Food & Wine

Food for thought

Chef Albert Adrià has recently opened the restaurant Enigma to add to the five other establishments in his ambitious elBarri project in Barcelona

Enigma has just opened and the New York Times has already published a review of it. Albert Adrià is aware of the expectation raised by his new project. The restaurant is the creative engine of his elBarri project, which brings together six restaurants located in Barcelona’s Paral·lel area (Tickets, Niño Viejo, Hoja Santa, Pakta and Bodega 1900). El Bulli 4.0 is here.

What is Enigma?
Enigma is my great project, the icing on the elBarri cake, the elder brother that puts the other restaurants into perspective. A client from Chicago told me one day that it was a situation much like in the film Jaws, that I needed a bigger boat in order to catch the beast, and it was true. Now I have it.
The restaurant is 700 square metres, designed by the recent winners of the Pritzker award for architecture, the RCR Studio.
Yes, we organised a contest and they won it, because of their architectural concept of space. They gave us an architecture master class! I wanted a labyrinth, a space that wouldn’t leave anyone indifferent, a place that wasn’t too comfortable. I wanted the clients to reflect on what they are doing. The cold atmosphere was their idea, and so we discussed it and agreed. They turned the fixed pillars of the main structure into support for music, cables, with spaceship aesthetics. Everywhere there are glass walls which can be moved around, in order to transform the space. On the ceiling there are 2,000 LED lights that can display about 1,400 colours. The floor was more problematic. It took a long time to get it the way we wanted and that’s why we opened later than planned.
You enter Enigma with a secret code at the door and then you start a mysterious journey with stops in different surprising spaces.
We thought a lot about it with Ferran Adrià and it became very clear that it had to be a large venue. But the way it is at present can change later. You can even enter where the backdoor now is. After a dark hall with fast-paced music, clients enter the Ryokan, which is like a purification zone. We want people to forget that they are in a city, and to focus on the experience. I don’t want Enigma to be a predictable or comfortable restaurant. Then come the wine cellar, the bar, the hotplate, the dining room and finally 41 graus.
41 graus, which was originally to be a cocktail-snack bar, turned into an authentic mini-Bulli near Tickets. Was that the origin of Enigma?
Yes, the initial 41 graus was very small and we had so many bookings and queues. It was agony! There are many cocktail bars and restaurants in the world, but the fact that it had the two things in one turned it into something unique. In a short space of time, we got to number 81 on the list of Restaurant Magazine and we got a Michelin star. We had to follow the same path and reopen in a similar, bigger space, Enigma. But Enigma is also the result of the experience I’ve accumulated over a decade, since I set up the former restaurant Inopia, a re-edition of a simple tapas bar! I started to get famous clients like Barbra Streisand, Madeleine Stowe and that was it! Nobody expected it, not even my work partner! Then we opened Tickets, which was Inopia 2.0. On a Saturday in February, for instance, we have a waiting list of 480 people!
And now 41 graus, with cocktails by Marc Álvarez, closes the circuit at Enigma.
If we had served Marc’s cocktails at the beginning, with snacks as a welcome, we would have repeated the El Bulli formula. We put them at the end, but we can change that any day. What’s more, we serve cocktails during the dinner circuit as well. Marc is an indispensable part of a project that couldn’t continue without the team I’ve got now. They are all like Barça players! There is also Guilherme Furtado, who is in charge of the hotplate, which is one of my favourite spaces in Enigma.
During dinner, the diners are encouraged to guess the ingredients of the dishes.
I like the idea of people thinking about it, if they want to. I don’t want the waiter to intervene if they aren’t interested. At Tickets you eat really well, the level is very high, but here you need to be able to reflect on the cuisine. A sea urchin with wagyu goes to Tickets, but if I deconstruct it, it goes to Enigma. I want to make very direct cuisine, which is not easy and predictable, but I am looking for feedback, as I want people to enjoy it. But I don’t want to imitate the way we did it at El Bulli.
Enigma is your greatest gastronomic project, but Heart has been your greatest challenge. Have you managed to make it work?
Yes, I have! Heart is a project that brings together circus and food in Ibiza, and this is not easy. The first year in 2015 was very tough, but now it works really well. We’ve just prepared the summer show with Cirque du Soleil, which is going to be amazing. We serve 190 people and combine it with an excellent show. At Heart there is always something happening. You start by choosing the dishes with the artists and waiters on the terrace and you eat top quality appetisers. Afterwards, you go down to the restaurant, where you experience the gastronomic experience and the show. The discotheque takes over the space.
How do you see the state of cuisine in Catalonia?
I think it is doing very well, because nowadays we eat better than ever. There must be about a thousand restaurants in the country where you can eat really well, which is something that has never happened before. Yet, on the other hand, we also eat worse than ever. The other day I was thinking that we could say we are the cheddar generation. Almost all dishes have melted cheese in them and the shopping list gets shorter every day. We don’t eat liver, organs or snails any more... There’s only chicken! Another problem that worries me is how children eat.
What is the problem?
I think that they should teach courses on nutrition and healthy eating habits at school. I can’t believe that they aren’t doing that by now! If you don’t eat well, you leave the door open to illnesses like diabetes and obesity. I have also detected that nowadays young people learn recipes very quickly thanks to the Internet. At 15, they already know that they want to be chefs and they are serious about it.
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