Night Two: We took a cab to Tickets in Barca’s El Raval neighborhood, and as we approached the large storefront windows plastered with its branding my first thought was Planet Hollywood – which isn’t a great sign. I knew Tickets had a casual, carnival-themed atmosphere, but I could do without the over-branding. Tickets is considered the hardest reservation to get in Barcelona right now. Seats are released at midnight GMT exactly sixty days in advance and are quickly snapped up, so it requires calculated advance planning if you’re going there. And you are going – because it’s Tickets, and because it’s the Adria brothers.
We were taken to our seats at the bar of one of the prep stations, which I had requested. I’d heard these were the best seats in the house because you could watch all the meticulous, tweezers-wielding food prep. It was fun to watch, but stressful as well. There were not many smiles to be seen amongst the kitchen or wait staff as, once again, tapas were being cranked out as fast as they could be prepped. Only this time the food was highly decorative and every garnish had to be placed just so. You could feel the tension in the air.
Like the previous night, we decided to give up control and let the kitchen decide what we would eat. The pacing here was much better – obviously so, because we made it through a total of eighteen dishes. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. We started off with the famous elBulli spherified olives, which are an absolute delight for your mouth. We had a simple plate of melt-in-your-mouth Iberian ham. We had mini-airbags stuffed with manchego cheese, and avocado cannelloni with crab and romesco sauce. And we had razor clams with saffron pearls and soy sauce shards in a presentation that could rival any design by Gaudi. Craig had raw oysters for the first time and discovered he liked them. How could you not when one was finished off with an oriental vinaigrette and salmon roe, and the next was dressed in a sherry vinegar with tarragon and olive oil caviar?
It was time for dessert and we couldn’t say no. After all, Albert Adria was the pastry chef at elBulli for years. Our waiter recommended a warm lava cake with raspberry and thyme sorbet, which was delicious. We also spotted a beautiful chocolate dessert being enjoyed at the next bar stool over so we ordered one of those too, but it sadly never arrived. We didn’t remind our waiter about it because we really didn’t need to eat another bite.
Throughout the night, and despite the great food, we just couldn’t get over the fact that it felt too commercial. On the wall above the food station we were seated at was a screen that showed video footage of food prep from the elBulli kitchen. While interesting to watch, I didn’t think Tickets needed to rely on elBulli footage. There were real, live kitchen staff right in front of us making equally beautiful food. There’s obviously a deep connection to elBulli, but it didn’t need to be so blatant. It was unnecessary and even distracting to the experience.
Would we go again? I think it’s unlikely. I have no regrets about going and enjoyed my meal, but the overall experience was lacking. Which is ironic, because they are definitely trying to create a very particular atmosphere. In the end, it didn’t feel genuine. Craig also reminded me of one thing that really stood out for him: the fact that the food didn’t have much, if any, smell to accompany it. Smell is so deeply connected to taste but at Tickets there was none, and when it comes to eating all five senses need to be engaged. Honestly, I hadn’t really noticed it, but it’s an interesting observation I want to pay more attention to in the future.