ABaC ** – Barcelona, Spain

Arriving at the much heralded ABaC (FYI that’s pronounced ah-bach, not A-B-a-C), you can’t help but feel a twinge of excitement when confronted with the imposing front entrance emblazoned with it’s name.

Want just a taste of ABaC’s tasting menu experience? Read the short summary here…

The boutique hotel and it’s eponymous two-star restaurant, helmed by the renown Jordi Cruz, feels serene and mysterious, nestled into a beautifully verdant setting a little away from the centre of Barcelona. Beautifully illuminated in the early evening twilight, we got the feeling we were in for something special as we approached the front door.

It’s a truly stunning setting, the feeling of which I’m struggling to describe in words – ‘darkly ethereal’ is probably close. The restaurant’s glass walls bring the outside inside, the forest greens, the night sky blues and purples reflected in the simple vase of hydrangeas placed on each table. ABaC makes achieving this level of sophistication look effortless, something that is echoed in the menu we are about to experience.

It’s a serious affair inside, all hushed tones and dim lights (pretty cool lights, actually). Formal is the name of the game here, and whilst I absolutely delight in a evening of the finest service as much as the next fine diner, I would have enjoyed a little more background volume just to make conversation feel a little more relaxed, without feeling like your every word will be overheard by the table across the dining room. But that’s just me.

We selected the ABaC menu with wines (menu ABaC 135€, wine pairing 65€) though there is a slightly longer menu on offer for those who want to experience everything Chef Cruz has to offer (El Gran ABaC 165€, wine pairing 85€).

Our menu for the night:
Delicate cheese curl cracker with savoury broth
Sweet corn taco and foie gras with mole ice cream
Spring leeks, black garlic charcoal and emulsified “romesco”
Roasted onion juice with smoked scamorza bubbles, walnuts and orange zest
Brewed lamb with pine shoots
Parmesan gnocchi raw and cooked mushrooms with lemongrass, nuts and truffle jus
Roast and stewed duck meats and foie gras with mushroom steam
Pigeon à la royale with Swiss chard
Apples with celery, chervil and Raifort
Light cocoa, hazelnut, caramel and chocolate textures
Biscuit brittle with yogurt, flowers and violet ice cream

Our evening commenced with two dishes that shared quite a few similarities. The first, a mountain of the finest curls of cheese atop a cheese cracker that concealed a delicate broth, the second a sweet corn taco with similar curls – this time foie gras, accompanied by mole ice cream. Both satisfying though the taco particularly delighted. I love to see foie gras reimagined in new ways and this was certainly different!

Next, a dish that I loved (though my dining companion had a different opinion) – ‘Spring leeks, black garlic charcoal and emulsified “romesco”’. Being a huge fan of the allium family in general, this was music to my tastebuds and played on the classic flavour of charred leeks. Served on perhaps the most unusual plate of the night, a stylised napkin plate held by pegs, it was our first introduction to the series of interesting crockery we would experience throughout our dinner. I didn’t see how it quite tied into the theme of the dish, but it was certainly delightfully quirky.

There were plenty of savoury broths on offer throughout the night, the next dish again working within the allium family – roasted onion juice served in the onion itself. The spheres of smoked scarmorza (an Italian mozzarella type cheese) added bursts of creaminess, and the walnut and orange zest made for unexpected flavour additions. Pretty good on the whole – I wanted to eat the onion casing too! Served alongside were some delicious breads and equally delicious olive oil – it took some restraint to hold back from the amazing sweet olive breads and leave space for the main event.

An interesting spectacle was soon set up on our table, a simmering double boiler/steamer quietly creating elements of multiple dishes yet to come – one of which was the ‘Brewed lamb with pine shoots’. A lovely dish, but speaking of pine, this is one point where the wine pairing fell down (despite the wonderfully thin stemmed glasses, reminiscent of those at Steirereck, Vienna). The pine flavoured Greek wine on offer was…well…horrid. I get that we are tying in the pine theme, but Greece, you can have it back. Eeurgh.

The ‘Parmesan gnocchi raw and cooked mushrooms with lemongrass, nuts and truffle jus’ was a highlight and saw the return of delicate cheese spheres with broth. Delicious, and again served in a stunning piece of crockery. Earthy, rustic flavours, yet showing a high level of technique in the construction. A great dish.

Another component from our table top cooking arrangement featured next, being carved at our table – a steamed parcel of foie gras to be served with duck. Not a complaint to be had here, another delicious application of foie and nice to see a decent amount of meat featuring on the ABaC menu (don’t worry seafood lovers, there’s plenty of that on offer too – as I can’t eat seafood we had an arrangement of dishes that were more meat focused). The pigeon was a great follow on and really, I was just so delighted to see another fantastic protein dish. Global tasting menus are a tad lacking in meat across the board at the moment for my taste, but this menu had great balance and definitely satisfied.

Our palate cleanser might have been the best palate cleanser I’ve had in a long time, and again served on a stunning plate – this one clear and encasing a pool of water, very symbolic of the cooling tastes brought by the dish. Celery, apple and chervil have never been better friends. Delicious.

Desserts dived both into the sweet and decadent (Light cocoa, hazelnut, caramel and chocolate textures) and the light and subtle (Biscuit brittle with yogurt, flowers and violet ice cream). The former impressed with use of technique and texture – aspects that looked 100% like cake were actually soft mousse that would melt into the spoon at the slightest touch. Amazing.

It wasn’t quite over though – an impressive tower of petit fours were still to come, which was a slight struggle given our satiety level, and a fantastically innovative beetroot sorbet ‘lipstick’. Loved the technique, but for me, beetroot and sorbet don’t go. Not as a solo flavour anyway.

Looking back at the menu as a whole, it seems ABaC is having a moment with broths, cheese spheres and alliums. And I’m certainly not complaining, these are three things I enjoy immensely. Fine dining executed flawlessly with superb taste, technique and service sums up what you’ll experience at ABaC. Two stars well deserved, with atmosphere and plating that reaches the highest pinnacles of elegance. Certainly there are playful elements exhibited in the plating and execution of the dishes, but I’d love to see a little more in the service, though it was without fault. I just like to have a side of fun with my fine dining. An excellent wine pairing too, including a 1980s wine that had never been aged – something you won’t try every day, and just one of the interesting drops on offer. ABaC is truly a must visit if you’re visiting Barcelona – you might like to make it even more relaxing and stay the night too.

The Verdict:

Food: 18.5/20
Service: 9/10
Ambience: 8.5/10
Decor: 9.5/10
Value: 8.5/10
Overall Rating: 9/10

ABaC Restaurant & Hotel
Av. Tibidabo, 1Barcelona 08022Spain
Tel. +34 933 196 600
Fax +34 933 196 601

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