Review: Magical tapas from Ferran Adrià’s little brother Albert

Barcelona’s Bodega 1900 is not a tribute to El Bulli but a tapas bar with a brilliant personality of its own

   
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Bodega 1900

The cathedral has closed. Welcome to the prayer meeting. Our first offering is a couple of ‘spherified’ olives. They glisten like bullfrog’s throats on two polished teeny wooden spoons. Eating them goes like so: tip, pop, pause, smile. Flavours of fleshy olives and piparra peppers drench your senses. They’re there all at once and then just as suddenly gone. It’s Spain on a spoon, a culinary clack of castanets from the imagination of Ferran Adrià.

The chef closed his ground-breaking El Bulli restaurant nearly four years ago. But Barcelona now has five sister restaurants run by Adrià’s brother Albert. They’re all within walking distance of each other near the Plaça d’Espanya end of Barcelona’s Gran Via. We’re in the smallest, Bodega 1900. The walls around us are crowded with memorabilia from El Bulli, the world’s most avant-garde restaurant in an old school tapas cellar where the thrills keep coming.

This tapas empire began when Albert Adrià walked away from the foamy froth of three-star gastronomy and opened Inopia, his first tapas bar in 2006. The high church of Spanish food was scandalised. Diners were delighted. Inopia is gone but Albert’s empire has grown. Last year Tickets got its first Michelin star.

Bodega 1900 is a long narrow space behind a wooden frontage painted arsenic green. There are patterned tiles on the floor, white marble tables and padded bentwood chairs, under a low white timber ceiling.

The menu takes the usual tapas cracking code work. The “how big are these portions and will we have enough?” anxiety is expertly handled by maitre d’ Angel Geriz. Later on the bill I notice he gave us three-quarters of a portion of one dish, so there would be three slices of cured beef, one for each of us. Nice.

First up there’s a small bowl of crispy seaweed, nori rolls turned into nibbles as satisfying as pork scratchings, with two seams of crunchy tuna paste and sesame seeds ribbed along them.

There are small toasts, one with snow crab decorated with dots of the greenest essence of dill. Another has a slice of smoked salmon glazed in a truffle honey. Salmon and honey sound like the diet of a cartoon bear. But it’s surprisingly delicious. The third toast is draped with squares of tuna, seared beige outside but still liverishly raw and softer than a baby’s earlobe inside.

There’s a bowl of tomato salad with tiny gossamer skinned plum tomatoes that taste like they have been injected with essence of tomato finished with baby peas on top.

Boiled and salted prawns arrive as four Disney pink gambas, no garlic, no oil, just salt. Their unadorned sweetness tastes almost sugary next to the salt. There are naked razor clams without their shells like rubber inner tubes for a tiny girl’s bike slathered in a tangy escabeche sauce.

We’re heretically ignoring the vermouth and drinking Ferran Adrià’s Inedit beer, an unfiltered malted barley and wheat blend designed with Barcelona brewery Estrella Damm to go with lots of flavours. It costs €3 a bottle here.

Then there’s the least artful but utterly delicious house dish called aubergine coal. It’s a whole stalk-on skinned aubergine on a plate covered in a miso sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. We slice it in soft trembling rounds as if from a meltingly soft joint of meat.

Then there’s rubia gallega, or Galician Red, beef where the tenderloin has been cured for three weeks and then sliced silk thin, a nutty unsalty beefham if you will. Creamy frills of fat melt on the tongue.

There are perfect Ibérico ham croquettes and an eclair-sized calamari roll, tiny rounds of fried calamari arranged along a mini hot dog bun, finished with mayo and a kimchi-esque hot sauce, a beautiful concerto of carbs.

The final savoury dish is the biggest surprise of the lunch because it’s terrible. Three tubes of cannelloni have been stuffed with roast chicken and foie gras and drowned in a bechamel sauce. The meat and foie weirdly taste and feel like tinned tuna. It’s like a homage to the microwave ready meal.

But desserts take us back to the fantasy world where everything tastes more like itself than is decently imaginable. A mini pineapple half comes stuffed with pepper-sprinkled pineapple puree in which nuggets of ginger sponge are buried like treasure. Smooth lemon and basil ice cream is served in a frozen lemon half.

A bowl of strawberries in balsamic, like a 1990s tribute act, is topped with orange ice cream which melts into a tangy soup with the vinegar to soften its edge.

Midway through a long lunch a waiter turns troubadour and launches into a rendition of “the Bodega song” complete with gurning, finger-fraying Spanish guitar riffs and slapstick. The singalong brings a deliciously cheesy sense of belonging in a place that I imagine has more than its share of tourists.

The lasting impression, as the staff sit down to family dinner of bowls of pasta, is that in a perfect world this is how a chain restaurant could be: a brilliant spot to eat with its head and its heart precisely in the right place.

Lunch for three with three beers came to €135.65