Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Family Visits La Familia

A guest contribution from Trig's dad, Mike.

When my son wrote about working at restaurant Comerç 24 recently, he referred to his work colleagues as "la familia", using the Spanish term of endearment by which the kitchen team refers to its members.

Aidan, aunt Deirdre, family friend Jill and me outside Ç24 (photo by Liz)Last weekend it was time for the biological family to descend on Aidan's Barcelona hideaway - to drown in a sumptuous visual feast of Gaudí and gorge on a sumptuous culinary feast of New Catalan cuisine.

The excuse (if one were needed) was my son's 20th birthday celebration. On the Monday, Aidan and I visited the highly celebrated restaurant Alkimia for a very fine 2½ hour lunch, a review of which he'll be writing up shortly.

But, unfortunately, Trig was unable to join his relatives and family friends for dinner on Saturday. Because, along with the rest of la familia, he was cooking it.

For those readers who are into the revolutionary architecture of the Modernisme movement, I've filed some photos on Flickr here. But this space is devoted to the dining experience at Ç24... and a truly amazing experience it was. Thanks to Aidan for inviting me to guest blog.

Aidan's mother Liz enjoys a glass of wine as he helps prepare dinnerIt's a totally surreal experience being shown to a restaurant table by a waiter and looking up to see your son just two feet away behind a glass partition separating kitchen from dining room. At first you want to smile and wave - to pull faces as you would in the primate house at a zoo - until you remember that this is a serious, professional environment. As the customer you are king, but that doesn't grant you the right to interfere with the staff. Not even if they are your own children. So you constrain yourself to a fleeting acknowledgment, a flick of the hand and a passing smile and then ready to order.

There was no need for us to inspect the menu here. No self-respecting foodie was going to order anything other than the full tasting menu, presented here as the "Super Festival". I'm not sure exactly how many full courses this dégustation comprised, as I stopped counting somewhere around twelve. Looking at the photos afterwards, I counted no fewer than twenty-two individual dishes.

Fantastic concentration in the kitchen as each chef makes their contributionSuffice it to say that we sat down at 9.00pm and left after midnight - four extremely well-fed and smugly satisfied customers.

From the outset the service was impeccable. They always say of a good waiter that he or she should never be visible when not required and always present when needed. Ian certainly fitted the bill. There were times when he appeared at the table through some magic trapdoor. I swear that he never walked across the room. He simply appeared.

As did the food. Dish after dish perfectly timed, with adequate time to take breath between tastings, but not one single uncomfortable delay all night. And that food! The least favoured dishes were simply very good - the most favoured were a small taste of heaven.

Blood peach sorbet with the purest-flavoured purple basilThe purity of flavours, contrasting textures and balance of elements on the plate was what great food should be all about. And a great demonstration that food doesn't need to be extravagant and complex to be extra-ordinary. A week later and I can still taste that tiny sprig of purple basil and recall how it cut through the blood peach sorbet to delight the palate.

In some cases, the simplicity of presentation belied some very, very clever tricks behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Take the onion soup, for instance. The first spoonful was absolutely traditional French onion soup. And then those flavours appeared as if from nowhere, flooding into the mouth to take you on a journey back across the Pyrenees to Catalunya. I can't describe that taste - you simply have to try it for yourself.

Dining at such close proximity to the kitchen, we couldn't help but notice the texturas collection on proud display on shelves behind the chefs. Trig tried to explain a bit about how they work and which ones they use for which preparations, but it's all a bit too complicated for someone my age.

Jodi looks worried, but Trig smiles as he worksIf I had one small criticism it was the lack of a paired wines offering. Although the sommelier nominated red and white wines at our request which complemented the food perfectly well, I'd been spoilt at Bacchus by dishes each of which had been individually matched with its own wine. I would have loved the same at Ç24.

One area where they were faultless was in handling food preferences. I'm a coeliac and Liz doesn't eat meat, so in most restaurants we have to choose our dishes carefully.

Not so in Comerç 24. I don't know how they managed to modify the dishes on such a long and complex tasting menu to suit our individual requirements - but they did. And, what's more, they didn't need asking twice. Trig confirmed later that this menu tailoring is standard practice and not just something laid on for us. So for gluten-free gourmets this place is a dream, although I guess it would be more difficult for strict vegetarians and those seeking kosher food, given the amount of seafood on offer.

I could rave about this restaurant for ever. But my best advice is go try it for yourself. At less than €120 a head including wines, tax and service you'll be hard pressed to find better value anywhere. Assuming of course, that Carles Abellan holds his prices down now he's been awarded that precious first Michelin star.

I did my best with photos of the food. They're not great - the camera had problems with the low lighting and I'm no food photographer. But I hope you enjoy what I managed to shoot. Here's my Flickr slideshow. To see notes describing a dish, click on the photo.


Anonymous said...

Great post and even nicer pictures. You have a very talented son and I'm sure you are proud parents. AP

Mike said...

Thanks AP. I'd be even more proud if he'd learn to do the washing up.

Anonymous said...


Lizzie said...

Thanks for the photos. Absolutely stunning, you must be so proud!

Now, is booking a table tricky? I have a special occasion coming up and this looks like a perfect excuse to justify the expense!

Mike said...

Thanks Lizzie. Just email Trig with details and I'm sure he'll be able to sort you out a good table. Click on "contact" on the header bar. The restaurant is open Tuesday-Saturday.

Rachael said...

That is SO heartwarming! Really lovely. How lucky you all are to have such a close family.

Mike said...

Thanks Rachael. Donations to the travel & subsistence fund always welcome.

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