Degustation is a French word which can be translated into meaning “a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods focusing on the senses using high culinary art”. I have always been a huge fan of tasting menus as they allow me to taste a myriad of different dishes and leave me so insanely full that I never feel like I missed out. This style of dining is one best done slowly with good company and conversation which makes me thankful that my dear husband loves “degos” as much as I do. As you can imagine, for my recent solo trip to Barcelona I became emotionally torn; do I have a degustation in a city known for its fabulous food ON MY OWN? Is that too weird? I had read great things about Michelin starred Restaurant Nectari where their Chef Jordi Esteve offers a gluten free tasting menu complete with matching wines. Nectari opened their doors nearly five years ago and since then they have worked toward earning a well-known reputation for their service and food leading to receiving their first Michelin Star in 2013.
I tried to visualise myself sitting alone in a restaurant eating a ten course meal and decided that although I could do it I would be less conspicuous at lunchtime. I arranged my booking via email before leaving Australia but on my arrival I was met with a few surprised looks, mainly because I was on my own and regrettably spoke negligible Spanish. I was ushered into the empty restaurant, looked around at the vacant seats and started to wonder if this was all a big mistake. I tried to remind myself that the Spanish eat out late, and that it would be normal to find a restaurant empty on a week day.
My nervousness was soon to pass as my waitress for the day approached me with such genuine warmth that I immediately felt at ease. I quickly learnt she was a cat person and before long we were exchanging feline stories in broken English. My amuse bouche was so colourful with four very different mouthfuls of deliciousness; a spoonful of fresh raw salmon with a sliver of creamy egg frittata, a fold of mango wrapped in jamón, fresh mandarin with mozzarella and a quail egg on top of olive purée. Some home-made gluten free olive and spiced tomato breads were also brought to the table with a selection of local olive oils to choose from.
In my excitement to share my first course on Instagram I completely forgot to take a photo with my SLR camera “Gordon” and therefore only have this iPhone shot. Sorry peeps! The soup was a mussel cream served with sesame and green oil. Even though it was served cold it had a rich, strong flavour. Hidden in the bottom was a single super sweet prawn.
The foie gras terrine was served with an unusual combination of watermelon coulis, pistachio and fresh strawberries. Each sliver was decadent and creamy with a sweet after-taste accentuated by the coulis. Crunchy almond biscuits with a hint of black pepper provided a textural contrast.
Staying true to the Chef’s traditional Spanish roots his next course was a glammed up gazpacho. Freshly poached lobster, caramelised roasted almonds, melon sorbet and jamón were all gently engulfed by the vibrant gazpacho as it was poured into my bowl tableside.
My palate was entertained with layers of fruity coolness interrupted intermittently by the crunch of a roasted nut or smoked piece of jamón. This was an outstanding dish.
The next course was described as “sting ray with carrot sauce and mussels”. I wished my Spanish was better so I could further enjoy the details that she described of this dish. Each piece of fish was delicate and soft, shredding easily under my fork. The sauce was surprisingly syrupy and sweet.
The following course was the only dish I didn’t thoroughly enjoy; prawn and mushroom dumplings with a seafood sauce. The dumplings were a little chewy and their contents were too salty for my liking.
Before the main course I was served a refreshing passionfruit sorbet “for my digestion” topped with a sugar crusted miniature mint leaf. After the briny dumplings it was a welcome cleanser for my taste buds.
The rack of lamb was served very rare which is thankfully just how I like it. I visualised in my mind some of my more conservative friends gasping at the deep red colour and lack of brown sear on the meat. It was served with a bright red pepper sauce and roasted green garlic. The green garlic was quite mild in flavour but even so I knew there would be no vampires attacking me on my walk back to the hotel.
The cheese plate included Tous del Tillers, Comte and Gorgonzola. Tous del Tillers is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Catalan province of Lleida and had Brie-like bloomy rind and rich creamy centre. Comte is a semi-hard unpasteurised cheese from France and is thus is hard to obtain in Australia. It has a complex, nutty flavour and similar texture to Gruyère. Many of you will be much more familiar with Gorgonzola as this is a regular feature on many cheese platters back in Perth.
My dessert was quite an unusual surprise. A shimmering gold bullion shaped block of rich chocolate mousse sat comically on my plate. As I plunged my spoon into its foamy texture, thick cranberry liquor oozed out. It was magical and unexpected. The combination of tart and sweet was perfectly balanced and ended this experience on a high note.
As my petit fours was brought to the table I realised that I had journeyed through a whole ten course degustation on my own without once feeling bored or lonely. For someone who is normally highly gregarious I felt this to be a big achievement. I have to confess however the restaurant DID have WIFI allowing me to skate across a number of social media platforms for the duration of my meal. The lunch ended with the chef coming out to my table wanting to get my feedback and to make sure that I enjoyed my meal. A lovely personal touch.
Nectari RestaurantCarrer València, 28 08015 Barcelona | 932 26 87 18 | www.nectari.es Price: $$$ (Awarded One Michelin Star 2013, caters for gluten free) Food: 4.5/5 (presented exquisitely and passionately, fresh flavours with local influences) Service: 4/5 (one of the waitresses speaks reasonable English, otherwise best learn Spanish) Ambience: 3.5/5 (hard to assess as I dined at an unusual time in the middle of the week and day) Drinks: 4/5 (beautifully matched wines choosing predominately local wines) Total: 16/20