Saturday, June 18, 2011

Our trip to Spain: Carles Abellan’s Projectes 24

C says:

Carles Abellan is first and best known as Ferran Adria’s protege. He worked alongside Ferran at El Bulli for many years, before branching out on his own. He has established Projectes 24, which comprises his first restaurant Comerc 24, and his more casual tapas eatery, Tapac 24.

Comerc 24

Since Ferran Adria and El Bulli are completely out of reach, we figured that our closest brush with Ferran’s molecular gastronomy genius would be a meal at Comerc 24.

Comerc 24 had the unfortunate challenge of having to live up to our DiverXO meal, and suffice to say that it didn’t. While I must say that the dishes were definitely interesting, this was an example of techniques taking precedence over fundamental flavours. Still, there were some dishes that made an impression, be it for how they tasted, or their sheer creativity.

One of the dishes that I admire for their creativity is the Dashi with Cockles, which had little spheres containing cockles, and topped with sliced okra. Each bite of the sphere was an explosion of brininess, filing your mouth with flavours of the sea.

This was one of my favourite dishes of the night. It was a simple dish of squid and green peas, but really showcased the ingredients at their best. The peas were apparently picked that very morning, and delivered to the restaurant just 2 hours before service. This really was an eye-opener – I normally hate green peas, and think that they contribute absolutely nothing to a dish besides adding colour. These peas, however, tasted nothing like the frozen peas that you get in fried rice. They were clean and fresh-tasting, with a lovely texture that bore no resemblance to the mushy interior of frozen peas.

The lightly chargrilled squid on top was somewhat secondary, but still good.

The Pizza 24 was an adorable little thing. Just about 5 inches in diameter, it was topped with mozzarella, tomato, arugula and tiny organic strawberries that were bursting with flavour.

I can’t quite figure out if this prawn was completely raw, or very lightly blanched for just a few moments. Probably the latter, hence giving it its colour. The highlight of this dish was the prawn head. It was filled with the richest, most intensely flavourful head juice. I just wish that it hadn’t been resting on a bed of salt, because the saltiness got in the way of my savouring every morsel of the prawn head.

This was a risotto-like dish, which they called field rabbit rice, where the flavours of the rabbit stock were infused into the rice. Being a rice/risotto whore, I again liked how this tasted, but A had the unfortunate experience of finding a bone in the rice, probably from the rabbit stock.

We raised this with the waiter, and weren’t particularly impressed by the offhand manner in which he brushed it off with a shrug and an almost insincere apology.

In fact, that’s how I found the service as a whole. It was a tad obsequious, and felt somewhat insincere as a result. They also made a big show about how the degustation menu was meant to engage the customer and be tailored to their likes and dislikes, yet besides asking us if we had any allergies, they didn’t really didn’t discuss the menu with us at all. As a result, we didn’t get a few of their specialities, like their take on a Kinder Egg or the roast pork, despite being assured that our degustation would comprise about 90% of the entire menu.

I don't regret coming here, since it was certainly a novel experience, but it does just hammer home where our preferences lie when it comes to “fine dining”.

Tapas 24

Tapas 24 is the casual sibling of Comerc 24, serving up unique and well-executed tapas in a relaxed, easygoing environment. It’s located just off the Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona’s main shopping street, and with its extensive opening hours from 8 am to midnight, this makes it an ideal place to seek some respite in between shopping.

We had some seriously awesome tapas here. In what seems to be a theme for our trip, we came back for a second meal to revisit favourites and so that we could try more dishes.

Two of their sandwiches are their specialities, and rightly so.

The McFoie is a tiny little burger, or rather more a sandwich than a burger. There’s a thin but extremely flavourful beef patty, sandwiched between thin Panini-like bread. The burger is tasty enough on its own, but it gets it name from the quenelle of foie gras mousse that accompanies it. Eaten separately, the mousse tastes quite clearly of foie, but when you spread some on the burger, somehow the flavours combine and you taste less foie, and more of just a rich unctuousness. The coolness of the mousse also adds a nice temperature and textural contrast to the burger. (Geez, how wanker do I sound…)

In Spain, or perhaps particular to Catalonia, they refer to a triangular ham and cheese sandwich as a Bikini. The Bikini here is lightly grilled, and has Iberico jamon, cheese and black truffle. An elevated grilled cheese sandwich but oh, so good.

This was lightly scrambled eggs with potato and blood sausage, and was pretty amazing. Excellent blood sausage, which was soft and slightly creamy, and had such a rich, deep, complex flavour. This was A’s first experience with blood sausage, and now he finally understands what the hype is about. Blood rawks! Heh.

This dessert is apparently a take on a traditional Spanish one, which features bread, olive oil, salt and chocolate. Here, it is fancily plated with quenelles of a deep, dark chocolate ganache, drizzled with good fruity olivey oil, liberal sprinkles of sea salt and thin crostinis. Good combination of flavours, but personally the chocolate was way too intense for me. A enjoyed it thoroughly though.

A says:

Excellent in different ways.

Comec 24 is very chi-chi and the tasting course is really a treat. Not as good as DiverXO and rather pricey, but worth trying if you can if you’re in Barcelona.

I highly recommend Tapas 24 if you’re out on the Passeig de Gracia, or as C calls it, the PDG (wah rau eh!). The food is great with the bikini and the McFoie being standouts. Unfortunately, you usually have to wait for a table, and the service isn’t great in a rush.

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