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Disfrutar: molecular magic in Barcelona by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O' Sullivan

At Spain's hottest new restaurant there are two tasting menus: Menú Disfrutar and Menú Festival. Festival, says our waiter, gives a more complete sense of the restaurant's story. It also happens to have 25 courses. So to give us a sporting chance of finishing our lunch, we opt for the abridged version, the 18-course Menú Disfrutar, and mentally loosen our belts.Disfrutar is owned by Oriol Castro, Edvard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas, former head chefs at the legendary elBulli restaurant in Girona. They already have a successful restaurant in Cadaques, and opened Disfrutar – which means 'enjoy' – in December last year. The first surprise, however, is the restaurant itself. Diners plunge from a busy Barcelona street into a subdued and narrow space, with a bar and a few tables. Then on through the open kitchen and out into a light and airy main dining room, the pale ceramics that clad the walls a nod to Catalan Surrealist Miró.The next surprise (if, like me, you haven't read the ecstatic reviews closely enough) is that there are the two aforementioned tasting menus – and that's it. No à la carte; no specials. And not only have the two menus been drawn up to showcase the astonishing skill of the three chef-patrons, each dish has been designed to complement the one that precedes it and the one that follows it, all fitting together like a culinary jigsaw. For maximum enjoyment, dishes – which are all shared – have to be eaten a certain way, too. 'Eat this first, then that...' says our waiter; and 'take a bite of this, then a sip of that...' We don't always get it right, but when we do it makes sensational sense.Disfrutar is pure molecular theatre; a magical place where nothing is quite what it seems: tiny globes of rose-pink beetroot emerge from a soil of blackened sesame seeds and dissolve in the mouth like freeze-dried candy. A green olive shatters, spilling its silky centre over our tongues; but when a black olive does the same, it tastes of blood orange (the olives were a signature dish at elBulli, back in the day). The bridge rolls filled with seafood turn out to be made of meringue as light as air. The red and green chilli peppers ... well, I won't spoil the fun. The point, I think, is that each dish challenges your perceptions and makes you think about every mouthful. It's all jolly delicious, too. We spend almost four hours working our way through our 18 dishes, talking of little other than what is in front of us and, occasionally, what is in front of our brave neighbours who are having the Festival menu. There are two children in our party and, contrary to expectations, even the 10-year-old keeps going. Finally, we polish off our last few mouthfuls and we're done. The bill is surprisingly modest at around €80 a head, helped by the fact that the excellent wine list is very reasonable. It's worth noting that children eat the same priced menu as adults, though dishes containing alcohol are substituted with something equally magical.

And yes, we do feel rather full after 18 courses, but not uncomfortably so and later that evening, we even manage a spot of supper. With a bit of training we might even go for the Festival next time.

Further information, Disfrutar; to avoid disappointment, reservations should be made as far in advance as possible.

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