ABaC Opening Remarks:
-Located in the boutique hotel of the same name, ABaC was originally opened in 2000 in a stand-alone location at Carrer del Rec, and then later moved to Av. Tibidabo in 2008.
-The restaurant holds 2 Michelin stars and was nominated as The Best Restaurant 2011 in Catalonia by the Catalan Academy of gastronomy.
-Executive Chef Jordi Cruz is also a man of many accolades including the Young Chef’s Spanish Championship in San Sebastian in 2002, and the 2006 Chef of the Year CCA. He popped by our table to thank us for dining at the restaurant and explained that he has been with the ABaC kitchen since Spring 2010.
-The 56-seat space is located in a newly constructed modern pavilion adjoined to a beautiful garden outside. The indoor room is adorned in a neutral palate of white, cream and beige with billowy table clothes and curvaceous low-backed chairs. Hanging above the tables are unusual cylindrical light fixtures that look like a cross between a film reel, a thread spool and a glowing UFO.
-The outdoor terrace simply continues the indoor vibe quite seamlessly but the woven gray chairs lend a bit of a more casual feel.
-Despite being nearly full, the space is eerily quiet. No clatter, no music- just a quiet baseline hum of mumbling guests and knives scraping plates.
-After dinner, we got a chance to tour the 200 square meter kitchen designed by Joaquim Casademont. It’s an impressive and beautiful show kitchen complete with chalkboard walls, stainless steel equipment and sterile bright lights. Apparently, guests staying in one wing of the hotel must walk straight through the kitchen every day in order to get to the exit of the hotel- I don’t think I could ever tire of that.
-Service was friendly throughout the evening, albeit a bit uninterested. Descriptions of the dishes were short, and it seemed like a huge inconvenience to request additional details about what was on the plate. Perhaps they just didn’t speak very good English, but I still just didn’t feel the love or passion from the staff.
-Thankfully, the staff were well timed and orchestrated- the wine came before the food, the dishes were removed promptly, and the servers “tag-teamed” to deliver the dishes to my partner and I at the same time.
-The meal also moved at a good pace without any long lags between dishes. Do note, however, that it was still a lengthy meal- the whole thing took about 3 hours for the 13 courses (with no coffee daddling at the end).
-The bible-sized wine list features mainly Spanish selections, though there is a nice range from all over the world. Wine pairings with the tasting menus are encouraged, and available for 65 € and 85 €, respectively.
-My partner went for the pairings, quite impressed by their play off one another, while I opted to order a la carte throughout the night. At the Sommelier’s suggestion, I thoroughly enjoyed an Oriol Rossell Brut Nature Cava, and a few really fantastic Rieslings- a 2012 Kuhling-Gillot and a 2001 Ratzenberger Bacharacher Wolfshohle.
-Chef Cruz’s cuisine is best described as a satisfying balance of creativity and Spanish tradition. With his delicate plating, and moments of deconstructed textures, there is an element of modernist cuisine, but it’s definitely understated.
-The restaurant gives the option of a la carte (with items ranging in price from 15-72 €), the 13 course ABaC menu for 135 € or the 16 course grand tasting menu for 165 €.
-We were already on our third tasting menu in a row, and knew that the day following would be a big one at El Celler de Can Roca, so we “just” opted to go with the 13 course spread. It was more than enough.
Delicious poppy-seed brioche was some the best I’ve had since Paris last year.
Iced Bloody Mary with Cherries
If an appetizer is supposed to rev up your appetite, then consider this putting peddle to the medal. The granita had all of the distinct flavours of the popular drink- the acidic tomatoes, the aromatic celery salt, the solid hit of heat- and while it seemed strange at the time, the addition of the sweet ripe cherries really helped balance everything out.
Shaved with Pigeon Royales on Frico and Pigeon Consomme; Duck Broth with Cream of Foie Gras; Foie Gras Foccacia with Seared Foie
A decadent foie gras course felt a bit early in the meal, but it was delicious nonetheless. The delicately shaved foie gras melted like butter on the light ethereal crisp, pairing beautifully with the salty deeply flavoured consommé.
With a texture smoother than freshly whipped cream, the cream of foie was even more luxurious, while the tiny little “slider” turned out to be my favourite bite.
Don’t judge me but we both felt it tasted a bit like McDonalds fries in the best way imaginable- addictive and unapologetically tasty.
Oysters with Cured Mackerel Tartar with White Garlic Ice Cream and Watercress
I would have never thought to make a garlic ice cream, but it surprisingly wasn’t offensive in the least. Rather the combination of sweet, meaty tartar with the aromatic cold cream made for a satisfying first fish course.
Canarian Black Potatoes with Roasted Octopus, Curry Mojo Sauce, Lemon Brine and Acidified Broth
While admittedly I did find the octopus a touch overcooked and rubbery, the combination of the tangy curry mayo, lemon, and bright broth made up for any shortcomings in technique. Light, yet deeply comforting.
Baby Lobster with Young Leeks with Coral Juice and Thai Coconut
One of my favourite dishes of the night. I absolutely loved the delicate sweet shellfish and leeks against the fragrant coconut sauce. I scraped that coconut clean with such gusto, I was actually worried it may break.
Parmesan Egg with Chicken Stock, Truffle and Walnuts
A very delicious and comforting dish- the “egg” was made up of a runny egg yolk with a cheesy creamy bubble holding it all in. When broken, it engulfed the tiny matchsticks of aromatic truffles and walnuts, moistening them in luscious moisture and fat. I am not sure why, but both of us thought it reminded us of a bowl of shredded wheat cereal in the absolute best way possible.
Squid Treated like Black Rice with Padron Sedes
I wasn’t crazy about this dish- partially because it stained our mouths black (so naturally we took silly pictures of it), but mainly because it was just a bit overwhelmingly fishy for my tastes. A smaller portion of the ilk and squid would have been much more appropriate, while the dish could have used another component (other than the crunchy pepper seeds) to temper the overwhelming fish-flavour down.
Prawn “Suquet” with Potato Gnocchi, Candied Tomatoes and Hazelnuts
I quite liked the rich suquet (traditional fish stew) with the delicate hit of sweet hazelnuts, but found the gnocchi soggy, and the tomatoes underwhelmingly bland.
Mediterranean Red Mullet with Seaweed Foam, Fried Seaweed and Aioli
I am a big fan of mullet, which we don’t see much at home, and enjoyed the crispy yet light preparation here. Again, a clearly fish-forward flavor profile, but here the seaweed was mild enough to not overwhelm.
Guinea Fowl with Foie Gras, Aubergine, Black Garlic and Kumquat
I loved the tender guinea fowl against the sweetness of the black garlic and caramelized aubergine. An already rich dish, I could have done without the added foie, but who really complains about foie?
Kobe Beef with Foie Gras, Aubergine, Black Garlic and Kumquat
This was a supplemental charge to try the Kobe beef, which was so flavourful and unctuous it merely dissolved on the tongue- there one second and gone the next. Again, here more even so than with the fowl, the foie gras was surely overkill as it made for a bit of an overwhelmingly rich plate.
Tonic Water Bubbles with Mango, Candied Lemon and Juniper
After tucking into this, I decided that in my opinion, desserts are where ABaC really shines. This delicious little palate cleanser utilized spherification techniques that not-only burst into delicious juniper-scented jus, but also sent tiny little bubbles dancing all over my tongue. I have seen spherification a lot now on my gourmet travels, but never with the added experience of carbonation.
White Chocolate Rocks, White Truffle, Yogurt and Cottage Cheese, Flower Nectar, Rosemary Flowers and Nuts
I really enjoyed this dish that featured some sort of biscuit-treatment of white chocolate to yield a light and aerated texture, tangy savoury yogurt and cottage cheese, shavings of aromatic white truffle, and a touch of crushed nuts. The result was a pre-dessert with a carefully prudent level of sweetness, and a range of satisfying textures that perfectly led into the final dessert.
Dried Flower Paper with Yogurt, Crumbled Cookies, Violet Ice Cream and Berries
Other than the tonic water, this was my favourite course of the night (lucky for them, desserts always leave an important impression). The delicate tissue-paper thin candy shell had edible flowers pressed between its layers with tiny dots of aromatic honey on top.
Inside was a bed of thick tangy yogurt, crushed cookies, a satiny floral ice cream that was surprisingly not at all purfumey, and a bounty of fresh beautiful berries. I loved every single bite.
Lipstick Frozen Lolly
A playful (and actually functional) little ice pop that was not only cheeky and cute, but packed some serious fruit flavour.
I love receiving petit fours at the end of a tasting meal as I think they leave the guest with a last sweet memory. Of everything on the unusual serving dish, my favourite was the chocolate ball that burst with Disorono liquor upon hitting the tongue. The yuzu macaron, while beautiful, unfortunately tasted stale, but the moist citrus gelee made up for it with its bright lemon flavour.
ABaC Closing Remarks:
-For two 13-course tasting menus, one wine pairing, 3 glasses of wine and water, the bill came to 440 € ($630 CAD). It wasn’t the most expensive Michelin meal I’ve ever had, but probably not one I would pay for again. The food was great, but in my grand repertoire of dishes consumed and enjoyed – unfortunately nothing really stood out. I found everything fairly safe, with even a few missteps in technique (ie. overcooked octopus, stale macaroon, and mushy gnocchi), so I can’t imagine I will think back to many of these dishes as I do with other Michelin (or otherwise) meals I’ve enjoyed. The wines were lovely, the service was professional (albeit a bit dry), and the room was pleasant and pretty. I would recommend ABaC to those who want to go for a fancy Michelin Star meal but who aren’t sure they will enjoy a full-on molecular or experimental meal. For me, however, at this point in my eating career, I just felt left a bit underwhelmed.
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.