We were transported to a room reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Alison in Wonderland. Large ceramic candy canes, strawberries, grapes and raspberries clung from the ceiling, the chairs were in different shapes and sizes, birdcages lay scattered around the place and food related films like Ratatouille and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory were projected onto white canvases. This room was seriously kooky and whimsy!
The only downside to this room was that the service really dropped and we found it difficult to get the waitresses attention. But fortunately the desserts more than made up for it.
As we sat down there was a rose in front of us with a little Sphere of lychee, raspberry and rosewater sitting in the middle. We were instructed to smell the rose as we slipped the sphere into our mouth. It popped and had a clean fruity flavour. A great start to the dessert section.
Next up was Carrot cone, cardamom yoghurt, sugared sesame and mango and carrot ice cream. Texture was key in this dish from the crispy cone to the soft ice cream to the raw shavings of carrot on top. A dessert that celebrated everything orange!
To cap off the night we were given Chocolate éclair with hazelnut and royaltine, which could be easily confused for a magnum ice cream. But this ice cream had a hazelnut cream core with meringue and a crunchy chocolate royaltine outer. This was truly like no other ice cream I have had before!
Look, if I’m to be quite honest, there were quite a few things that let us down. The service should have been much better for the price we paid and for a one Michelin-starred restaurant. The ordering concept was also a bit of a letdown as we were unsure about where we were in the meal and how much was to come. I mean, it’s alright to keep it all a surprise but at least give us a little guidance like “you’ll be getting 6 snacks, 3 tapas dishes and 3 desserts” or something like that. In the end I would have preferred to cut down on the amount of snacks, add two more tapas dishes and add two more desserts because of how good the desserts are here. We also missed a lot of the cool dishes that people rave about online like the ice-cream truck, the basil air waffle and the air pancake. Don’t get me wrong, the food itself was out of this world and we had a lot of fun with eating it and dining in the carnival atmosphere.
Would I return? I would love to go back one more time and do things my way. I would order how I want to and make sure I try the dishes I heard about and make sure I leave room to try more of the desserts. If only…