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Moments at the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona (2 Michelin stars)

Rating: 88.
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In the past decade, the Mandarin Oriental hotel group has become well-known for building alliances with a number of great chefs around the globe, such as Heston Blumenthal (Dinner in London), Thierry Marx (Sur Mesure in Paris), Richard Ekkebus (Amber in Hong Kong) and Daniel Boulud (Bar Boulud in London). In 2009 the Mandarin Oriental group opened restaurant Moments in their hotel in Barcelona, thereby adding Carme Ruscalleda (*** at restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar) and her son Raül Balam to an already impressive portfolio of chefs. Carme signed up as executive chef of Moments and her son Raül as head chef, responsible for the day-to-day business in the kitchen. In 2010 (2011 guide) Moments was awarded its first Michelin star and just a couple of weeks after my visit the restaurant was promoted to two stars in the 2013 Spain and Portugal guide.

Moments is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers an à la carte menu and a 7-course Gastronomic menu for €117. I had lunch at Moments with my husband on 27 October 2012 and we both ordered the Gastronomic menu.

We started off with 4 amuses bouches: (i) a wafer-thin potato crisp sandwich with a delicate rabbit paté filling and some mustard; (ii) crunchy pastry with a grapes, onions, anchovy and aubergine topping; (iii) Fresh scallop tartare with a light dressing and finely chopped red pepper; (iv) a topless beef burger with chutney. Four relatively simple but satisfying amuses bouches.


The first course of the tasting menu was Seabass, prawn, tapenade and mustard. Fantastic fresh seabass and prawn tartare wrapped in a beautiful thin sheet of seawater jelly. Some finely chopped chives and carrots added texture and colour to the tartare mixture. The tartare was served on some thin toast which unfortunately was rather soggy. Nice bitters from the tapenade and lovely sweet heat from the mustard - both provided the seasoning for this dish.

Second course. Sea cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli, and beans. Well-cooked tender sea cucumber served with some small pieces of 'al dente' cauliflower and broccoli, a few red beans, a creamy and delicate cauliflower foam and some lovely white bean puree which had a thick and velvety consistency. Apart from the creamy flavours I did luckily detect a touch of garlic that added oomph and depth otherwise this would have been a rather bland dish.

Third course, Parrot fish, beluga lentils and dill. Three excellent, well-cooked pieces of parrot fish, each covered with a wafer-thin and crispy bread crust. The parrot fish was accompanied by a mixture of beautiful shiny black beluga lentils, finely chopped haricot beans, mustard seeds and a touch of dill. Nice sharpness and depth from the mustard seeds, just enough to tilt the dish. The haricot beans added a lovely touch of sweetness.

Next up, the fourth course: Squid, Iberico pork, mushrooms, squid ink and pepper. Soft and tender squid with an Iberico pork, mushroom, courgette, spring onion and garlic filling. The squid was delicious but it dominated the delicate flavour of the pork; all I could really taste was the squid. Also on the plate were four smears of smooth squid ink and red, green and yellow pepper purees. A beautifully presented and vibrant dish that overall however lacked depth of flavour.

The fifth and main course was: Veal cheeks, shallots and pineapple chutney and jam. Wonderfully soft and gooey veal cheeks served with a dark savoury-sweet pineapple chutney. The chutney had a nice touch of piquancy but lacked the freshness required to cut through the richness of the cheeks. The braised shallots were nice and soft and accompanied by a sweet pineapple jam. A well-executed dish but the flavours were unexciting and too one-dimensionally sweet for my taste.

Time for the (extra) cheese course. A selection of five cheeses, each with its own accompaniment: Catalan Bauma cheese with quince jelly, French Camembert with a pumkin and mustard salad, Catalan Castellot with 'Tecno' aubergine and honey, Portugese Serra da Estrela with pear and caramel crumble and Italian Verzin Rua with Marsala marzipan. This cheese dish is also served at Sant Pau.

After the cheese a pre-dessert arrived. Coconut and pineapple. A coconut cake topped with coconut ice cream, pineapple jelly and some grated lime zest. A lovely pre-dessert with fresh tropical flavours.

Next the sixth course and first dessert, 'Ikebana' - cottage cheese, blueberries and caramelised flowers. Fresh blueberry sorbet, fresh raspberries and a creamy cottage cheese mousse. Underneath the sorbet were some crunchy hazelnuts crumbs. A nice dessert that was well-executed, but lacked intensity, sharpness and flavour.

Seventh and last course was a dessert dedicated 'To Patricia Urquiola', the designer of the beautiful golden ceiling of the restaurant. Two crisp buttery biscuits with a lovely almond cream, chocolate ice cream and coffee jelly filling. A nice dessert with subtle almond and coffee flavours.

My visit to Moments has left me in two minds really. There is a lot to like about the restaurant and its food. Moments has a beautifully appointed and stylish dining room, service is excellent and the wine list is well-priced (Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1997 for € 42!). Raül Balam is an accomplished chef, his contemporary dishes are carefully executed and visually attractive. There is little doubt that this eclectic menu (with some Catalan influences) will appeal to the restaurant's international clientèle. What's missing on the plate however are flavour, tension and excitement. The flavours are very safe, the food is elegant but seems designed to be inoffensive rather than head-turning; stylish and delicate but low on intensity, sometimes to the point of being bland. This is not how it should be at a two-star restaurant. To quote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Silver Blaze):

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Posted 08-12-2012


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