This review of a Barcelona restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Cinc Sentits is reputed to be one of Barcelona’s best fine dining establishments, which is a vaunted reputation any restaurant will have a hard time living up to. First impressions are a good place to start and here Cinc Sentits begins promisingly with perfectly poised, polite, efficient staff headed up by an American-accented maître d’. The decor is sleek with moody lighting, funky ceiling fixtures and a variety of differently textured wood panels lining the walls. The atmosphere is nothing if not serene – at least until the next cab load of boorish tourists arrive. There are only about 40 covers though, so reservations are almost always essential.
The pre-amuse bouche are nothing to write home about – onion stuffed olives and spicy nuts taste exactly as you would expect them to. The only surprise is the meat-filled strands of twisted filo pastry – although tangy, I couldn’t quite place the meat in question.
Following those little snacks is an aperitif of maple syrup, cream and cava foam. It’s not too boozy though, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to drink it. If all aperitifs tasted like this, then I might be tempted to drink them more often – creamy, buttery and eggy with a large dash of sea salt at the end.
Caviar is fish eggs, or more specifically the unfertilised eggs of sturgeon fish, so it’s fitting that here it’s served on top of a bowl of whipped sturgeon foam. The caviar was a bit oily and delicately salty, which was enhanced by the tangy, eggy-like taste of the foam (which did have an actual egg sitting at the bottom of the bowl) although it’s all a little too subtle for its own good. The potato crisp, which is just visible in the photo, adds little to the dish.
The walnut and olive bread had a grassy taste to it that was enhanced by a mixed origin olive oil that had a mild and fruity flavour. A spicier, more peppery olive oil was better savoured with some crusty white loaf instead.
Moments’ rendition of foie gras is a tough act to follow, but Cinc Sentits did an admirable job even if it didn’t quite surpass that superlative version. The foie was rich and creamy, while its soft texture stood in contrast to the crisp pastry base on which it was served. The sweet caramelised crust and cherry accents balanced out the the richness of the foie gras and the whole dish ended with several salty notes.
Apparently, Russian scientists believe quail could be the food source that takes astronauts to the Mars and back. I doubt space quail would have the same dense, sweet quality as the smoked quail breast here. This is enhanced by a choice dribbling of distinctly flavoured chestnut oil, but the accompaniments of truffles and cherry gelatine were surprisingly muted.
Oddly, the scorpion fish paella was served in two separate portions with the fish separated from the rice. I’m not quite sure what this separation was supposed to accomplish, but the scorpion fish was firm, dense and slightly salty while the small grained paella was sticky and boldly flavoured with a lip smacking seafood stock.
Squab is a young domesticated pigeon and is a fairly hideous-looking animal, but I was still looking forward to sampling its flesh. I had to be content with a substitution of suckling pig, although this was far from a hardship. The dense slab of pork was moist thanks to the melting, oozing layer of fat and the taut, crisp crackling. Sharp, crisp hazelnut oil-laced apples cut through the meaty richness, providing a satisfying finish.
As at Moments, Cinc Sentits’ selection of cheeses is paired with something extra designed to compliment or enhance the cheese in question. All the cheeses here are Spanish in origin, but not all of the pairings were successes. The goat’s cheese was soft and smooth yet quite dense. It tasted surprisingly tame for a goat’s cheese though, which allowed the the bold, exquisite sweetness of the honey compote to dominate this pairing.
The firm, mildly nutty cow’s milk cheese bore a certain resemblance to Comté, but didn’t quite have the same sophisticated tongue tingling layering of flavours as the best examples of that cheese. It was paired with a distinctly flavoured, dense and large crumbed almond cake. Both were tasty in their own right, but seemed like an odd couple when taken together.
My favourite cheese pairing came last, but was by no means least. The strong and pungent soft cow’s milk cheese was strongly reminiscent of époisses which is one of my favourite stinky French cheeses. The cheese here distinguished itself from that French classic with a strong peppery aftertaste that was somehow enhanced by the bittersweet tang of the accompanying orange marmalade. An inspired pairing and my only regret was that I forgot to grab the name of the cheese from the maître d’.
The first dessert combined a sharp, sweet and smooth raspberry sorbet with a smooth, nutty pistachio sponge cake. Although both of these elements were pleasing in their own right, they only come together as a whole when the distinct flavour of the vanilla cream kicked in. Sadly, its milky richness was intermittent and there wasn’t enough of it either.
The second dessert was a cup of macadamia nut cream served with olive oil ice cream. At the risk of indulging in the simplistic reductionism that Bleeding Gums Murphy is so fond of, the smooth macadamia cream essentially tasted like nutella! The ice cream was fruity and mellow with a mild taste of olives and left me underwhelmed, even when combined with the
nutella macadamia cream.
The third and final dessert was a cup of passion fruit cream topped with a dark sugary sweet, molasses-like confection. It was an ill-matched pairing though, as the bold sweetness of the topping overwhelmed the subdued flavours of the cream.
Petit fours usually come in bite-sized portions, but the serving here was almost large enough to qualify it as a fourth dessert course in its own right. The large, soft and slightly chewy chocolate chip cookie came with a large, dark chocolate bonbon. Both would have been rather unmemorable if it wasn’t for the bonbon’s refreshing liquid mint filling.
Is Cinc Sentits Barcelona’s best fine dining restaurant? While the service is impeccable and the cuisine is pleasingly refined and accomplished, it doesn’t have the whimsical inventiveness and bold, striking flavours that characterise the food at Moments. While the cooking at Cinc Sentits is still well worth experiencing, if you can only have one high-priced meal in Barcelona then Moments is far and away the best choice.
Name: Cinc Sentits
Address: Aribau 58, 08011, Barcelona, Spain
Phone: 0034 93 323 9490
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 13.30-14.45 and 20.30-22.00.
Reservations: essential – taken up to two weeks in advance.
Total cost for one person including coffee and mineral water: €120 approx (£100 approx. at time of writing).