No, I haven't poisoned any customers yet - these messages are from the other side of the cooking-glass. It's invariably those lucky guys in front of house who get the good news and the bad news. Whatever the customers think of the food, it's rare for them to express their opinions back of house. Now and again someone will ask to see Head Chef, of course, usually to complement rather than to head-butt. And those of a more elevated status appear from time to time with Executive Chef, laughing and chatting. But we galley slaves just pull away at the oars, glancing occasionally through the glass to catch a smile or a thumbs-up, but usually too busy even for that small indulgence. During the past few weeks, however, I've had the privilege of booking tables for some customers who were enticed to eat at Comerç 24 via this blog or through previous acquaintance. So for once I've been able to get some feedback.
Kevin Smith read my post on Sopa De Fideos Vegetales in early April - and promptly turned up at the restaurant a week later. Writing later of the vegetable noodle soup, Kevin commented: "We've just returned from Barcelona and this was one of the highlights of our meal at Comerc 24 (the other being the cuttlefish ravioli) - deep layered flavours that just keep giving. I think the sea urchin was also inspired, that iodiney (is that a word?) tang cutting through." Your choice of words is just fine, Kevin.
At the end of April, Ben Bush from Food And Drink In London came to Barcleona with his girlfriend Antonia and booked a table of two for the Festival menu, subsequently writing up their experiences on the blog. What more can any chef ask than for a customer to write of one of his dishes: "Quite one of the best things I have ever eaten. It all but brought tears to my eyes." Thank you both for coming.
If I was on commission (which of course I'm not!), I would have made it big time a few weeks ago with the arrival of Michael and Clare Mori plus six friends, to celebrate Michael's birthday. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I first posted a piece about my local Italian deli, Gallo Nero and its wonderful roast ham. It's no longer my local, of course, as I'm over 1,000km away. But dad still shops there regularly and was involved in the conspiracy that led to deli owner Michael's surprise birthday meal, including an 'Eight Textures of Chocolate' cake, made specially for the occasion at one of Barcelona's best patisseries. I'm pleased to report that the evening went well and everyone enjoyed their food (although one well-built member of the group was reported to have impersonated Oliver Twist when the food eventually ran out). "Full of intense flavours that just exploded in your mouth" was part of Michael's kind and rewarding feedback.
While surfing reviews of one of my favourite restaurants recently, with this post at an early draft stage, it suddenly occurred to me to pump in the phrase "Comerç 24" and see what sort of comments were being made on the web. Strange that I never thought of the idea before, but there's a first time for everything and this was it. The results surprised and pleased me and I thought I'd share them with you. Click on the links to read the entire comment or review - I've edited quite severely for space reasons:
irrationally emo: "...and i had the best birthday dinner at comerc 24, the top restaurant in barcelona run by abellan, who served at el bulli (the best restaurant in the world) for like the longest time. that was a dinner to die for."
textlad: The food was out of this world – plate after plate of fabulous creations. Excellent, unintrusive staff and an excellent sommelier who was able to guide us through a variety of wines to match the sensational food.
concierge.com: "This somber backdrop is actually perfect for the antic liveliness of the dishes, such as rice crisps with tart olive foam; macadamia nuts glazed in real gold dust; pudding-soft tuna tartare with salmon roe; black rice slashed with green parsley aïoli; and curry-scented banana soup. And Abellan's "Kinder Egg" (an eggshell filled with truffles, potatoes, and a three-minute egg) is now nearly as famous as his mentor's trademark foams."
Brian and Somchai's Excellent Adventure: For lunch we walked to a fairly hard to find but worth it restaurant, Comerc 24. It was probably the best looking restaurant of the trip, hard edged industrial design but with a strong lounge vibe in the music and seating that made it comfortable. Service was laid back and cool, and food was funky... not in a gross ingredient kind of way, just offbeat combinations and cutting edge presentations.
Jean and Jeff’s European Adventure: "Jeff and I have agreed this is probably the most outrageous meal in terms of sheer invention and the most divine tapas we have ever had... Our meal started with an amuse bouche of tiny pastry cups filled with a lemon-lime froth with shaved parmesan on top... The dishes kept coming... Next up were petite tuna sashimi onion pizzas on mini flatbreads..these were my favourite! Following the pizzas was a wild Hake Pil dish, can’t recall how that was prepared..think we were numb with delight at this point."
Barcelona Food Girl: "I arched my back and let out a moan. Then I lost consciousness a little bit. When I came to, the waitress was bringing dessert... three takes on fruit and six different variations on chocolate, including a dark chocolate mousse topped with olive oil and salt... At one point, I'm pretty sure I left my body and floated overhead for a few seconds. When it was all over, I slid my credit card across the bar without a word. Then, I drifted home and collapsed, spent."
Moving experiences: "Comerç 24 is a truly moving experience... its intense smells and tastes still penetrated my numb senses... What I find particularly cool with... Abellan's cuisine is the deconstruction of traditional dishes. They are like the distilled version of the traditional dishes, like Cognac is to wine, incredibly intense, presented in an elaborate compact form with heritage of Spanish tapas. It is like stuff you have not seen or tasted... Many dishes are big surprises in the mouth... Some dishes almost feel like they could have been served for hundreds of years."
Lenski: "...this time it really clicked for me. The menu was somewhat different but the overall dining experience was still very good. A lot better than what I had experienced before. On my earlier visit, I had the egg with truffle at the bottom, and the Pernil (ham) two ways... Fantastic... Overall, two great meals. What changed for me? Not sure, but this time I think the menu, the progression, made more sense combining classic staples with original combinations... Great service and a great place, very Barcelona as one person said."
travaround: "Carles Abellan's Comerc 24 is a wonderful blend of Catalan and world cuisine. cool interior and wonderful menus to enjoy long lunch with friends or stylish dinner!"
Sociedad Gastronómica del Tapeo: "...a spectacular supper in Carles Abellán's restaurant, Comerç 24, in the heart of Barcelona's Born district."
Cupcakes and Kimchi: "I really went for it [foam] in Barcelona at Comerç 24 by one of Ferran Adrià's very own disciples, Carles Abellan. After all, when in Rome... So, indulge me in a little walk down memory lane. It was only last year that I enjoyed the 7-course tasting, plus dessert tasting at Comerç — a wonderful respite from the tapas (delicious though they were) I'd been having day in and day out for a week traveling with my sister, who was and has always been my ever-willing foodie partner in crime."
Frommer's: ...an opportunity to experience the culinary vision of a true artist... He has given his imaginative, distinctive interpretation to all the longtime favorite dishes of Catalonia... Abellán will immediately win you over... Only Marlene Dietrich could make a better potato omelet... he serves that old-fashioned snack that Catalan children used to be offered when they came home... chocolate, salt, and bread flavored with olive oil. It's surprisingly good!"
Fodor's: Artist, aesthete and chef Carles Abellan playfully reinterprets traditional Catalan favorites at this minimalist treasure. Try the arròs a banda (paella without the morsels), tortilla de patatas (potato omelet), and, for dessert, a postmodern version of the traditional after-school snack of chocolate, olive oil, salt, and bread. The menu is pretty far out, yet it always hits the mark."
A Year in Rome: "What a fantastic place; called Comerc 24... Their preferred style is a tasting menu of tapas type dishes... with an emphasis on fish. I... remember some things: onion soup with a quail egg in the bottom of the dish, seared tuna, a pureed something served in an egg shell and a steak (very small) dish. It felt like the kind of place friends of ours... would really enjoy."
Christian Lindholm: "...a truly moving experience... its intense smells and tastes still penetrated my numb senses... We had the grand Festive menu and it was a Spanish fiesta. What I find particularly cool... is the deconstruction of traditional dishes... like the distilled version of traditional dishes, like Cognac is to wine, incredibly intense, presented in an elaborate compact form with heritage of Spanish tapas. It is like stuff you have not seen or tasted."
Israel Belchi (translated): "I warmly recommend you to try the Festival or Grand Festival tasting menu, where you will experience a world-wide voyage of gastronomic discovery... salmon and vanilla (Asian), red mullet (Andalusian), prawns en papillote with romesco sauce (Italian), onion soup (Catalan) and foie gras & truffle hamburgers (American). Just thinking about the food again is making my mouth water..."
I had to edit out the more extreme bits of Barcelona Food Girl's orgasmic write-up on the grounds of decency. I found one or two iffy reviews, but very few. The negative comments were almost all from 2006 and earlier and virtually disappeared a year ago. I find that really encouraging and an obvious tribute to the hard work of Head Chef Arnau Muñío and also to the front of house team.
I can't finish without mentioning poor Gastromaniac who left it too late to get a seat at Ç24 so had to settle for our sister restaurant Tapaç 24 instead. Email me next time you are planning a visit and I'll do my best to book you the best seat in the house.