Thursday 1 August 2013

41º Degrees Experience, Barcelona.

In 2011, El Bulli the most influential restaurant of our lifetime shut its doors for good. We were extremely lucky to dine there in 2004 (see here.) The influence of chef Ferran Adrià has had on modern cuisine is insurmountable. (There is currently a major retrospective exhibition at Somerset House in London on Ferran and the evolution of El Bulli.) I always knew that when we returned to Catalonia, I would want to eat at Tickets the tapas bar that Ferran and his brother Albert Adrià opened in Barcelona. Then I found out about his other restaurant next door; 41º, and I knew I'd have to try and get us into both places. 

The problem was though it isn't that easy. You have to count back exactly 60 days and then at midnight (11pm UK time) to the second you have to fill the form in and book it on-line as quickly as you can. Hurry, you're competing with everyone else in the world who wants to a reservation on the night that you want! I came across two stumbling blocks. One was you need a Spanish postcode (I found our hotel's,) the next was I couldn't find the UK in the drop down menu for country. I panicked, and lost the booking. It is in Spanish so under R (Reino Unido.) I went straight onto the Tickets website and booked us a table there instead. I didn't get a confirmation so I tried again and again. It turned out I had actually booked us several tables! The next night I was ready to book 41º. This time there would be no mistakes; we were in!

The 41º Experience is not elBulli per se, but "it has its' spirit,"Albert Adrià has said. It's also almost as hard to get into. There are only 16 seats a night. It also has many of the team from El Bulli; Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Lluís Garcia, Mateu Casañas and Eugeni de Diego. There is also a future superstar chef in creative director Sebastián Mazzola.
But The 41º Experience is not El Bulli2 even though there are dishes from the original restaurant, and it has its magic. El Bulli looked like a normal restaurant inside and outside (although it wasn't.) 41º is not like anywhere we've ever eaten.

You enter into very low level lighting. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust. We were shown to a corner table at the end. On the ceiling glittering crystal shards hang down with images projected onto them. It is an installation called 'Frosted rain' by Spanish artist Javier Milara. All senses are enhanced, there is music playing and it relates specifically to the food you're eating. The video is also choreographed to match and is constantly changing. It's like sitting inside an art installation.

There would be 41 courses, I warned Mrs B that she needed to be prepared! I needn't have worried, the courses are quite small like canapés. There is a little overlap between 41º and Tickets, but they are very different experiences. Tickets is like Willy Wonka's tapas bar, 41˚ is like a cool cocktail bar on the moon. We would be there for about four hours, and we loved every single one of them. Time didn't drag because the service and food were completely seamless. It really was a total immersive experience. 

We began with a cocktail. I have no idea what it was. It was a long night! I do remember the first course was some edible flowers. Ms Arroz said afterwards that she wasn't overly impressed. They looked beautiful it's true, but it was a bit style over content as the taste just wasn't there. I felt the same, we had eaten at El Celler de Can Roca the day before so it would take a lot to blow us away. Luckily several dishes that night would be some of the best we've eaten all year. It was a real journey and it took us all around the world. Here's the list in full, with some photos. I took a lot that night, but it was so dark that the camera struggled with the low light.
Picnic cocktail. 

Corn Orchid.
Nectar Flower.
Fennel with sansho pepper.
Elderflower and blackberry cocoon.
Anchovy stuffed olive (we would try a a version of this at Tickets the following evening which we preferred.)

Pickled mussels.
Potatoes with "espinaler" sauce powder.
Black sesame pearl.

Infused watermelon.

Pizzicato Five. (This is a Japanese pop group whose music inspired the food and was playing whilst we ate it.)
Spicy corn tentacles.
Crispy seaweed with quinoa.

Pizza 41°/ tomato. This is where for me the food moved up a level. It was good before, but from here on in it was excellent.

Parmesan and Porcini forest floor.
Manchego cheese airbags. A vegetarian replacement of our meat dish for our vegetarian friend Dr. Gambas. We would try these at Tickets the following evening.

Sunflower artichoke.
Foie micuit. (On my notes hastily written on my phone I'd put 'spongy foie - ace!')

Iberian ham airbagutte "joselito" This was an El Bulli classic which we ate in 2004.

Iberian ham with melon.
White anchovy with its fossil.

Caviar nigiri.

Ravioli liquido de queso - Cheese ravioli.
Oyster with Ajo Blanco
Grape and caviar. (Ajo Blanco is a gorgeous creamy cold almond garlic soup from Andalucia, this was another memorable dish.)
Nordic Landscape. (Another of my favourites. It looked amazing and tasted divine.) Nordic Ceviche.
Toast and Carrot.

Mexican landscape. Tequila and agave amber.

Sweetcorn ravioli.
Baby ear of corn with bauma cheese.
Prawns "agua chilli"

Peruvian landscape.
Taco don Pedro/ Atahualpa 2.0.
Smoked red mullet "causita" with avocado/composed salad.

Japanese Landscape.
Razor clam with purple shiso.
Spicy tuna temaki.
Vietnamese landscape.
Banh mi sandwich.

Thai landscape.
Squid and mango salad.
Lamb delights.
Nitro coconut.

Wedge of lime.
Cherry surprise.
Banana musubi / vertical garden.
Passion nest
Classic lemon pie cup cake.

Peach pit.
black sesame Rock.
Summer bombon.
Crispy chocolate ball.
Making cocktails.

In the end, 41º Experience was everything I'd hoped it would be and more, a totally immersive odyssey with exceptional cuisine inspired by food from all over the globe. With 41 courses, I didn't love every single dish equally, but taken as a whole, it was an utterly beguiling journey of sound, vision and taste. Without doubt in my top three meals of the year, and a once in a lifetime, unique and magical food experience.

Price: €200 for 41 courses and cocktails. 
World class food comes at a price. It's worth it though in our opinion.
(€265 including the wine taster.)
Service: Seamless and extremely slick.
Food: Incredible, beautiful and varied.
Atmosphere: Unique, a feast for all senses. 
Star dish: There were many but the Nordic Landscape comes to mind, it was stunning.
Score: 9.5/10.

Further listening: David Bowie - Sound & Vision.
Pizzicato 5 - Twiggy Twiggy.
Gotan Project - Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)‬.
Air - Alone In Kyoto.
‪Love on a real train‬ - Tangerine Dream.
From Here To Eternity‬ - ‪Giorgio Moroder‬.
‪Channel 1 Suite‬ - The Cinematic Orchestra.
‪Hannah Peel: Tainted Love‬.
‪VCR (Matthew Dear Remix)‬ - The XX.

Further reading:  The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season at El Bulli by Lisa Abend.
What's eating Albert Adrià?  
A fantastic article on the chef his brother Ferran has called "most complete cook working in the world today.”

Javier Milara’s “Frosted rain”
Javier Milara’s “Frosted rain”
Javier Milara’s “Frosted rain”
Javier Milara’s “Frosted rain
Javier Milara’s “Frosted rain

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