The day: 10 November 2009, Dinner.
The place: Industria 79, Barcelona
The venue: Alkimia
Closest Airport: Barcelona (BA, Easyjet), Girona (Ryanair)
The food: Modern Spanish
The drinks: Strong on Spanish with some very strong international
This is the first of two starred experiences in a chilly and beautiful November Barcelona. Semiformal, young and English speaking service greets you at the entrance of the stark, modern, elegant room. Behind the stoves, chef Jordi Vilà.
We order a €35 Priorat and the wine waitress asks us whether we have noticed the section at the end of the wine list, which contains the ‘top wines’. Let’s have a look. Mmhh, prices ranging from a handful of hundred euro bills to teens of hundreds. Does she really think we can suddenly change our mind? Yes, she does. Man jokingly orders a €1,700 Pommerol and then has to frantically stop the obliging sommelier who in all seriousness was going for the bottle.
Of the two available menus, both tasting, we are forced to choose the shorter because of the lack of capacity in our stomachs. Unfortunately this is also the one designated ‘traditional’, but with chef Jordi Vilà it is always going to be a very modern traditional.
We begin with the famous and many-times pictured amuse bouche of Alkimia: tomato water with breadcrumbs, the glass covered by a thin slice of fuet (a Catalan sausage).
We want to compete in the category ‘worst picture’ (there weren’t the conditions to use a flash), but please do not be put off: it is a high note of pure concentrated flavours and fun cooking, setting high expectations indeed.
Yet, our dinner will be ups and downs (even if ups and downs always remaining at a very, very accomplished level of cooking).
There is a vein of true genius in this cuisine, with a sense of adventure that we really appreciate and admire. A veloute’ of Jerusalem artichokes with root vegetables was amusingly presented (the tips of the roots which one would normally throw away emerging from the liquid) and wonderful, as were the cauliflowers in two ways (pickled and pureed) accompanying our monkfish fish.
But we agreed that, to our subjective taste, there were sometimes hiccups and also, we have to say, some occasional heavy-handedness and seasoning excess, a certain lack of balance, of precision, and of attention to details. We found several chicken bones, large and small, in the gorgeous chicken cannelloni (more on them below). The sauce of a wonderful and nicely cooked suckling veal was really too concentrated.
The service is correct but a bit cold, robotic and brusque from one member staff. The dishes are not described nicely but instead quickly and as if in a hurry, the cutlery almost thrown on the table (are we sooo unpleasant? Sigh). No apologies for the bones in the chicken, the menus are not explained – indeed, only later we overhear a conversation with another table from which we understand we could have gone for a shorter version of the innovative menu: surely something you should be told to begin with! The manager however, as well as the wine waitress, are helpful and courteous.
The low: the dessert
To our taste this was a mess of clashing flavours. Essentially a millefuille filled with coffee, sealed with caramel, and sitting on a lemon cream, plus a vanilla ice-cream. Picture this: you try and cut through the generally aethereal puff pastry, only now you cannot, as the caramel encasing makes it gummy. But you brave on, and the millefeuille still smirking at you, bend but does not break, till the pressure squeezes out the coffee cream, that shoots straight into the lemon sauce… well, we later discovered elsewhere (more on this story later…) that lemon and coffee can work together: but this definitely is not it, the lemon and coffee flavours were fighting, the ice-cream wasn’t sweet enough, and the caramel reduced the millefeuille to a gluey texture.
The high: Chicken cannelloni
It takes guts to serve chicken cannelloni in a fine dining restaurant, but the gamble pays off. So, despite the aforementioned bones, we nominate this the dish of the evening. With such intense and yet delicate flavours in both the hand-cut mince and in the side, soberly presented, chicken reduction with vinegar (we think), this dish also exudes a minimalist elegance that makes it an example of how a rustic combination can achieve fine dining heights. The perfect balance of that reduction also shows that this innovative chef could equally well cook classical dishes. Pity that our picture does not make justice to this beautiful dish!
Now, where is that bill? Anyhow, the traditional menu we went for was priced at €58 (while the more adventurous Alkimia menu has a €74 price tag) and the wine, and considering how the pound has dived, we were confortably over our (upgraded) £110 rule, but not by far.
This is a restaurant to try if you are in Barcelona. The cuisine will surprise, amuse and please. But don’t expect consistency and be prepared for some disappointments.