While doing research on restaurants to visit in Barcelona, Cinc Sentits was the one restaurant (other than Tickets, of course) that really piqued my interest. I was interested in the restaurant not because it currently owns a Michelin star – I’ve been to my share of restaurants awarded with one, two, and even three Michelin stars. I was interested in the restaurant because it was a Michelin-starred restaurant in the culinary hotbed of Barcelona owned, operated, and helmed in the kitchen by Canadians. How often do you get a chance to visit a Canadian-run Michelin-starred restaurant? Granted, the Artal siblings that run Cinc Sentits had a Catalonian mother and have never operated a restaurant in Canada…But they were born to a Canadian father in Canada and grew up in the Great White North.
I made sure to communicate with the restaurant beforehand that there were two young children in our dining party. Young children are not usually welcomed at serious fine dining establishments such as this, and I half-expected them to reject my reservation (which has happened to me in both London and Paris). Fortunately, they were not so anti-children as to not allow us to dine there. They merely suggested that we visit the restaurant for lunch, when the atmosphere in the restaurant is more relaxed and more suitable to child diners. They assured us that they offered the same tasting menu for lunch as they did for dinner. It was our plan all along to visit for lunch, so it worked out perfectly for both sides.
We were greeted by a welcome rag/napkin explaining the cuisine and menu after we entered the restaurant and took our seats.
Soon after our server came and removed the introductory cloth, we were presented with our pre-amuse dish of a trio of tapas.
The first of the trio were the marinated Spanish olives. The olives tasted exactly like…marinated olives. If you’ve had marinated olives before, you know what these olives tasted like. The second of the traditional tapas items were the fried fish skin. The fish skins were crispy, airy, and had a nice hint of aromatic fishiness. Like many of the traditional Catalonian dishes that I’ve had during this trip, the strips of fish skin were also heavily salted. My wife and I both love intense flavours so the saltiness did not phase us one bit, but the saltiness did catch my daughter off-guard. The third of the trio were the spicy and crispy fava beans. No surprises here again; the fava beans were spicy and crispy. They would’ve gone really well with the glasses of beer we wished we had ordered. I think that each of the trio of the traditional tapas items would’ve paired really well with beer.
After the trio of tapas came the chef’s salute to his Canadian heritage: the maple syrup-based shot.
There was maple syrup, cream, salt, and cava sabayon in the shot glass. The flavours of the shot tasted exactly like its four individual ingredients. The sum of the shot glass’s four components did not taste better than its individual components. I didn’t think the shot was anything special other than paying homage to the chef’s Canadian roots.
After the subpar amuse came the bread service with two types of olive oil.
The two types of bread we chose from the basket were pretty tasty, but so was almost every other piece of bread I had during the trip. The two types of olive oil was supposed to be a contrast between the intense and the mild. While I certainly could detect a difference in flavours between the two types of olive oil, the contrast in the flavours were really subtle. They both tasted like olive oil that I have on a regular basis in restaurants in North America. I’ve heard that olive oil is supposed to be amazingly good in Spain, but I have to say that there is not really that much of a difference between amazingly good olive oil and regularly good olive oil.
After the bread service, the rest of the meal became a stiff, uncomfortable blur that we couldn’t wait to get out of. During the wait for our next course, my wife and I started to feel like we were in an 80’s movie on VHS. The drab and lifeless interior gave the visual effect of a video tape that has been watched once too often. I hate to say this, but the food we were served also felt less-than-inspiring. It felt like the dishes I had could be had at any “fine-dining” restaurant anywhere else in the world. The dishes felt, for lack of better word, generic. I was really looking forward to being wowed by modern takes on traditional Catalonian cuisine, but I was greeted with modern takes on dishes and ingredients that were Catalonian in principle, but so broken down that they resembled dishes cooked by contestants on any season of Top Chef. Don’t get me wrong, the quality and execution was definitely on-point, but the end result was so forgettable that I’ve forgotten the details of a lot of the dishes I had. Case in point is the next course that we received.
My wife and I racked our brains trying to figure out exactly what we were served after looking at the above picture. We had no idea at all. She seemed to remember the air on top to be mustard or wasabi-based. I had a faint recollection of onions or garlic. There were just so many garlic/onion/mustard/wasabi foams/airs in our culinary memories that was similar to this version that we can’t remember which is which and where we had it. After doing a bit of research online, I can only say with 50% certainty that the dish was probably deconstructed pa amb tomaquet (tomatoes and olive oil rubbed bread). What I am certain of is that the dish was not memorable in terms of both its flavours and textures.
Although my wife was still scratching her head trying to remember our next dish, I had a clearer memory of what we were served: An array of flavours and textures with tomatoes, liquified cheese, roe, and other tiny bits.
I could see that the chef was trying to give the diners a spectrum of textural variations and flavour combinations that you might not necessarily expect from the components. The dish was also a play on the traditionally complimentary flavours of tomatoes and cheese, which is a classic pan-European food pairing. I fully expected to be inspired by the various flavours and textures that were present in the dish, but I was once again disappointed. There were definitely a slew of flavours of textures that I experienced while tasting the dish, but the components didn’t necessarily come together to create a memorable experience. The components felt disparate and forced together. The burst of liquid cheese encased in the white membrane was totally expected, and the rest of the components also tasted exactly as I expected them to taste like. I felt that this was another generic “modern” dish.
Next up was one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the foie gras coca.
The classic pairing of rich, unctuous foie gras with an intensely sweet component has become such a common sight at fine dining establishments that even brain-dead apprentice chefs can dream up adequate-tasting versions of it. The pairing certainly tastes good, but it quickly becomes boring if you’ve had variations of it at restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. Cinc Sentits takes this theme to the next level by basically making their foie gras dish in the form and structure of a creme brûlée. Of course, the techniques they employ are much more complex. The foie gras was cooked (confit) in olive oil and vinegar, while the crispy sweet top shell was a an extremely crispy sheet of puff pastry. Chives and salt were added on top to further enhance the flavours and textures, and the green line of sauce that runs on both sides of the foie gras is supposed to be based on some variety of grape. They went through all this trouble to create something that tasted like…pretty much every other sweet, savory, and unctuous foie gras + fruit/sweet components combination I’ve ever had. It was also not the first, or even the second dessert-themed and shaped foie gras dish I’ve had. I will say that this dish felt a tad more refined and delicate than the typical foie gras dish and I kind of enjoyed its flavours and textures, but they were nothing to write home about.
The foie gras was the last of the “starter” dishes. We were served three “main” dishes, starting with the fish.
The tiny piece of fish was tender and the brown bits on top added a crispy texture, which again is similar to fish preparations served at most fine dining establishments elsewhere. Brussels sprouts has been a trendy fine dining veggie for a while now, and Cinc Sentits was definitely on the bandwagon with the inclusion of them in this dish.
The next was the lamb, which was my second favorite dish of the meal.
They sous vide the meat first (like so many other places – not to mention cooking show contestants) and then roast/toast/broil the skin afterwards to create a crispy top to go along with the tender yet chewy bottom. I liked the textures of the meat very much, although I couldn’t help but notice that I experienced the exact same textural combination when I was eating the previous foie gras dish. The scoop of mustard ice cream on one side and the herby sauced grains on the other went well with the meat, just like similar accompaniments to meat dishes at other places.
The other meat dish that was served was the bird – it was either squab or quail. I always get the two confused and can never remember whether a specific dish I ate was one or the other.
This was my favorite dish of the meal. The meat was perfectly cooked. It had a supremely enjoyable texture that walked the fine line between raw and rare. Every bite that I took released a slight gaminess that was always enjoyable and never off-putting. The sauce was also expertly engineered to be rich enough to be noticed while not too intense to overshadow the textures and flavours of the tasty bird. The croquette was also a nice, simple, and unpretentious addition to the dish. It was crispy on the outside and had nice, unctuous liver flavours spewing from its inside. This was the one dish that momentarily made me forget about the generic “contemporary” dishes.
After the mains came the two desserts. The two desserts brought me back to generic contemporary land. The also brought back the blur and induced amnesia with their photographs.
I can’t recall exactly what the two desserts were. They were again so similar in theme and execution with desserts at other restaurants of the same ilk. The first was a tart sorbet on top of what I believe were non-tradional dessert ingredients (like tomatoes or eggplants) but I’m not exactly sure. I know that the dish was not memorable-tasting enough for me to remember its components. The second was almond ice cream with banana cream drenched in a light caramel sauce accompanied by some sort of air/foam. I liked the almond ice cream and the banana cream and I liked the not-too-sweet caramel, but the foam was an extraneous component that would not be missed if it was excluded from the dish. The ice cream dessert was as good as an ice cream dessert from an ordinary chain restaurant or ice cream parlor.
Fine dining places always bring you petit fours before the bill, and Cinc Sentits was not an exception.
The four pieces of candy/sweets need no extra explanation; they were four pieces of candy/sweets with one or two being of Catalonian descent.
We couldn’t wait for the bill to come and for the meal to finally come to an end. The bill was transported in a vehicle that was more substantial than the generic plate/dish/pad found at other similar establishments.
The name Cinc Sentits can be translated to “five senses”. The five themes I sensed while having the meal was: mediocrity, genericness, blandness, blurriness, and disappointment. Not only did the restaurant and food not appeal to my sense of taste and smell, it did not have a visually interesting interior, it did nothing to my sense of touch, and I heard no sounds except the conversations of the other patrons of the restaurant. I really wanted to like the restaurant – especially because of its Canadian connection. But food always makes the decision for me, and the generic food I was served left me very disappointed. I have more thoughts on the restaurant but I’ll just leave it at that…I would prefer to think that I simply caught them on a bad day or when they were experimenting with new dishes.