Night Three: Hisop is a small, starkly modern and minimalist dining room located in a quiet alley off the busy Avinguda Diagonal. As such, it’s probably not a place you would stumble upon by accident. It’s been open since 2001, and in 2010 it received its first Michelin star. This was going to be our first Michelin experience, and while I know stars aren’t required for a great dining experience I can’t say I wasn’t curious to see what Michelin star dining was like. Hisop was the most formal of all our dining experiences in Barcelona, although not pretentious or stuffy. It was a nice change of pace from our last two nights of casual tapas. Hisop offers a nine-course tasting menu, which Craig and I both decided to order so we could try several different things. We didn’t do the wine pairing, but we did share a bottle from the same local region as on our first night at La Pepita, and it was equally delicious.
The dining room has only nine tables, and it appeared they only seat each table once per night. The service was stellar, finding a balance between highly professional while still friendly and comfortable. The food was contemporary Catalan, using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. I don’t know if there is any direct connection between Chef Oriol Ivern Bondia and the Adria brothers (although I could see some influence) but it’s interesting to note that on Hisop’s website under Philosophy it says “searching for flavor as the final goal.” In the book The Sorcerer’s Apprentices, Ferran Adria states, “It’s about purity, purity of flavor,” and at every restaurant we visited there was an intensity of flavor that I hadn’t experienced in this way before.
We started off with an offering of amazing homemade bread, which I tried to savor slowly so I wouldn’t ruin my appetite before my meal even began. Soon the courses, impeccably paced, started coming out. A single, perfect pea ravioli with Iberian bacon. Mantis shrimp soup with sea snail and fennel. Flavorful mackerel with lima beans and trumpets. Grilled John Dory with cockles, which worked beautifully with a fragrant, delicate vanilla foam. I absolutely loved this meal. My favorite was the octopus with potatoes, served with kalamata olive sorbet. I never thought I cared much for octopus, as it generally seems to be too rubbery and without much flavor. What I know now is that I’ve never had the right chef prepare it for me. This was as tender and flavorful as it gets, and the surprise of how well the cold olive sorbet worked with it had me grinning from ear to ear.
There was only one dish I didn’t care for, a final savory course of pigeon with chocolate and truffles. In concept, it makes sense. I can see why the gamey taste of the pigeon might work with chocolate, and certainly truffles, but the chocolate was too heavy and dense, overpowering everything else.
The disappointment of that dish quickly vanished from memory as the lovely cheese course was served. Two desserts followed: a refreshing spicy yogurt with grapefruit and thyme, and then a roasted apple with sage. Finally, we finished off the meal with espresso and mignardises, or petit fours; delightful and beautifully presented bite-size treats. My favorite was the carrot shaving curled around a creamy caramel mousse, which tasted just like carrot cake but better because I had no idea what to expect when I put it in my mouth.
Would we go again? Without hesitation. The food and service were excellent, and the tasting menu in particular was a great value. I’d love to come back in at a later time of year to see what the chef does with different seasonal ingredients, but I’d happily eat this exact meal again (although I might request to substitute the pigeon). Since it’s my first Michelin star experience, I can’t say with certainty if it deserves it or not, but if this is what I can expect from a meal then the stars are definitely worth paying attention to.