Disfrutar, Spain

After I missed out on going to one of the world’s greatest restaurants, El Bulli, which closed its doors in 2011, I kept a close eye on the chefs to see where they would go. While many ex El-Bulli chefs are now scattered across the globe, three of the main chefs stuck together and opened two restaurants, one in Northern Catalonia in a seaside town called Cadaqués and one in Barcelona. During my visit to Barcelona, there was no way I would miss visiting this restaurant!

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After eating at two three Michelin starred restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca and Sant Pau, we were looking forward to trying experimental, molecular gastronomy food in a laid-back style of dining.

When Dad and I arrived at the restaurant after a long walk across town, we were guided through the restaurant by a waiter who explained the restaurant’s layout and design. Ceramic tiles in various colours, shapes and sizes were a main feature on the façade and inside the restaurant, while the courtyard out the back had a very Mediterranean feel. I loved how the path, which took us to the dining room, was enclosed by the open kitchen, so every diner can see the engine room of the restaurant before they sat down. The design of Disfrutar simply amazed us; I hoped the food could do the same!

After two pricey meals, we decided not to opt for the Daily menu (130€) or the menu festival (100€) but instead, had the menu disfrutar (70€). Whilst the least expensive option, it  still offered over 17 courses, which to us sounded like an absolute bargain!

Due to a language barrier, there was a little confusion when Dad wanted to get his cava but once that was sorted, the welcoming cocktail landed on our table. This refreshing drink was made out of passionfruit granita, spiked with rum and topped with coffee beans that were ground in a pepper mill tableside. It was a thoughtful way of starting a meal by coupling a palate-cleansing drink with a bit of theatre to whet your appetite for more.

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Next came a snack I had seen quite a lot of online. Called ‘The beet that comes out of the land’ the waitress brought out a large bowl with small black pebbles and rose petals in it. Then in one circular swirling motion, two vibrant red ‘rocks’ rose out from underneath the bowl – spectacular! The ‘rocks’ were two sweet beetroot meringues, so light they crumbled in my mouth with the slightest touch.

A duo of snacks came out at the same time, one being the crispy bow with cured Iberian bacon. While the crispy bow was tasty, it overpowered the thin delicate bacon slice. The caramel-coated hazelnuts had a liquid centre that burst out upon biting into it.

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A very El Bulli inspired snack came out next, which was transparent pesto ravioli with a little Parmesan broth. I recall seeing El Bulli preparing transparent raviolis using edible wrappings and an iron-like press to get it to stick together. Disfrutar’s raviolis had a chunky filling, with basil leaves and Parmesan. The broth had a hint of the Parmesan flavour, though it could have been more pronounced to enhance the snack. I had no idea what the Tomato “polvorón” and Arbequina Caviaroli was – but  WOW it tasted great! It was kind of like a frozen cream cheese with tomato dust and little olive oil caviar on top. It was strange and very enjoyable.

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We finished the snack section with “Disfruta de la aceituna,” which translates to Disfrutar’s olives. These little olives were coated in a thin cocoa butter skin filled with an intense olive flavour bursting out after one bite. At the same time we received some bread and a little spoon of intense essence, the flavour of which I can’t remember.

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A smoked Idiazabal cheese biscuit with apple arrived next. The cheese biscuit was frozen so it was refreshing on the palate. The apple juice served alongside provided a sweet contrast to the savoury biscuit.

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The crispy egg yolk with mushroom gelatine was the dish of the meal. One bite into the crispy battered egg revealed the gooiest egg yolk and beneath hidden in the eggshell was the mushroom gelee, which was unbelievably earthy and held an almighty umami hit.

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The next dish was a mix between a classic American lobster roll and an Australian prawn cocktail. Called areal sandwich of langoustine cocktail, two light, savoury apple meringues sandwiched a langoustine cocktail mixture, which had chunks of langoustine, avocado, herbs and a creamy kimchee mayonaise. It was a fantastic combination and I especially enjoyed the light, crumbly meringues.

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Inspired by Japanese cuisine, salmon and marinated mackerel with cauliflower in vinegar landed on our table. The cauliflower was actually the rice of the ‘ngiri’ and had a strange texture once it was dipped into the vinegary sauce and eaten. While it was a unique take on ngiri I don’t think it beats the traditional kind. Served alongside were mushroom ‘dumplings’ that were steaming with the assistance of liquid nitrogen. I was a little undecided about the ‘dumplings’ as they didn’t have much flavour but they had good texture from the chunks of mushroom.

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I had been looking forward to our macaroni carbonara ever since I got a booking into Disfrutar. See-through Penne, made out of gelatine, arrived at the table in a saucepan with chunks of bacon. The waitress then siphoned a foamy carbonara sauce and tossed it in with the ‘pasta’ before grating Parmesan over the top to finish. Unbelievably, the gelatine ‘pasta’ had the same texture as al dente penne and managed to hold more sauce in the tube than normal pasta. The sauce was like a normal carbonara sauce except it was airier and went well with the bacon. The question is, was it better than traditional carbonara pasta? Well I honestly think  it was! Now I need to find out how to create gelatine pasta…

We then enjoyed a little glass of liquid salad, which tasty remarkably like its title.

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For the first time in the meal we received a knife and fork for red mullet with pork jowls and aubergine gnocchi. I was surprised to see mullet on the menu as it is known for not being a great eating fish. Fortunately, the one at Disfrutar was delicious and was cooked just right so it flaked away. The thin pork jowl on top added a meaty flavour going nicely with the fish. The ‘gnocchi’ on the side of the plate had the molecular gastronomy treatment as they exploded when eaten.

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The last savoury course was Iberian pork tenderloin “Pibil” which was the odd course out compared to the other dishes on the menu. This course wasn’t presented as painstakingly perfect as the other dishes and had more of a homely and warm kind of feel to it. The tender pork was doused in a rich spiced sauce which was tasty but nearly overpowered the other elements in the dish.

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We kicked off desserts with “Lemon verbena” and pineapple sorbet with coconut and licorice. Two halved lemons, with the insides scooped out, were presented at the table with refreshing pineapple sorbet and coconut foam. Hidden underneath was a strong hit of liquorice that went perfectly with the pineapple and coconut.

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Chocolate peppers, oil and salt is also a well-documented dish online due to the creativity involved. What looks like two chilli peppers are actually a mint chocolate (green pepper) and chilli chocolate (red pepper) enclosed in a thin jelly. A touch of oil was drizzled tableside, which added to the richness and decadence of the chocolates.

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We finished our meal with Coffee profiteroles, which had an incredibly light meringue and airy coffee foam.

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Sadly, the meal had come to a close, but before we left, we were able to get a photo with two of the three head chefs. On my right is Oriol Castro and on Dad’s left is Eduard Xatruch.

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Disfrutar is certainly a unique dining experience in Barcelona that is very worthy of a visit. For anyone who wasn’t able to try El Bulli before it closed, put Disfrutar on your list. While the restaurant draws inspiration from El Bulli, it also adds its own touch of creativity, which is sure to have you exclaim, “How did they do that?”

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