I was invited to Disfrutar in Barcelona with a group of company friends and courtesy of Mr. Esteve to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience and participate in what would be one of the best meals of the year in 2017 for me. The chef patrons of Disfrutar are the ex-sous chefs, who worked for Ferran Adria in the original El Bulli. Although Disfrutar holds „only” two stars from Michelin, it is strongly in contention for the three-star range based on the courses that I had, not to mention the fantastic setting and the level of service involved. But I guess Michelin doesn’t hand out stars easily to new restaurants with young chefs.

After El Bulli closed they first started by opening an informal restaurant called Compartir, meaning ‘to share’ and then not long after that they returned to their Barcelona home to open Disfrutar, meaning ‘to enjoy’. Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas have since had an amazing impact on the international and Barcelona dining scene.   

If you want to get close to understand the workings, the technique and the philosophy of El Bulli then this is the place that comes closest - of course aside from Tickets that is run by Albert Adria himself. Disfrutar comes in with similar techno creative inventions and some molecular gastronomy thrown in, but the amount of detail that goes into the creation, plating, design of a dish is simply astounding. Although the molecular movement can be seen in some of the plates, it is there to surprise and to awaken the senses and only used in dishes where appropriate.

We had a sneak peak in the laboratory when entering the restaurant and were led downstairs to where the plate design, dish design and overall experience design takes place. The chefs not only design the dish on the plate, but put just as much attention to what vehicle or vessel the food actually comes on: for instance, a wooden log, or an iron sculpture or a ceramic box. The combination of the vessel, the image of the dish and the emotions the plating and delivery evokes form the basic experience here. And it is truly enjoyable to say the least, a wonderful journey laced with traditional Spanish dishes and courses all executed in a novel way.

Everything here is designed to the very last specifications including the dimensions, material, usage, weight of the material hat is used to carry the ingredients and showcase them in the best possible form but also allowing diners to enjoy the courses more. Also, mapped out is the emotional journey of the customer as they move through the various courses and the emotions that dishes want to evoke. These emotions were stirred for us as we were led through the laboratory and enjoyed a trick or two with balls of liquid nitrogen and ate a lot of things that looked like things they were not.

On the terrace outside the journey started with a couple of nibbles: a corn bite, some rice crackers amongst seashells and some roe on beetroot jelly. Then into the dining room with the first courses, an amuse bouche trio.

Rose petals with lychee and gin. Frozen lychee with a drop of gin to be sucked from the rose petal. A real palate cleanser!

Palate cleanser no 2. which also qualifies as a pre-dessert: a marinated but intensely sweet piece of mango that was asked to be eaten and then followed up by a dissolving salty nutty caramel with Tonka beans, walnuts and whiskey in a bag. An explosion of flavours. I didn’t know what hit me.

Beetroot from the land. A memorable and amazing dish where the light puffs of beetroot arose from underneath the black „soil” which was heavier than the puff itself.

An incredibly light mille-feuille of idiazabal sheep cheese, indigenous to Basque country with an apple cider or Sidra also from that region to accompany it. A nice tribute.

Then the famous spherical olives made from essence of green olives and the essence of blood oranges, chilled and sphericated with a cocoa butter leathery outside and the liquid dissolving in your mouth afterwards beautifully. Aside it was a blossom of tangerine that had a drop of essence on it, like little hummingbirds we flew onto it.

You can’t see, but there are mushroom dumplings in there with a see-through Vietnamese type wonton rice paper cover. Beside it was a crispy egg yolk and a mushroom gelatine perfectly fried to a ball served on a bed of hay and resembling an egg cup. This moved us more to the richer dishes in the dinner.

Ceviche. Not your usual ceviche of course. A plate full of swirling coloured liquids with a scoop of ice cream in the centre. It was more of a ceviche ice cream full of different textures and tastes within the liquid: creams and oils of onion, lime, vinegar and herbs.

Another interesting dish arrived: my favourite of all the varieties of clams, the razor clam encased in seaweed and salt. The razor clam, which is a staple in Barcelona can be found in most stalls in the Boqueria market and grilled fresh. Here a heap of sea salt covered the clams that had been cooked a day earlier with the seaweed and then covered in a kind of plastic to stop them getting too salty. They were juicy and the seaweed enhanced the briny flavours well.

Next, the famous bikini sandwich also very popular amongst Catalans for breakfast, but this time made into a gazpacho sandwich.  The sandwich looked like it had some sort of a cream cheese filling inside slices of pure white bread. The bread was a trick: it was a meringue, with the same texture as bread but made from tomatoes! Similar to the olives this is truly essential dish that was both satisfying to look at and to eat but played a trick on your senses.

Multisphered corn tatin with foie gras. A husk of corn on a plate of salt arrived and on it was placed a slab of foie gras with spheres of corn gelee molecules on top resembling actual corn pieces on the cob. It’s quite bewildering how much creativity and thinking went into this menu and the design of all the dishes.

Then came the “carbonara”, not Spanish at all, but in this one there was magic all around. The chefs had taken a pure ham stock and made that into see through almost plastic like tubes(!) of macaroni cooked at the table for a short period, after which a dollop of carbonara sauce, some cheese and black truffle was added. Whoever said molecular gastronomy was dead? This was so rich and so satisfying on all levels that it remains one of the most memorable dishes of the night.

At this point the desserts should have started arriving but the place was just heating up! The chefs introduced a suquet, or a typical Catalan fish stew usually made with saffron, monkfish, hake and shrimps.  The suquet was deconstructed and more of a seafood main course than a stew: there was a wonderful bright yellow saffron aioli, a large langoustine sitting in the middle of the plate covered with a shellfish bisque. Not sure about the plating of this dish though :)! Accompanying it was an also rich shellfish cappuccino. 

After the duo of langoustine came a duo of hare. Hare consommé with tarragon and a hare and foie bonbon. The consommé was brought out in a brandy glass and the hare jus contained within was just as rich, - essential really - with an ice cube to bring out the taste more just like with a fine drink. It was sprayed with an intense orange tarragon spray. Hare was recreated in a little rich bonbon with silver leaves on top. Creamy hare and foie meant to resemble a sweet tart.

Then came the laksa – rich and full of Malaysian spices and flavours with the little noodles hanging out at the back of the shell kind of an intriguing clue as to what could be inside. I never found out whether the base of the broth was shellfish or other.

We drifted well away from Spain with the laksa, but then came back with a bang and closer to Spain with the Moorish Pastilla pigeon covered in a dark and sweet sauce accompanied by some couscous and Turkish delights. Sort of a nod to Moor Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain that occupied most of the country for hundreds of years.

Finally, as the desserts arrived we could sigh a relief from all the courses that the chefs bestowed on us. It was truly a wonderful ride exceeding all expectations. I must admit, by the end I was truly exhausted by the experience and even missed some desserts as the dinner was so overwhelming emotionally, sensually and in terms of intensity of taste. 

I do remember this last dish though: a chocolate habanero pepper with olive oil and bread. But instead of the smoky fiery chili sensation that we expected, we got a creamy chocolate inside!

I tried to find a pattern in the evolution of the dishes in terms of ingredients, geography and my basic take is that it was an evolution in a way with the amouse and starters leading on to the langoustine, the hare and pigeon and then the desserts. It was only broken once for me by the carbonara which required the palate cleanser of the bikini sandwich afterwards as it was so rich. That kind of broke the evolution for me as it was too heavy.

In terms of origins and ethnicity it felt truly relevant to Spain and Catalonia with only a few diversions to the Far East and elsewhere with the wontons, the lacs, the lychee and others. In a broader Spanish context there was the suquet, olives, gazpacho, ceviche, idiazabal, sidra, the habanero chocolate, and in an even broader sense the pigeon. My only gripe (and I hate to call this a gripe after such a fantastic meal) is that the food was enough for two dinners at least, it was completely overwhelming. The level of creativity and the attention that goes into the dishes and in such a huge assortment is simply astounding. Disfrutar truly pushes the envelope on all areas, and is set to become one of the top restaurants in the world.

Michelin two stars
Overall: 10/10