My Experience at ABaC Hotel and Restaurant

This was not my first dining experience at ABaC Restaurant but it was the first time I had stayed over at the hotel.

First of all, you do know where ABaC is don’t you? It’s in the marvellous city of Barcelona at the foot of Tibidabo Mountain.

Last weekend I enjoyed a flying visit to Barcelona simply for the reason of fine-dining at ABaC.

ABaC Restaurant

“But aren’t you in the middle of high season at work?” I hear you cry. “Aren’t you so busy with excursions on Mallorca that you don’t even have time to buy a new pair of flip flops?”

Well yes, I am, but this was a surprise trip from my lovely and thoughtful boyfriend Toni, so I had no choice, did I?!

Actually it wasn’t as much a surprise as Toni was planning because his mother had accidentally let the cat out of the bag the previous week when we went out on his father’s boat.

Introduction to ABaC

Okay, so what is ABaC?

Well, for a start ABaC is one of the most prestigious restaurants in Barcelona the world. 33 year old chef Jordi Cruz, who has been head chef since 2010 has managed to maintain the restaurant’s two Michelin stars during his time here, with his self-proclaimed “creative” and “evolutionary” cuisine.

ABaC was awarded Best Restaurant of Catalonia in 2011 by the Catalan Academy of Gastronomy.

My Introduction to ABaC

I had previously dined at ABaC twice: the first time was quite disastrous, when the restaurant was under the charge of Xavier Pellicer, not Jordi Cruz; and the second time was just last year after ABaC had already changed hands. This turned out to be one of my top gastronomic experiences.

So as you can imagine, when I found out I was going to ABaC again I was delighted and had very high hopes for the place. And I was especially excited about staying at the attached five star hotel.

Let’s see if everything lived up to my expectations…

On Arrival at ABaC

When we arrived at ABaC after taking the BCN Aerobus to Plaza Catalunya and then the train to the hotel, we were warmly and formally greeted by the doorman/porter, who showed us straight to the reception area where we were promptly checked in.

The first indication that service might not be quite up to the expected standard was when the receptionist asked us if we would like to dine in ABaC that evening…

“Well,” said Toni taking a deep breath. “I have already reserved a table for 9pm by email. I specified in that email that we would have the Gran Menu ABaC and that one person does not eat seafood. And this booking is part of a gastro-package which includes the Gran Menu ABaC, the room, the spa and breakfast.”

“Ah, yes,” was the reply.

ABaC Restaurant cava with hibiscus

It turned out there was no restaurant reservation, no observation about a non-seafood eater and no evidence of anyone putting  two and two together and realising that of course we would be eating if we had paid for dinner for two already.

After that little loss of our confidence, the professionalism was resumed and we were shown to the beautiful terrace for a welcome glass of cava with hibiscus flower, while our bags were taken to our room.

We were then given a tour of the hotel, shown the spa facilities and shown to our room.

The hotel oozed relax: light jazz could be heard gently playing in the background in public areas. Modern minimalism, neutral tones and soft lighting created an elegant and subdued ambience.

Our Room at ABaC

To get to the lift which would take us to our room we had to walk through Jordi Cruz’s kitchen; an interesting concept, which we loved. The porter told us we were free to walk through and stop for a look any time we liked.

Our room was number 822 even though the hotel only has 15 rooms! In the lift I mentioned it to the porter who just rolled his eyes as though this was the millionth time a guest had queried the numbering. He was clearly wishing someone would just change it.

“The bed at ABaC was amazing and the duvet was so cosy I could get lost in it!”

Our room was a delight to enter, especially for me as I had not been feeling well and was ready for a lie-down. The huge bed was a joy for my eyes and I wanted to crawl straight in it.

The room was decorated in the same neutral tones as the rest of the hotel – okay white – and oozed luxury. As well as the massive bed there was a nice seating area with armchairs, curtains that were opened and closed by a remote control, a Nespresso machine with complimentary coffee and a great big bathroom with a jacuzzi-bath and partitioned rooms leading off it to the shower and toilet.

I had the best siesta imaginable in that enormous bed; the pillows were perfect, the bed extremely comfortable and the duvet was cosy enough to get lost in.

ABaC Spa

Unfortunately the spa at ABaC is nothing to rave about. There are two normal showers, a steam bath, a cold contrast pool and a jacuzzi in which the water is not warm enough. When I think about the magnificent spas I went to in the winter in Las Caldas and Cologne, this one was really nothing more than you’d find in a luxury villa.

Having said that, attention to detail in the spa area was just as good as in the rest of the hotel: there was another Nespresso machine and bottled water free of charge, two nice loungers to relax on and towels, robes and slippers.

My Dining Experience at ABaC

ABaC kitchen

All ready for dinner we made our way down to the kitchen, which was much busier than the previous time we had passed through.

We took a few photos and marvelled at the creations being prepared before our eyes, before heading to the restaurant.

Being greeted in ABaC Restaurant

The maitre d greeted us and squinted at the scrap of paper in his hand when we said we had a reservation.

Toni had to repeat his name and our room number several times before he nodded and we were shown to a table. I’m still not convinced that our names were even scrawled on that note he was clutching.

We were seated and greeted, offered cava which we declined and were served water instead.

Then we were asked if we would like the menu in Catalan, Castellano or English. Oh no, I thought. Here we go again.

Toni gritted his teeth and said “we have already advised the restaurant that we would like the Gran Menu ABaC, we have already advised that we would like the maridaje de vinos [wine pairing], we have already advised that one of us does not eat seafood and, what’s more, the hotel deal that we have booked includes the menu!”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” said the waiter, quickly retrieving his menus.

“Do you not have any of this information?” Toni asked the waiter. “I sent an email when I made the booking and I have been through it all again this afternoon when we checked in.”

“No,” was the reluctant answer.

Perhaps this doesn’t seem much to get upset about and perhaps you are right, but at 250€ per head minimum just for dinner without including the price of the room, you expect impeccable service. And what if our requests were not just a question of taste, what if this was something important like if we had requested a specially decorated cake for a special occasion? Or what if rather than a dislike of seafood it was a life-threatening nut allergy?

ABaC Sommelier

The sommelier arrived.

“You want to do a full maridaje de vinos? A glass of wine with every dish?” We nodded. “You are aware that the menu consists of 15 dishes, that’s 15 glasses of wine each?” We nodded. We knew. He didn’t seem to think we would be able to manage it. He tried again, really stressing the number fifteen: “There will be 15 different wines if you do the full maridaje, you know.” We knew.

Last time we were at ABaC we had had the Gran Menu ABaC with the full maridaje, and the selection of wines (and not always wine; there had been the occasional beer in there too) had been surprising and spot-on. We were pleased to notice that this was the same sommelier. He seemed more sombre this year though.

A glass each of cava appeared on the table. We knew we’d be getting it with the maridaje, that’s why we hadn’t bothered ordering it before.

The sommelier told us that this was to accompany the three appetisers and that then we would begin with the maridaje which, he reminded us as if daring us to back out, would be 15 different wines.

The meal begins

The appetisers were excellent as expected:

  • A nitro sorbet of grape and lychee, prepared at the table. The waiter proudly showed us how mixing the grape and lychee juice with -192˚ (yes, minus one hundred and ninety two degrees centigrade) nitro would turn it instantly into sorbet. Of course, we had already seen this being done at 41 Grados restaurant but it didn’t make it any less fun to watch.
  • Wild mushrooms in a stock of kaffir lime with Thai-curry flavoured burst-in-the-mouth spheres.
  • Bloody Mary snow with cured meats.

By this time the printed copy of the full menu we were about to journey through had arrived on our table, and yes, there were indeed 15 dishes.

“But how can there be 15 wines if there are 15 dishes including the appetisers if we have had cava with all three?” Toni had realised that the sommelier was full of…. ya know!

When the next dish arrived and we were told that we were to still continue with the cava until the end of that dish, his thoughts were confirmed.

foie gras focaccia ABaC

The dish was excellent though: a tiny toasted focaccia with foie gras, orange rind and and vanilla flavoured salt sitting atop a glass of caramelised onion consommé.

The Maridaje Begins

The next dish was called parmesan gnocchi but was in no way whatsoever gnocchi; it was those little pop-in-the-mouth bubbles again, full of creamy parmesan, served with raw mushrooms, nuts, truffle oil and a lemon grass infusion. With this we were served a glass of Giko squared and the maridaje got off to a late but good start.

Toni asked the sommelier if, at the end of the meal, we could have a list of the wines that we had drank. We were told we could get it by email, which we have been told before in restaurants and we know exactly what it means… no!

So instead, Toni decided to take a photo of every bottle of wine as it was served to us.

I won’t bore you by going through each of the 15 dishes, as you have the menu here in a photo; I’ll just mention a few that were particularly outstanding for good or bad reasons…

ABaC Menu

No Comment

I really disliked one dish, which was “little cod loins, gelatine skin, peas and morels”. The texture was just disgusting! I couldn’t eat it and I was surprised that there was no comment from the waitress when she came to clear the dishes as normally if you leave one scrap on your plate at a tasting menu they ask what was the matter. The waitress just asked if I had finished. When I told her that yes, I hadn’t liked it, she just nodded curtly and whisked away the plate as though I had said nothing.

No Figs!

Some of the wine pairing was excellent, like when I had “foie gras with figs, fig tree leaves ice cream and balsamic vinegar” and I was served a thick sherry that went perfectly.

The dish was extremely refreshing but it did not have figs on it as the menu said. When I asked the waiter about that he told me that they didn’t have any because they are out of season. My question “why put it on the menu?” remained unanswered.

One other excellent dish was something we had eaten the previous year and had loved; the smoked steak tartar, which was very tasty.

The best dish at ABaC

But for me, the best dish by far was the fried Mediterranean red mullet; it was perfectly cooked and was full of flavour.

The beef was great too but by this time I was so full I was almost falling asleep.

We had an amazing French white wine from Burgundy that tasted exactly like a fino from Jerez, we couldn’t believe it. The sommelier became very animated and we caught a glimpse of the man we had met the previous year as he told us about how he had travelled through France and found this bodega with such a rare wine.

There were unfortunately a few dishes in which the wine was so poorly matched to the food that we couldn’t even drink it.

The waiter had never even had the menu – a major “fail”.

We had a little break after the last main course because we were so full. Unfortunately the menu was on the heavy side. The waiter seemed surprised to hear this and after talking to him for a little while we discovered that none of the staff had ever even sat down and eaten the whole menu from start to end – a major fail by the chef in my opinion. How could the waiter possibly know how we were feeling right now if he had never eaten it?

Four hours at the table

After the first dessert, we had to wait thirty minutes for the second dessert to arrive and we had been sitting at the table for more than four hours. After it I simply had to leave and go to bed as I could not keep my eyes open any longer.

Toni stayed and had the last dessert and queried the number of wines with the sommelier. The conversation went something like this:

Toni: The menu has finished, yes? That was the last wine?
Sommelier: Yes, that was the last wine.
Toni: But you said we were going to have 15 wines and we have had ten.
Sommelier (blundering): Errrr yes… but they changed you the menu in the end, you have not had the Gran Menu ABaC.
Toni (pointing to the menu in his hand): Yes we have, look, we’ve had all this.
Sommelier: Errrr….
Toni: Okay then, just leave it, never mind.

Did we care that we hadn’t had 15 wines? No. Trust me, ten wines is plenty. Did we care that we had been told so many times that there would be 15 wines and then there were not? Yes.

Breakfast at ABaC

The next morning, believe it or not, we went for breakfast on the terrace. I was planning only to have coffee and juice but the waitress, who was like a warm but tough and insistant aunt, practically forced me to have food (I guess she had never had the Gran Menu ABaC either). So I managed a bit of croissant.

Breakfast was included with the room but if we were paying it would have been 31€ each. For that you get a selection of pastries, sausages, a tiny baguette with serrano ham and a choice of eggs as well as juice and coffee. It’s all served to the table on the attractive terrace.

Ignored at ABaC

Then we had to go see the receptionist who had said she would look into a late check out for us. There was an American woman already being attended and she and the receptionist were having fun at what can only be described as internet shopping.

After sitting for 20 minutes without even being acknowledged, let alone attended, we went to our room asking her to call us in the room about the check out. When she did call us it was to say no. We had wasted 20 minutes and we didn’t even manage to get a late check out.

Passing the Buck

When Toni went to pay he mentioned to the receptionist that he was disappointed with the lack of communication regarding us having specified the menu and our requirements by email and having to reiterate them the previous day at check in. He told her that in the restaurant they still brought us the menu and had no notification of us having decided on the Gran Menu ABaC with maridaje or of non-seafood eaters.

It’s not my problem so don’t come crying to me!

And do you know what she said to him; you won’t believe this…

She found the paper where she had made the note the previous day and she said that this had been told to the restaurant and that it wasn’t her fault! Passing the buck in a five star hotel! I was amazed when Toni told me. He said she might as well have said “it’s not my problem so don’t come crying to me.” That was certainly the tone anyway.

ABaC Lounge Bar

Later, after spending the afternoon at Tibidabo we went back to ABaC for a gin & tonic in the beautiful lounge. They didn’t have any unusual gins so we settled for Mombassa and they charged us 30€ for the two drinks, mixed with ordinary Fever Tree Tonic. Talk about steep; a litre bottle of Mombassa does not cost 30€!

Anyway, I can tell you that despite having an enjoyable time with Toni in Barcelona, and even though I enjoyed dinner and the place, I won’t be in any rush to go back to ABaC – after this visit there are too many other places that will take priority.

Thanks for sticking around until the end of this lengthy post – I promise you a short post tomorrow. Check out my other gastronomic experiences here.

Filed Under: barcelonafeaturedFine DiningFive Star Travelfood and drinkWhere I Am Right Now

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About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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