A very fine-tuned Catalan tasting experience with Jordi Artal – Arguably the only Michelin-starred Chef who began his career in high-tech
Here we are in Barcelona, the City of luxury and culture; and where does one go to experience the ultimate Catalan cuisine? In other words which Catalan Chef is brave enough to satisfy our curiosity? The challenge is accepted by the unique Cinc Sentits and its Principal Jordi Artal. Word on the street is it that Jordi Artal, like many of Catalonia’s most famous Chefs, is self-made and self-taught and that alone is exciting. Cinc Sentits means the five sense; sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
The restaurant has quite a few accolades under its belt. Just a few months after opening, it was rated one of the best 6 new restaurants in Spain, it was later recognised by Conde Nast as one of the 80 hottest restaurants in the world; this was followed by a Michelin star 4 years later; and now, Zagat has rated the restaurant No.1 for food in Barcelona every year since 2012. “Opinion about Dining” rates it one of the Top 100 Restaurants in Europe, so I guess that we are in for a treat.
Needless to say, that you know that you are in for some fine dining experience with a difference when you are offered a seat in Barcelona’s Cinc Sentits, and your menu is presented to you in three scrolls wound round three sticks.
Diners arriving at 58 Aribau in Barcelona are greeted by an imposing entrance with a blank menu choice in the vitrine leading into a rather dark-lit restaurant. This is the home of Cinc Sentits; the place where flavour is all that matters. It is also the place to experience one of Catalonia’s fascinating culinary traditions. This also the place where a young boy who loves to eat and feed people grew up and gathered the early learnings from his mother and grandmother to create one of the most unique Catalan fine dining experiences in Barcelona. Needless to say, that you know that you are in for some fine dining experience with a difference when you are offered a seat in Barcelona’s Cinc Sentits, and your menu is presented to you in three scrolls wound round three sticks. Jordi and his crew at Cinc Sentits believe in the Catalan proverb which says that “he who eats well and drinks well does everything right” and do not fail to deliver on service.
The whole experience is a ritual and one cannot fail to notice the welcome notice in the form of a carefully signed cotton napkin on the table welcoming you and teasing your mind on what to expect without divulging too much. Attention to detail is paramount and the key word here is “taster menu” with the ability to wine pair as much as possible. With an open mind, I allowed the experience to begin.
Let the experience begin:
I go for the “kill” and opt for the six-course taster menu with wine pairing. I am excited with intrigue because according to the Cinc Sentits doctrine, you should allow yourself to be surprised with either a six-course tasting menu costing 120 euros plus 75 euros for wine or four-course taster menu 100 euros plus 60 euros for the wine.
It starts with a warm maple syrup, cream, cava sabayon and salt drink as welcome note to the ritual. I am advised to drink this all at once to appreciate the flavour; the result is very pleasant. Cinc Sentits is a special place, the service is a ceremony on its own. Here waiters and sommeliers are fluent in at least 3 languages. I am pleasantly impressed because for the Executive Traveller, excellent service is paramount.
The warm drink is followed by Pica Pica which is made up of a fanfare of Iberian ham, grilled vegetable flatbread with olive oil “caviar”, freshly shucked baby clams with a secret sauce, toasted bread crisp with tomato dust and olive oil gel, anchovy with roasted red pepper and anchovy emulsion, salt-baked potato, carrot and green bean puree and bonito tuna belly manzanillo-arbequina olive with rosemary, verdeill with herbs from Collserola paired with a Cinc Sentits Vermouth. Now you understand why I used the word “fanfare”. Dining at the Michelin-starred Cinc Sentits is a whole ceremony.
I had to ask Jordi why Michelin-starred chefs serve food in small portions even though I realise that this was a taster menu of six courses with wine pairing. Jordi explains that the portions may look small but the food creeps on you. The keyword being “taster”. I need to mention the very tasty freshly-baked rusty bread that kept on “giving” generously as a side. I couldn’t help asking for more.
Jordi Artal and Cinc Sentits:
A little chat with Chef Jordi and I learn that Cinc Sentits is not the first thing that Jordi Artal has created. He started his own hi-tech company while in his teens and by his late 20s he was already a senior executive at a dotcom in Sillicon Valley. He never gave up on his passion for food and after making their mark with friends and family, he and sister Amelia thought that it was time to move back home to Barcelona to turn their passion into reality. Hence Barcelona’s first tasting menu restaurant Cinc Sentits was born.
Next on the menu is Langoustine with octopus, razor clam, oyster plant, smoked eel and sturgeon caviar. This is paired with the Attis Mar 2014, D.O. Rias Baixas.
True to his word, and midway through my experience and before the meat is served, I am surprised with a foie gras with caramelised sugar shell, braised leeks and chives paired with a sweet Nou, Massis del Garraf, the house wine. This is follow by the Aged “Vaca Vieja” Beef with smoked bone marrow, black truffle, celery root, Nouheather honey lacquered baby carrot (photo above), paired with Roda I Reserva 1995. The wine selection is just as impressive as the food and service.
Dessert is paired with the Onra vi de Pedra Solera 2009 which is not as sweet as the Nou and Jordi explains that this is because everyone expects the dessert wine to be sweet so this adds to the element of surprise. I was not too blown away with my cheese platter but that was only offered as an option and does not take away anything from the main “fanfare”.
Cinc Sentits works with small producers across Catalonia right from the fisherman through to the artisanal smoker to bring the highest quality food to the table. Every supplier is credited with their produce.
Jordi explains that diners come to his ten-table restaurant for the experience. Every aspect of the experience is carefully thought-through. The ambiance, the service, music, staff and every element of surprise that is added. No one day is the same at the fully-booked restaurant.
VERDICT: Food is delicious and service is outstanding. Nevertheless, this is not your everyday dining parlour. This is the place to go if you want the ultimate Catalan dining experience. The whole experience is a ritual and you must have some time on your hands. Reservations are absolutely necessary for this ten table restaurant. Travellers are advised to book well in advance before they arrive in Barcelona. The experience is the same for both lunch and dinner.