Tasty outing in Barcelona

Abac

Of all the Michelin-starred Spanish chefs who've come our way in the past few years, Jordi Cruz has surprisingly not been among them. But the chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Abac is too good to ignore on your next visit to the Catalonian capital.

While the food at El Celler de Can Roca is poised and seriously sophisticated, the 36-year-old Cruz's cooking is confident without being over-intellectual. He knows his stuff, whether it's molecular wizardry with liquid nitrogen and spherification or traditional slow-cooking and braising, but he does it all with a a happy combination of concentration and insouciance that makes a meal at Abac deliciously fun.

Located in an upscale neighbourhood on the edge of Barcelona's city centre, Abac sits in a five-star boutique hotel of the same name at the foot of Mount Tibidabo - which you can see in the distance. It's a sleek, trendy and private abode where guests come and go as if they're living in their own home. The restaurant is your garden variety fine-dining outpost, but with a welcoming vibe.

Friendly servers are quick and efficient, and kick off your meal with a theatrical frozen passion fruit sorbet made at your table with liquid nitrogen. Bitter, salty and sour, it's paired with a stick of raw sugar cane that you chew before digging into the frozen slush served in the shell of the passion fruit.

Cruz is surprisingly adept with Asian flavours, fusing his courses with familiar but not jarring accents of curry, soya sauce and Japanese seaweed, and even doing an impressive version of deep-fried mantou that he stuffs with melt-in-the-mouth grilled eel, paired with Japanese mustard and aioli.

Sweet sea urchin is bathed in a mild curry-accented sauce with a light kaffir lime scent, while tender spare rib is given a light Thai rub.

Despite the exotica, the fusion doesn't come across as out of place - if anything, it's heightened by tempering it with typical Spanish flourishes.

Other highlights include an ingenious "risotto" of tender, slow-cooked pine nuts instead of rice, mixed with unctuous egg yolk, parmesan cream and shredded bacon floss for some amazing comforting flavour and mouth feel.

Parmesan "gnocchi" or rather spherifications of cheese cream are also impressive, served with crunchy white asparagus in a clear mushroom broth. Spherification may be old hat but Cruz brings back the fun with a dessert of gin and tonic "bubbles" with mango sorbet.

If you think progressive cooking needs to be enjoyed with a steady amount of reverence, this is one case where you can have fun and eat it too.

Avinguda del Tibidabo, 1, 08022 Barcelona, Spain

Tel: +34 933 196 600. www.abacbarcelona.com

Espai Kru

IF the stylised Japanese-Peruvian posturing of Albert Adria's Pakta goes over your head, go next door for a taste of simple, unadulterated Mediterranean seafood at Espai Kru. It literally is next door to Pakta, and sits above its more conservative parent Rias de Galicia - the seafood eatery often reported as Ferran Adria's favourite restaurant in Barcelona.

It also happens that Adria is a quiet consultant to Rias de Galicia, which specialises in traditional Spanish seafood cooking, as well as its funkier offspring Espai Kru upstairs, which is one of the nicest raw bars in town.

Taking pride of place is a large chiller display of the day's catch, whether it's sashimi grade tuna or freshly caught seafood from the waters off Galicia in northwestern Spain. Just ask for whatever's freshest, with as little embellishment as possible. Enjoy the briny tang of fresh oysters dressed in ponzu or gazpacho, crunchy razor clams with just a light slick of sauce, or raw scallops paired with sea urchin marred unfortunately by teriyaki sauce.

It even offers a sashimi platter of meaty, sweet and nicely sticky-textured raw squid, quirkily named llampuga (resembling mahi-mahi), dorade (a kind of sea bream) and tuna belly, or a ceviche of red mullet, sliced and artfully re-assembled to look like the whole fish.

The restaurant tends to douse its super-fresh fish unnecessarily with tart lemon juice or other sauces, so it might not be a bad idea to tell them to hold the condiments where possible. If raw isn't your thing, Espai Kru does a very good deep-fried turbot that you can eat, bones and all. For dessert, check out the Torrija or Spanish french toast soaked in milk, topped with creme catalan and torched to achieve a crisp sugar shell.

If trendy bores you, Espai Kru's blend of simple seafood in vibrant surroundings is the perfect antidote.

Carrer de Lleida, 7 (Barcelona)

Upper floor of Rias de Galicia

Tel: +34 933 300 303

jaime@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 26 in The Business Times.

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