Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Cinq Sentits - Barcelona
Those of you who have had; dare I say it myself, the considerable pleasure of meeting me in person, will no doubt have had me marked instantly as a man of exquisite taste, a worldly man…. an experienced international traveller. And yes, in some ways, you would be correct. I have whiled away many, many hours drinking Camparis in the company of likeminded international jetsetters in the foothills of the Matterhorn and my drunken braying laugh, penetrating the humid African night, has terrified away all manner of wild animals whilst on yet another safari.
But, and it’s a bit of a problem – I can’t order a white coffee in Spanish. I’ve tried, oh I’ve tried…. my Essex trained voice box just can’t get it right…. on my recent trip to Barcelona, I was a constant source of amusement in bars as I constantly pushed acceptable linguistic boundaries. Horrendous. More often than not I got what I wanted through sheer brass necked perseverance, but I almost starved to death the last two days I was there, as I couldn’t make myself understood.
Luckily for me, I didn’t need to embarrass myself with my awful Spanish at lunch in the Michelin starred Cinc Sentits – the staff spoke excellent English, and I was handed a menu also written in my mother tongue. Phew.
Eating here was a bit of an indulgent treat for me. I haven’t eaten alone that many times in restaurants, let alone in upmarket Michelin starred ones, but surprisingly I found the whole experience quite relaxing. I could concentrate on the food and take in the atmosphere without any distractions – although, it would have been nice to have someone to compare notes with, and the periods between courses were a bit awkward at the beginning… not so much when I was slightly pissed later, alcohol often being the remedy for feeling ill at ease socially.
The Cinc Sentits (Five senses) menu is a contemporary take on traditional Catalan cuisine, and interestingly there is not an a la carte option, instead there are 3 different, increasingly expensive tasting menus on offer.
I opted for the most expensive ‘Sensacions’ menu, which consists of 8 courses of 'this season’s best dishes', and their 'signature courses'. Exciting!
I opted to drink wine by the glass, and left it to the sommelier to make pairings with the dishes I was eating.
I was brought some nibbles to snack on; excellent Marcona almonds, stuffed olives and some cheese straw like things, I didn’t catch what they were, but they were very nice.
Next, I was brought an amuse; a shot glass filled with sea salt, maple syrup, cream and a cava sabayon. It was explained to me that I should down it in one to get the full effect. Being just the man for downing a shot glass in one, I wasted no time and promptly spluttered and coughed my guts up, my eyes filling with tears as it ‘went down the wrong hole’ – not good, somehow I don’t think I got the desired effect there… a bit of an amuse fail. No matter. Onwards and upwards.
The sommelier poured me a glass of Vallegarcia Viognier 2008, which was just what I needed after the amuse disaster, and I sipped it as I waited for the next course to arrive.
This was the Cinc Sentits take on the ubiquitous Catalan classic 'Pa Amb Tomaquet', consisting of fresh tomato sorbet, garlic air and peasant bread. It was bloody gorgeous; the tomato was in the form of an ice cream, the crunch of the bread against the ice cold, refreshing tomato was beautiful. I really enjoyed this.
Some excellent bread was brought to the table, along with two different bottles of locally sourced olive oil, one light and grassy, the other much thicker and syrupy, but also very grassy in flavour. Both were really good, and I munched happily, dipping the bread in the oil as I awaited the next course.
A bowl was placed in front of me containing some strategically placed ingredients; Marcona almonds, fresh cherries, cherry pit 'ice' and some sliced anchovy. The waiter then proceeded to pour a white liquid over it. This was the Cinc Sentits version of the Spanish classic Ajoblanco – chilled almond soup. It was rich, smooth and delicious, my only complaint being that I didn’t get enough of it; I had to tilt the bowl to get a spoonful right from the off.
At this point, I asked for another glass of wine and the sommelier recommended a sweet wine, which he thought would work well with the next course. The wine was amber coloured Caligo DG and the food was ‘caramelised foie gras' “coca” which the menu informed me contained a crisp pastry crust, chive 'arrope”'and glazed leeks.
Like everything else I’d eaten so far, it looked superb and tasted incredible. The sommelier was spot on with his choice. The sweet wine complimented the foie gras beautifully. Which, I should add was creamy, subtle and as rich as you’d expect. A truly outstanding course.
The next course of wild Mediterranean red mullet, with basil risotto, apricot and micro herbs was more workmanlike. It tasted great, but compared with some of the previous courses it didn’t shine, although apricot, basil and red mullet is an interesting flavour combination and it worked pretty well.
For my next course the sommelier poured me a glass of Celler de Cervoles, Costers del Segre, Cérvoles 2008. Another cracking glass of wine.
This was paired with Iberian suckling pig, cooked for 14 hours, with apple 'textures' and ratafia (which I’ve since found out is a liqueur made from peach or cherry kernels, bitter almonds or other fruits). The suckling pig was beautifully crisp, but soft, falling apart at the touch of my fork. The accompanying sauce and apple textures complimented it well. I thought it another fantastic dish, probably one of my favourites so far.
A cheese course came next, an artisanal farmhouse cheese with 'contrast' in the shape of sweet crisp bread, (which I’m afraid I snapped before realising I hadn’t taken a picture yet, hence the appearance). This was pleasant enough, but didn’t blow me away – the cheese was good, quite mild and creamy. Maybe I’m just not much of a cheese person.
With the cheese signalling the end of the savoury courses, the first dessert arrived, a palate cleanser. Citrus 'snow', consisting of lemon ice cream, effervescent lime sugar and yuzu foam. This was superb; the citrus flavours were extremely pronounced, yet with just the right balance of sweet and sour. The effervescent lime sugar reminded me of ‘space candy’ crackling and popping on my tongue. A really nice, light and fun course.
Dessert proper arrived in the shape of 'Grand Cru' chocolate 67%, with olive oil ice cream, shattered bread and macadamias. I thought this was ok, the olive oil ice cream was nicely flavoured, and the chocolate mousse was great, but the shattered bread and macadamias were a bit dry and I thought it took something away from the dish, making it a bit too cloying.
Excellent coffee came next, with a bizarre selection of test tubes containing different varieties of sugar, I wasn’t entirely sure about this and it seemed a little gimmicky to me.
Finally to round off the meal, some petit four; a ‘false egg’ made from white chocolate and passion fruit. Upon eating, the yolk burst in my mouth, flooding my palate with passion fruit which mingled with the white chocolate. It was bloody gorgeous. The other two, chocolate with herbs, and cream with violet jelly, were somewhat less spectacular in comparison, albeit very nice.
I settled my rather hefty lunch bill (around 135 Euros from memory, £112) and wandered a little unsteadily out into the blazing sunshine and humidity of Barcelona in July.
I liked Cinc Sentits a lot. The food is extremely interesting, beautiful to look at, carefully constructed and the play on traditional Catalan cuisine – contemporising it, is fascinating. I loved pretty much all of the courses, only a couple being merely ok instead of amazing. Yes, expensive but for this standard of food, and considering the bill included three glasses of matched wine, and a bottle of the beautiful artisan olive oil (I asked if I could buy one, and they agreed), complete bargain. If you’re visiting Barcelona, it should definitely be on your list of places to eat.
Telephone: +34 93 323 9490