If there’s one thing commonly associated with dining in Barcelona, it’s cutting-edge cuisine. Catalonia has been at the forefront of such cuisine for the past three decades, beginning with the famed molecular gastronomic elBulli restaurant, founded by chef Ferran Adrià, which inspired the international molecular gastronomic movement.
Catalonia’s, and in turn Barcelona’s, culinary culture has essentially adopted molecular cuisine as its mascot, though in recent years it has also begun to embrace the slow food movement, an “anti-fast food” philosophy which aims to promote local and seasonal foods. The resulting cuisine is edgy, experimental, and of the land.
We recently had the “difficult” task of indulging in a research run through one of our newest experiences in Barcelona, Modernista Menu: Avant-Garde Cuisine in Barcelona. During this annotated dinner, led by a Context docent and food expert, we were taken on a visual and gustatory adventure through contemporary Catalan cuisine at the celebrated Lluerna restaurant. Delight in our photos from the event.
Restaurant Lluerna is chef Víctor Quintillà and sommelier Mar Gómez, opened in 2001. Víctor, recently elected Young Chef of the Year by the Catalan Gastronomy Society, began his career interning under Mr. Adrià, where he learned to employ unorthodox culinary techniques first invented at elBulli, like foams, and gelification, among others. Víctor applies many of these techniques in his dishes, and his kitchen contains the various tools and machines necessary for such experimentation, though he is quite secretive about his processes. In 2012, Lluerna earned its first Michelin star.
Behind Lluerna’s modern and minimalist private dining area lies a wall of Catalan wines, expertly selected from local vineyards by Mar, whose wine list was recently awarded a prize in Catalonia’s prestigious Cartaví competition, organized by the Catalan Wine Association. In Europe, wines are named after the region in which they are grown and bottled, unlike American wines which are named after the grape varietal. This is identified by a wine’s “DO” (the DO, or designation of origin, identifies the region where the wine is made and the methods used to produce it, in addition to guaranteeing its quality). Catalonia has eleven DO. The wines served at Lluerna are organic “DO Catalunya”–typically whites have notes of white fruit (apple) and some tropical fruit (pineapple), while reds have notes of cherry and raspberry. Common Catalonian varietals are macabeu, xarello, and garnatxa. Interestingly, most Catalonian wines are not available for consumption in the United States. Photo credit Víctor Quintillà.
The presentation of each dish is meticulously planned. This porcini mushroom and cream soup was brought to us in individual parts. First to arrive were three delicate spheres positioned in the center of an asymmetric bowl. We were encouraged to examine the white specimens, which resembled the size and consistency of poached quail eggs, before Mar added the soup and garnish to the mix. We were then instructed to eat the “eggs” whole, which yielded a literal explosion of cool cream into the mouth–these were not eggs but rather liquid ravioli, which Víctor creates using the molecular spherification process.
Víctor, an adherent of the slow food movement, uses seasonal and local ingredients where possible, as the name of the restaurant suggests (Lluerna is the Catalan name for a mediterranean fish abundant in the region). In this dish Víctor pairs locally-grown winter vegetables with Jabugo ham, which is cured in a region in the west of the Spain.
Víctor enjoys playing with traditional Catalan cuisine. Here, one of our favorite dishes: the day’s catch with calçot onions and Romesco sauce. Calçot onions, a type of scallion, are native to Catalonia, while Romesco is a traditional Catalan sauce made from almonds, roasted garlic, olive oil and dried red peppers.
To finish off the meal, a quirky interpretation of an Italian classic: tiramisù. Here, Víctor uses the molecular technique of deconstruction, changing the typical appearance and construction of a dish while preserving its expected flavors. He has separated the elements of an ordinary tiramisù–the amaretto is in the ice cream, the chocolate liquified, and the mascarpone cheese as individual scoops–to create the extraordinary.