Disfrutar – magic and gastronomic pleasure driven by technique

Barcelona: December 2022

Disfrutar could succinctly be described with the words technique, magic and gastronomic pleasure. However, this summary omits much of what occurs behind the scenes.

While some may view Disfrutar merely as a disciple of elBulli, it has distinctly carved its own niche. Indeed, the restaurant inherits elements of elBulli’s DNA, particularly from its most techno-emotional period, sharing a similar drive to innovate with new techniques and a fondness for surprise and magic. However, Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xatruch place a greater emphasis on delivering a hedonistic experience through food rather than exploring or pushing its limits – hence the name disfrutar, which means enjoy in Spanish. In this article, we will explain what this implies.

Moreover, the project began with more modest ambitions, gradually evolving into a quest for excellence in every operational area. Already during our visit in 2022 we had observed a quality across the board that made it a hard case for Michelin not to have the flexibility to award them three stars. Fortunately, time has passed and things have changed in 2024. We will also explain how this came to be.

This is among our most thorough articles to date, the culmination of months of research. It meticulously details what sets Disfrutar apart, from its technical prowess and ongoing research and development efforts to its style, aesthetics and its pursuit of excellence. Please use the table of contents below to explore these topics.

Table of contents
1. Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard before Disfrutar2. Chronology3. Their magnus opus – Disfrutar4. The philosophy
5. Becoming a creative restaurant6. Disfrutar’s cuisine7. Structure of the menu8. Aesthetics
9. The venue and the service10. The wine selection
11. The 2021 tasting menu12. Conclusions

Mateu, Oriol and Eduard before Disfrutar

The paths of Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xatruch intersected and evolved within the hallowed kitchens of elBulli. By 2009 they were the operational core of elBulli, managing the whole restaurant.

Who are they?

Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas.

Oriol Castro, born in 1974 in Barcelona, began his culinary studies in Manresa followed by patisserie training at the Gremio de Pastelería in Barcelona. Meanwhile, he refined his skills through apprenticeships in well-known Spanish establishments such as Via Veneto in Barcelona, Totel by Paco Torreblanca in Elda, and Martín Berasategui in Lasarte. His talent was recognized in 1995 when he won the Spanish Championship of Patisserie and subsequently commenced working as a chef de partie at Jean-Luc Figueras’ restaurant in Barcelona.

While in Manresa, Castro was offered an opportunity to attend a three-day course at elBulli, an experience that marked him. In 1996 he managed to start working as a stagiaire in the pastry section and quickly progressed to chef de partie in 1997, as garde-manger. By 1998, Castro had become a vital part of the creative team, working alongside Ferran and Albert Adrià until the restaurant’s closure in 2011.

Mateu Casañas, a native of Roses, Girona, born in 1977, was introduced to the trade through his family’s restaurant, Si us plau. In 1997, through his parents’ connections with Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler led to Casañas working at elBulli. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a chef de partie in 1998. He experienced a variety of sections before advancing to souschef. In 2003, he took on the pastry chef role under Albert Adrià’s guidance and, from 2005, started contributing to the R&D team at elBullitaller.

Eduard Xatruch, born in 1981 in Vila-seca, Tarragona, received his culinary education at the Escuela de Hostelería y Turismo in Cambrils. His initial stint at elBulli was in the summer of 1998 as a stagiaire. He returned in 1999 for another internship, interspersed with internships at Raymond Thullier’s old restaurant L’Ousteau de Baumanière and at Arzak. In 2000, Xatruch secured a permanent position at elBulli as chef de partie. He began contributing to the restaurant’s creative team in 2005. Following the departure of Albert Adrià and Albert Raurich, he was promoted to co-head chef in 2009, serving alongside Casañas and Castro.

A small ode to Oriol Castro

Along with Michel Bras, Ferran, Albert Adrià and Andoni Luis Aduriz, Oriol Castro is one of the most influential figures in gastronomy since the Nouvelle Cuisine. While the Adrià brothers, particularly Ferran, gained more public attention, Oriol played an equally pivotal but less visible role.

While Ferran was the conceptual brain behind many ideas, it fell to Albert and Oriol to turn these visions into reality. It was Oriol’s collaborative efforts with Albert Adrià that resulted in numerous groundbreaking technical developments. They introduced the world to the first-ever ‘air’ made from carrot juice, various forms of both warm and frozen foams, and warm gelatins – a concept previously considered impossible. They also pioneered several other significant advancements, including spherifications (a hallmark of techno-emotional cuisine), iced powders, gellified pastas, and new methods such as compressing fruits and vegetables or freeze-drying.

If we [Albert, Oriol and I] were able to work together for so many years, it’s because we admired each other.

Ferran Adrià

The closure of elBulli

2011 brought along a seismic event with the closure of elBulli. Announced a year prior by Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler, this decision, though shocking, was carefully planned. The pair had envisioned transforming elBulli into a foundation, a concept that remained unclear and undefined for over a decade after the closure, eventually materialising as a museum in 2023. Adrià’s reasons for closing the restaurant have been a subject of much speculation and varied explanations over the years.

Initially, Adrià cited reaching a creative zenith as the impetus for the closure. ‘We could have continued creating dishes, maintaining the creative pace for another two or three years… But El Bulli is something else and needs to go beyond. We have reached the maximum of what someone can physically and psychologically assimilate in gastronomy’ (La Vanguardia, 2011). Competitors and critics pointed to a potential financial instability of the project, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, though Adrià firmly dismissed these as being unfounded, asserting the restaurant’s financial health. In his later reflections, Adrià revealed a mix of exhaustion from managing the restaurant and an altruistic desire to pave the way for new talents, akin to stepping back from a stage long dominated by one’s presence.

This narrative evolved, with Adrià later acknowledging much later in 2020 that personal life changes of his team, such as marriages and childbirths, played a role. Interestingly, we think that a critical but unspoken factor might have been the departure of Albert Adrià, a pivotal figure in elBulli’s creative team. We speculate that losing Albert Adrià profoundly impacted the restaurant’s operations, a fact Ferran perhaps chose to downplay in favour of maintaining a harmony within the team and family.

The reason for Compartir

Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard were originally tasked with cataloguing and documenting the extensive work of elBulli for the new foundation. However, with more time on their hands, they were quickly inspired to open their own restaurant. Despite their expertise in avant-garde cuisine, venturing into managing a business was a new challenge for them. In 2012, they seized the opportunity and opened Compartir in Cadaqués, which is not too far from Cala Montjoi, the site of the original elBulli. A comprehensive review of Compartir Cadaqués is available in a separate article here.

At first, they juggled Compartir with their roles at the elBullifoundation, but the restaurant soon required their full-time focus. Seeking tranquility and a respite from the intensity of haute cuisine, they aimed for a casual, modern Mediterranean cuisine, decidedly not avant-garde, marking a significant shift from their past work at elBulli. The menu is straightforward, offering an à la carte selection with clever combinations of flavours and highlights like oysters, a variety of seasonal seafood, and traditional Catalan rices.

Encouraged by the positive entrepreneurial experience and the warm public reception, the team now had the confidence required to launch a more serious project in Barcelona – Disfrutar.

1974Oriol Castro is born.
1977Mateu Casañas is born.
1981Eduard Xatruch is born.
1996Oriol Castro joins elBulli.
1997Mateu Casañas joins elBulli.
1998Oriol becomes head chef of elBulli along Ferrán and Albert Adrià. He also joins the creative team.
1999Eduard Xatruch joins elBulli.
2005Mateu and Eduard join the R&D team.
2009Mateu and Eduard join Oriol as head chefs of elBulli after the departure of Albert Adrià.
2011elBulli closes and the team joins elBullifoundation.
April 2012Opening of Compartir in Cadaqués.
December 2014Opening of Disfrutar.
2015Disfrutar is awarded its first Michelin star.
2016Creation of a creativity department within the restaurant.
The team push the accelerator on creativity and innovation.
First Madrid Fusión conference on their creative work.
Disfrutar is selected by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants as ‘One to Watch’.
The restaurant is given its second Michelin star.
In parallel, they publish their first solo book – Compartir Restaurante.
Disfrutar enters the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking at position 18.
The restaurant is awarded three Soles by the Spanish equivalent of the Michelin guide, Guía Repsol.
A separate space in the basement is assigned and equipped for their R&D work.
2019Disfrutar enters the top 10 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
2021Publication of Disfrutar Vol. 1 – Catalogue 2014-2017.
2022Opening of Compartir Barcelona.
Disfrutar is named second restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Publication of Disfrutar Vol. 2 – Catalogue 2018-2020.
The trio of Oriol, Eduard and Mateu are given the award for ‘Best Head Chef’ from the Royal Academy of Gastronomy of Spain.
Third Michelin star for Disfrutar.

Their magnus opus – Disfrutar

2014-2016: The beginnings

With the restaurant opening in December 2014, the press eagerly speculated: could Disfrutar be the reincarnation of the iconic elBulli? The anticipation was palpable, but Eduard, Oriol, and Mateu adopted a more meticulous and risk-averse plan. It was their first serious and lifelong project following their tenure at elBulli, and they approached it with the corresponding seriousness. They did not see themselves capable of coping with the intensity and cost of a more creative cuisine. Unlike the convivial and shared dining experience of Compartir, Disfrutar would aim for a more inventive cuisine, but not radical enough to be considered avant-garde in their view.

And indeed, during its first two years the essence of Disfrutar lay not in its flamboyant display of culinary prowess but in its core intention – to offer a delicious modern cuisine enriched with modernist techniques formerly considered avant-garde. This translated into a cuisine that sought to blend these modern techniques with classic flavours and combinations, ensuring each dish was instantly recognizable and enjoyable. This ethos is even encapsulated in its name – Disfrutar or ‘To enjoy’.

Under this ethos, the 24-serving menu was indeed creative, but not as forcefully as in elBulli. It allowed ideas to emerge organically thanks to Oriol, Mateu and Eduard’s inherent propensity for exploring new concepts, flavour and textural combinations through their baggage of technical knowledge. This creative spirit was apparent in every part of the meal, from the cocktails and snacks to the finger food and tapas-style dishes. Michelin noticed quickly and rewarded the restaurant in 2015 with a star. Interestingly, many dishes currently featured on Compartir’s tasting menu originate from this period at Disfrutar, showing how closely they followed a similar philosophy to their first restaurant.

However, a big shift would happen by the end of 2016 as the restaurant was consistently full, financially stable and the team grew to 43 people (27 in the kitchen and 16 in the service). They finally had an R&D team and the first new techniques started to materialise, like the multi-spherification or the deep-fried foams with the panchino. The following season they would finally dare to call their cuisine avant-garde.

Interlude – the philosophy

It is a good moment to explain what Mateu, Eduard, and Oriol mean by ‘creative or avant-garde cuisine’, terms that they use interchangeably.

In their book Disfrutar Vol 2, they describe ‘creative cuisine’ as the endeavour to produce original ideas in a restaurant. The concept is inspired by Jacques Maximin’s aphorism ‘creativity is not to copy’ that profoundly influenced Ferran Adrià around 1987. This approach contrasts with what they refer to as ‘contemporary cuisine’, which combines pre-existing techniques and concepts from different eras. Instead, creative cuisine is about embracing innovation and discovering new culinary techniques and methods. This pursuit of the unexplored is what marks the difference – creative cuisine is not just about using existing methods, but about pushing into new territory (in their own words – ‘opening up new paths’) to find new means of expression within a restaurant setting.

Since 2017, Disfrutar has actively promoted itself as an avant-garde restaurant, applying this creative philosophy comprehensively, including in the dining room, service, and wine selection since 2018. The use of ‘creative or avant-garde cuisine’ is preferred over that of ‘techno-emotional cuisine’ that they only employ to contextualise the cuisine of elBulli.

Techno-emotional cuisine or avant-garde cuisine

In the revolution of elBulli in the 90s and 2000s, finding a name for this new movement was difficult and controversial. Many started using the name ‘molecular (and physical) gastronomy’, a phrase coined in the late 1980s by Frenchman Hervé This and British Nicholas Kurti. This was later used by detractors of elBulli like Santi Santamaría to push the idea that this cuisine uses industrial chemicals that could pose a risk to the diners health. Despite the inaccuracies of this claim, its sensationalist facets made it spread fast. In some countries like France, the idea stuck. The fact that Santi Santamaría spoke excellent French (while the pioneers of the Spanish avant-garde like the Adriàs, Castro and Aduriz so so) and presided Relais & Chateaux also helped.

Indeed, the French gastronomy sought a good argument to protect itself and heal from the trauma of being dethroned for two decades by the Spanish. The country of Alain Chapel could now wave its values with pride: a cuisine that respects its produce and states as firmly as Chapel: ‘Il faut manger la vérité’, (‘We must eat the truth’).

In 2007, journalist Pau Arenós proposed ‘techno-emotional cuisine’, a name that Ferran Adrià logically liked much better. But interestingly and to his despair, being endorsed by the founder of the movement itself did not make much of an impact. Over time avant-garde cuisine has been used most consistently to define the movement in Spain, whereas overseas and in the popular knowledge, molecular cuisine has stuck more.

We are such Quixotes that we don’t have a name for the Spanish creative haute cuisine. You haven’t bought into techno-emotional cuisine. It’s simply mortifying.

Ferran Adrià, Madrid Fusión 2024

From 2017: A cuisine of new techniques

In 2017, Disfrutar took a significant step by establishing a dedicated creativity team, tasked with meticulously documenting every recipe. This initiative led to the creation of an impressive 91 new dishes throughout the year and the introduction of a 30-course menu. They started working on new techniques, such as blackening vegetables and fruits, and transforming nuts into textures as creamy as well-cooked beans, with the help of the Korean pressure cooker, OCOO. These changes did not go unnoticed; by the year’s end, Michelin had awarded Disfrutar two stars. The momentum continued into 2018, with the team’s innovation pace quickening. Inspired by their experience at elBullitaller, they decided to convert their basement into a dedicated research and development space. During this period, more than 150 new dishes were developed. They introduced creations like flourless puff pastries, along with sorbets and ice creams derived from classic sauces such as cocktail, tartare, and peppercorn.

However, Disfrutar’s ambition wasn’t confined to the kitchen. In 2018 they started extending this quest for creativity to other domains, such as service, crockery, cellar and wine offerings. The wine cellar, curated initially by ex-elBulli sommelier Ferran Centelles with 100 references in 2015, grew exponentially to about 1500 by 2024 with a fully consolidated sommelier team. Meanwhile, a chef with expertise in industrial design joined the team, collaborating with Escola Massana to improve in the area of crockery design.

In the subsequent year, the team developed 141 new recipes, out of which only 61 were put to use. Among the new techniques were conching (a process normally used for smoothing chocolate) fats in a chocolate conche or freezing egg yolks for a candy-like texture. This display of creative prowess, albeit more restrained than the groundbreaking days of elBulli, drew worldwide attention. By mid 2019, their efforts had earned them a place in the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Even during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the team would manage to produce around 110 dishes in 2020, experimenting with techniques to create solid fat bubbles and using the generally infamous microwave oven to produce unexpectedly light and crispy snacks.

The return after the pandemic came with a strategic change by lining its dining area with tablecloths. This decision wasn’t solely about improving aesthetics and sound quality; it was more likely a deliberate attempt to shift from a casual to a more upscale image, eyeing a third Michelin star. This would not happen until 2023, a few months after ranking second in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Even the traditionally conservative guide from Clermont-Ferrand can suddenly become flexible to Spanish modernity if it helps the guide maintain its relevance. Despite its historic inertia, accepting some change (notably during the Nouvelle Cuisine era as well as elBulli’s prominence) has allowed it to survive since 1900. Enthroning a restaurant before the World’s 50 Best Restaurants inevitably does so this June 2024, is an easy way to look modern. And indeed Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard could, and arguably should, hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

Heading back to the kitchen, these last few years brought us techniques with a focus on fermentations, different starches and their properties, de-alcoholised wines, aired gelatin cakes, and nixtamalised coulants. It was also a time for them to compile their first recipe catalogues, with specific volumes that provide an evolutionary analysis of the restaurant, exactly as it was done in elBulli. Furthermore, in 2022, they expanded their business by opening another Compartir in Barcelona, with Nil Dulcet, their long-standing head chef, at the helm.

The cuisine

Since 2017, Disfrutar is a restaurant that performs its creative cuisine through the development of new techniques and concepts in the kitchen. Where else would you get a martini in an olive, a doughnut fried à la minute filled with a core of cold sour cream and caviar or a gazpacho sandwich? Still, true to its name, all this work is done while respecting the original goal of the restaurant – serving delicious food. Customers are able to enjoy the meal while being completely oblivious to the research and technical innovations that take place behind the scenes.

Technique, enjoyment and magic

Mateu, Eduard, and Oriol have continued to refine the concepts they first developed at elBulli, from airs to spherifications, a symbol of techno-emotional cuisine. While these techniques have been widely imitated in the 2000s, often to the extent of becoming clichéd, Disfrutar and Enigma remain the sole places where one can experience their authentic forms. More radical ideas quickly started to appear. Their journey at elBulli ingrained in them a relentless pursuit for new techniques, for being the first to push the boundaries of what is possible. In just the last six years we have seen deep-fried foams, conched fats, blackened vegetables and fruit, flourless puff pastries, microwave crisps, solid fat bubbles or nixtamalised coulants come to life.

Disfrutar’s rate of development takes a measured pace in comparison to elBulli, choosing not to overhaul the entire menu every season. Moreover, the restaurant deliberately avoids falling into what critic Philippe Regol describes as ‘demonstrative cuisine’—a style characterised by its focus on innovation purely for the sake of being novel. During the height of elBulli, and at times seen today at Mugaritz, the fervour over a novel culinary technique could lead to its excessive showcase, sometimes featuring the same method in multiple dishes within the same menu. Notable examples include the horridly bitter smoke foam of elBulli and the fishy squid foam from Mugaritz which we reviewed here in 2020.

Aiming to make every dish enjoyable and delicious above all, in Disfrutar the novelty is not always obvious. Technique always takes a back seat to the produce and flavour. The strategy is to let the innovation emerge naturally, without the need for lengthy explanations or contextualisation, by incorporating their new developments into widely appealing dishes with familiar flavours. This is a practice not only seen here but also previously at elBulli and continues at Albert Adria’s Enigma, which have always favoured Catalan and Italian flavour combinations. Disfrutar draws heavily from these culinary traditions, as evident in dishes like the calçots, the gazpacho sandwich or the macaroni alla carbonara; but they also draw inspiration from the Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisines very frequently. When familiar flavours take unfamiliar forms, new textures, transfigurations through trompe-l’œils, or conceptual twists become naturally evident. In the rare instances where ideas are especially bold or dramatic, the familiar elements help ease any potential shock.

Not all the dishes necessarily showcase technical advancements. At times, it revolves around bold and creative flavour combinations. This could be hare accompanied by a burnt coconut sauce, or artichoke toffee paired with almonds and mandarin. Moreover, even the simplest creations are deliberately designed to evoke surprise and awe, reminiscent of the magic once found at elBulli, albeit through more light-hearted means. This sense of playfulness is brought to life through elements like interactive games, optical illusions, and magical touches, as with their Palamós shrimp, a mirror to observe oneself eating microwave crisps, and the reflective surfaces for the amaranth coral.

Concluding our analysis of the general characteristics of Disfrutar’s cuisine, we touch upon the contrast between creative and produce-driven cuisines. The impression that avant-garde cuisine is excessively processed and elaborate, a viewpoint initially propagated by Santi Santamaría and his peers, has had a significant impact on public opinion. Currently, there is a notable shift away from avant-garde innovations towards a reverence for tradition – sometimes produce-driven –  and what might be perceived as a well-grounded naturalism. As with any successful movement, the avant-garde‘s widespread imitations have led to interpretations that overly simplify or exaggerate its concepts, transforming original ideas into clichés. This process has fostered a collective desire to reject the old in pursuit of new and different culinary experiences. A similar backlash to that experienced by the Nouvelle Cuisine; as it fell out of favour in the 1980s, advocates like Paul Bocuse and Bernard Loiseau sought to dissociate themselves from the movement, which was marred by excessive imitation and a sometimes misguided enthusiasm for unconventional flavour pairings or an obsession with exotic ingredients like kiwi. As a result, the 1980s witnessed a revival of appreciation for craftsmanship and the mastery of traditional skills, a shift epitomised by the work of Joël Robuchon.

In response to years of critiques, it is common to hear Mateu, Eduard, or Oriol emphasise in conferences the paramount importance of produce in their kitchen, presenting them as the foundation of every dish. As any chef, they have also their fetish ingredients, with olive oil, nuts and cheese standing out as particular favourites. Naturally, their elaborations are not as minimalistic as those in Etxebarri, but the essence of the product, the ‘vrai goût’, is always preserved. The fact that their dishes may verge on the realm of conceptual art does not diminish the value of the ingredients. While the complexity of their dishes might distract diners from focusing solely on the produce, it doesn’t mean that this intricacy overshadows or detracts from it.

Structure of the menu

In a restaurant of this calibre, and as a disciple of the restaurant that questioned everything, analysing the menu can be very revealing. Indeed, the structure of the tasting menu is reminiscent of elBulli in its later years, though it deliberately avoids using the original terminology overtly1 when presented to the public. The experience starts with a generous assortment of snacks. These are light, bite-sized finger foods, aimed at awakening the appetite, and are organised around specific themes. Following this, the bulk of the menu consists of tapas or dishes that conform to most modern fine dining experiences. To ensure a coherent flow and engaging narrative, certain dishes are served in sequences to explore the varied possibilities or aspects of an ingredient or technique. In contrast to Mugaritz, where the concept of dessert might be blurred, Disfrutar ensures a smooth transition from pre-desserts to desserts, ending with bite-sized servings that one could easily call petit fours.

Contrary to elBulli, Disfrutar does not completely overhaul its menu every season. Instead, it offers two distinct menus: the Classic and the Festival. The Classic menu gathers dishes that have become emblematic of the restaurant over the years, and it is particularly recommended for those visiting for the first time as an introduction to Disfrutar. Although these dishes are not new, they are continuously refined to enhance their presentation and align with the evolving aesthetics of the restaurant. On the other hand, the Festival menu is a celebration of the restaurant’s most recent creations, while also including older dishes that incorporated the seasonal ingredients available during the time of visit.

Serving around 30 different elaborations in a meal, achieving a sense of lightness in each dish is crucial for a fluid and enjoyable dining experience, without overwhelming the guests. In order to achieve this, the restaurant seeks to develop techniques that can deliver intense flavours in lighter forms, such as foams instead of sauces or puffed pastries and crackers instead of bread or denser starch-based products.

The strategy for naming dishes is intentionally straightforward, avoiding any unnecessary distractions. Their descriptions tend to home in on the predominant flavours—hoisin, ceviche, carbonara, pesto, kimchi, peas—and shine a light on the technique or concept used – gel, deconstruction, kappa carrageenan pasta, polvorón, ice cream, or multi-spherifications. This yields dishes like ceviche deconstruction, kappa macaroni alla carbonara, pesto polvorón or kimchi ice cream. When it comes to trompe-l’œil dishes, designed to visually mimic other foods, their actual flavours and textures are normally openly disclosed. Some examples of this include a dry martini shaped like an olive, pigeon appearing as canned anchovies, or chicken bones (royale of chicken al ajillo).


If one were to identify the best representatives and inheritors of elBulli’s aesthetic, El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz and Disfrutar unequivocally stand out. Indeed, over the late 90s and early 2000s, elBulli developed a pioneering vocabulary and compositional style, with a very particular focus on abstractions. Throughout their tenure there, Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard embraced these principles, making them a part of their culinary identity.

Disfrutar’s cuisine heavily incorporates elBulli’s iconic trompe-l’œils and deconstructions, closely mirroring the compositions elBulli showcased in 1994 with its textured vegetable panaché and the 1995 chicken curry (as illustrated in the marked photos below 2016** or 2018**). This homage extends to a profound appreciation for nature and its poetry, a theme first encountered by Adrià during his visit to Mibu in Kyoto in 2002, which is evident in dishes inspired by April almonds or seeds from 2003 and 2006, influencing Disfrutar’s offerings in subsequent years (see photos below 2015*, 2018*, 2023*). Furthermore, there is a distinct fascination with the sphere—including its patterns and reflections—that harks back to elBulli’s 2003 invention of the spherification. This obsession serves not only to demonstrate the application of the technique but also to explore its aesthetic potential, influencing the composition and presentation of dishes in various years (2016*, 2017*, 2019*, 2021*).

The style of Disfrutar has remained quite consistent over time, though a notable shift can be observed between the pre-2020 and post-2020 periods, a shift likely influenced by the pandemic.

Before 2020, there was a more tangible intent to be playful with the presentations, aiming to elicit a smile from customers upon seeing the dish. This was often achieved through the use of custom crockery, such as the 2014 crunchy egg yolk with mushroom gelatine or the 2018 green walnut with Idiazábal cheese below. While Disfrutar has inherited much of its aesthetic and compositional language from elBulli, it has steered clear of the more minimalist and abstract approaches that began in Cala Montjoi in 2008. This decision likely reflected a desire to maintain a less intellectual and more enjoyable dining experience, in line with Disfrutar’s foundational philosophy — pleasing the customer.

In fact, the period following 2020 has witnessed a set of dishes that shift away from any minimalism into more intricate presentations that look sharper and display more craftsmanship (see marked photos below 2021, 2021††, 2022, 2023). Moreover, as the number of elements in the dishes increased, there has been a deliberate emphasis on exploring soft round surfaces and their reflections. This change in style was part of a concerted effort to infuse the restaurant with a higher level of sophistication, a strategy that included adopting tablecloths, as previously discussed. Like it or not, it certainly achieved its intended effect, culminating in the awarding of a third Michelin star in 2023.

Three chefs, one vision

In an often ego-driven culinary world, the chef trio of Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard presents a refreshing contrast. Unlike groups like the Roca brothers or the Troisgros brothers2 who are bound by family ties, their partnership is based purely on professional grounds. This bond was formed during their time at elBulli and is based on shared experiences and the same culinary vision. They view themselves not as individual stars but as a cohesive unit, always referring to their creations as ‘nuestra cocina’ or ‘our cuisine’.

The success of their collaboration stems from a combination of complementary skills and this shared culinary vision. Mateu brings organisation skills to the table, Oriol shines in communication, and Eduard is adept at executing plans. They describe themselves as one person with ‘six eyes, six hands, and three brains,’ illustrating their supposedly seamless integration. In theory, this unity allows them to navigate challenges effectively, with each member compensating for the others’ weak spots. And so far, thirteen years after the closure of elBulli, the team seems as solid as ever.

The venue and the service

Originally featuring a small bar for tapas, now repurposed as a reception, the design allows for glimpses of the main kitchen to the right and the pastry kitchen to the left, before opening up to the main dining area. This space, designed to host around 40 guests, overlooks a terrace amidst the quiet courtyards characteristic of Eixample. The design, a brainchild of Oliver Franz Schmidt from El Equipo Creativo, manages to bring the charm of Cadaqués to Barcelona. The use of large windows, white floor and walls, and terracotta tiles that blend into white in the dining area bathes the space in Mediterranean light.

The resulting ambiance at Disfrutar is modern, relaxed and sophisticated, aligning with the contemporary trends in Spanish fine dining without coming off as pretentious. The choice of crockery, glassware (Pordamsa, Riedel and Zalto glasses) and decorations, from arrangements of dried plants, to tablecloths and woven reed panels, not only beautifies the space but also improves its acoustics, creating a comfortable dining environment.

When asked about the service, Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard often mention the warm and personable approach that Juli Soler pioneered at elBulli. This ethos is palpable at Disfrutar. Most of the dishes are served directly from the kitchen, fully prepared, with only some cocktails being finished at the table on a guéridon. The team manages to be both attentive and discreet, maintaining a smooth rhythm that allows the kitchen to present about 30 elaborations over a meal lasting three to four hours.

They adeptly gauge when to intervene, crucial in a cuisine that demands detailed explanations to properly appreciate the dishes, without overwhelming casual diners. When guests seek further details, the staff are not only knowledgeable but also enthusiastic, ready to surprise inquisitive customers with insights from the extensive work done behind the scenes. If there is an area for improvement, it would be their English proficiency. Unfortunately, some of the finer details of this impressive cuisine can get lost in translation.

The wine selection

Under Rodrigo Briseño’s leadership, succeeding Rubén Pol, the wine department features an impressive selection of wines. The wine list is meticulously organised in a cork ring binder, with a graphic design that draws inspiration from the restaurant’s recipe catalogue. Spain takes centre stage, offering access to the country’s most promising wine projects. Despite this focus, the list is remarkably international, including selections from Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and Japan. Spain and France dominate, each contributing to 25% of the wine list, while Germany receives special homage with an exceptional selection of Riesling.

While we typically advise restricting wine consumption to half a bottle per person in creative restaurants to keep the palate and mind clear, Disfrutar encouraged us to make an exception. Their efforts in crafting dealcoholised wines, complemented by an enticing selection of sake and Sherry, present a compelling case for opting for the wine pairing. We were impressed by how well the wines matched with most dishes, a feat that is commendably rare in our experience.

The 2021 tasting menu

To get a full picture of the latest creations from the team, we chose the Festival menu with a wine pairing. Upon being seated, guests are offered hand sanitiser from a large ornate seashell, an idea that was, by mere coincidence, developed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, one is presented with a word cloud diagram outlining the main concepts around which the experience is designed. Is it useful? Perhaps for those who come unprepared.

The experience kicked off with a clever twist on Dry Martini. Rather than using the traditional glass, the cocktail was presented in a pipette, accompanied by a trompe-l’œil olive that appeared deceptively real. Guests were intended to first consume the martini straight from the pipette, delivering a potent and straightforward interpretation of the traditional flavour. However, the real surprise came from the faux olive, made from a very thin and brittle cocoa butter shell encapsulating a liquid core, reminiscent of a liquor-filled chocolate bonbon. One must break it apart in one bite, releasing a blend of green olive, olive oil, and brine flavours that ingeniously echoed the martini’s dry finish.

We continued with an assortment of microwave snacks that went beyond our expectations for microwave cooking. They offered a range of textures and flavours that were remarkably crunchy and complex. The experience was made even more unique by placing mirrors at the table, encouraging diners to observe their reactions as they eat—a thoughtful touch that added a layer of introspection.

The assortment started with a Parmesan soufflé on the top left that, while merely lightly flavoured with Parmesan, surprised with its intense crunchiness. To the right, the Idiazábal cheese tartlet, crowned with a Pedro Ximénez vinegar reduction and lemon zest, provided a delightful interplay of zestiness and sweetness. In the centre, the Gorgonzola and walnut snack maintained a more traditional texture, similar to a Parmesan tuile, but with a pronounced Gorgonzola flavour that perfectly complemented the walnut, adding a rich creaminess alongside a playful touch of gold. The walnut soufflé, positioned on the bottom left, stood out for its incredible airiness and crispness, bringing to mind the flavours of a walnut or pecan tart. Lastly, the pesto snack, the only one intended to be enjoyed in one bite, consisted of a microwave crisp topped with a pesto sphere. Its freshness and the pure aroma of basil were particularly noteworthy.

These snacks were complemented by an Instant smoked homemade cider using dry ice to create a bubbly spectacle right at the table. The smoky flavour, combined with the cider’s fresh acidity, matched the snacks perfectly.

Next came a Flourless ‘Coca’ with black truffle and burrata which substituted classic puff pastry with oblaat to achieve a remarkable, millefeuille-like puffiness. Apart from being gluten-free, the dish was visually stunning, with layers that were extremely airy and crunchy, easily rivalling traditional puff and filo pastries both in texture and appearance. Topped with creamy burrata cheese and thin slices of black truffle, it struck a fine balance between richness and the subtle, toasted flavours of the pastry. The olive oil spherifications and flowers added a touch of that elegance that the restaurant has sought since the pandemic, but it was the pairing that really brought out the truffle’s distinctive taste.

What could be a better pairing for truffle than more truffle, this time in the form of Vodka/truffle. By infusing vodka with black truffle for over half a year, they created a drink that accentuated the truffle’s natural sweetness and earthiness. The scent was strikingly similar to fresh truffles, with floral and leather hints that added complexity. Surprisingly sweet, it offered a long-lasting finish that kept you thinking about it long after the glass was empty.

A staple that’s likely to remain on the menu indefinitely is the Panchino’ filled with caviar. This dish uses a unique technique from 2016 to create a light, fluffy bun from non-fermented dough that resembles brioche in its airy texture. The dough is aerated with a siphon, and the bun is then shaped using a ladle. This method allows for the insertion of cold fillings, which stay cool even after frying due to the insulation provided by the foam. Although the dough’s sweetness might not be to everyone’s taste, the combination of the warm bun with the cool, creamy sour cream and the rich flavour of Beluga caviar is striking. The softness and subtle sweetness of the bun perfectly offset the luxury of the sturgeon roe and sour cream, reminiscent of the traditional combination of blinis, smetana, and caviar.

Anything fried goes well with Champagne, and Vincent Brochet Extra Brut Premier Cru did the job. This blend, primarily of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir had that modern, fruit-forward character of grower Champagne. It combined good concentration, autolysis, great acidity and a low dosage.

Foams and airs are cleverly used in Disfrutar as a means of delivering bold flavours and showcasing techniques throughout numerous servings, while ensuring customers don’t become overly full too quickly. The Solid bubbles of smoked butter with sea urchin encapsulated this approach perfectly. This dish brought together the deep, rich taste of sea urchin and paired it with something quite unexpected: bubbles of smoked butter. These weren’t just any bubbles, they were made from a smoked butter consommé, turned into foam with a fish tank bubble machine, and subsequently frozen to retain their form. Trying to add an interactive side to it, one is given a magnifying glass to appreciate the foam’s delicate structure, with a playful touch added by a tiny figure of a man.

The thin, crisp bread served merely as a base for the sea urchin and butter, the latter of which was incredibly ethereal, dissolving immediately upon contact. The roe and butter were strategically positioned so that one could get two bites, each with the perfect amount of each component. And indeed, the smoke infused the butter with a complex, woody aroma that complemented the sea urchin’s rich, umami-laden flavour beautifully. Similar to the simplicity of bread and butter or foie gras on toast, this was an indulgent bite devoid of acidity. It was here that the Champagne worked its magic.

Being creative in the kitchen is very difficult and trying to showcase it in a sleek manner to customers is equally demanding, especially in a house as prolific as Disfrutar. It’s crucial that such extensive effort does not remain unseen. To this end, a fermentation cart is brought to the table, showcasing the latest elaborations that the chefs have created. This is a Mediterranean nod to their Scandinavian counterparts, featuring preserves centred around nuts such as green walnuts and almonds, processed through boiling, confiting in sugar, and fermenting. The importance of traditional methods is acknowledged, with mushrooms such as rovellones (saffron milk caps) and ceps or Padrón peppers being preserved in olive oil or vinegar, ensuring their availability throughout the year. Moreover, they had begun exploring the use of koji, a technique we will later see applied to pigeon.

Before though, it was time for a a sequence of elaborations with almonds, Almond and ‘almendruco’. First, on a spoon, we began with the green almond we had just seen, confited in the OCOO machine turning its skin edible. The experience was akin to biting into a white peach, with a soft texture and the almond nut replacing the peach stone, offering a delightful surprise. Next, on a rock, we were instructed to crack open two almonds—one seemed roasted, and the other smoked.

Clack, clack, clack, clack’.

The act of primitively cracking the almonds open with a rock added an element of playful challenge and perhaps, for some, a mild discomfort that we would associate more to a place like Mugaritz. The black almond revealed a smoky flavour that paired wonderfully with the Suppai Umeshu from Heiwa Shuzo, our pairing. In contrast, the fresh almond served as a simple, yet essential comparison point, grounding the experience. To close the sequence, the almendrado, felt like a polvorón made from almond oil with maltodextrin to get that powdery texture. It is best enjoyed in a single bite to fully experience its texture and the subtle aroma of almond, reminiscent of marzipan. A truly delightful experience.

We continued with what was arguably the most intricate dish on the menu, owing to the number of intermediate elaborations and the complex deconstruction, the Hake ‘Empedrat’ with almonds. This creation reinterpreted the classic empedrat salad —normally a cod and beans salad—  by reimagining each component. Hake was used instead of the traditional dried cod, cooked to perfection to highlight its more elegant and delicate flaky texture. The hake was encircled by a seasoned tomato juice nage, bright as gazpacho and kept chilled with an ice cube. Within it, almonds, softened using an OCOO machine, perfectly mimicked the texture and taste of beans. So convincing was the transformation that the texture became indistinguishable. The usual black olives are presented as a flavour-bursting spherification, and the traditional green pepper is cleverly substituted with pickled Padrón peppers, adding a distinct acidity and crunch.

Further elaborations added depth and surprise: a creamy, umami-rich sauce mirrored the texture of pil pil sauce, tying the fish to the nage; transparent spherifications of tomato water were hidden among the almonds; an herbal oil added visual contrast; and a single, ripe tomato invited a final sweet bite. Surprisingly, the dish achieved a remarkable balance, ensuring a textural heterogeneity in every bite while the dish was brought together by the gazpacho-like broth.Despite the almonds serving as a stand-in for beans in the main ensemble, the dish concluded with a warm bean-flavoured consommé, served in a cocktail cup. This consommé embodied the pure flavour of white beans’ broth, tying back to the original empedrat’s essence and adding a final comforting touch.

Pairing this was Oxer Bastagieta’s Marko Loretxoa 2020, a Txakolí from Bizkaia. The wine was all about minerality and acidity, carrying some strange notes of artichokes or cabbage, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea or even be considered a fault, but it somehow worked with the empedrat thanks to the chalkiness and slight aroma of green almonds from velo de flor.

Crafted to resemble the forest floor and presented in a bird’s nest, the Crunchy mushroom leaf dish channels the organic aesthetic often associated with Noma. The leaf was simply made from porcini mushroom juice mixed with glutinous rice flour. The mixture was then shaped using a leaf mold and cooked in a microwave at maximum power for three minutes. This meticulous process results in a texture reminiscent of microwave snacks, , yet it exudes a pure porcini aroma, rich in earthy tones. Under the leaf lay a porcini cream or paste, adding depth with its intense mushroom flavour and a subtle acidity, possibly from vinegar or the preserved mushrooms seen earlier.

Accompanied by an aged sake, Biden 1999 from Mii no Kotobuki in Fukuoka, the dish ascended to new heights. Aged sakes are always an experience. This one, with its intense notes of toasted sesame, full of that characteristic rice starch umami and a very full body, complemented the earthy, umami-rich mushroom very well.

Completing the short sequence of mushrooms was a Marinated mushroom vinegar with oyster. The idea here is a surf and turf, employing mackerel belly or a raw oyster depending on market availability. The oyster in our case was bathed in an aromatic escabeche – made with vinegar from rovellones juice and oil from the preserved rovellones – with a garniture of a raw ice plant, saffron milk caps and pine nuts. To showcase the vinegar on its own, it was served separately in a wine glass, aerated on the spot on a guéridon with the same aquarium bubble machine used in the smoked butter.

As the dish arrived, the table was inundated with an earthy aroma of saffron milk caps. The escabeche‘s complex notes of thyme, rosemary, pine, and the sharp tang of vinegar, paired beautifully with the oyster’s briny freshness. This pairing was unexpectedly harmonious, with the acidity enhancing the oyster’s flavour, making it richer and intensifying its saltiness. Adding a pine nut in each spoonful made a notable difference, amplifying the forest floor aromas.

Two of the saffron milk caps held a surprise. They were actually ingenious trompe-l’oeils made through a double spherification of rovellones cream, bursting in your mouth to reveal their real identity. The thicker alginate-calcium gel of the spherification also helped make the texture similar. Meanwhile, the ice plant, with its frosty dew-like bladder cells, provided a salinity comparable to samphire, and a tender texture akin to al dente broccoli for a pleasing contrast. Managing complexity in a dish is challenging, as the message can easily become muddled. However, here the overall composition was coherent and made complete sense.

The glass with vinegar really conveyed a sensation of forest floor, with a purity that made us think of El Celler de Can Roca’s earth distillations. But an even better pairing was the aged sake, it played a similar role to that of the pine nuts, lifting up the aromas of the escabeche and making them linger in your mouth.

Dishes appear, are explained and the plates are removed with utmost efficiency as they are finished. Eleven elaborations in 1h30min. The only mistake we found in the service came here, where they forgot the pairing for the Onion soup with aerated onion bread, a Palo Cortado3. Alongside the soup were spherifications of Comté cheese, set yolks with truffle purée and two generous pieces of what was described as onion bread. This “bread”, however, was not what it seemed. It was actually a set foam made from onion butter with a flavour similar to soubise sauce. To create this foam, the mixture was aerated in a vacuum chamber and then frozen to solidify it.

The onion soup itself was a showstopper, probably the best we have had since visiting Core. Deep and intense, it truly captured the essence of caramelised onions. A subtle bitter hint suggested the use of baking soda to accelerate the caramelisation. On the other hand, the frozen onion bread gave an ethereal texture, which instantly melted in your mouth, leaving notes of onion and an umami Parmesan-like note. The warm soup paired with the cold bread offered a truly comforting contrast in temperature.

Completing the dish, the Comté spherifications introduced a decadent creaminess akin to the top layer of a classic gratinated onion soup. The surrounding alginate-calcium gel was remarkably thin and delicate, adding a touch of elegance. Similarly, the yolks with truffle just aimed to intensify the indulgence. Ultimately, the dish managed to preserve its inherent simplicity while introducing a novel interplay of textures that made it memorable.

The pairing with Palo Cortado was perfectly demonstrated in the following dish, announced as artichoke gnocchi with a clam and Palo Cortado sauce and Maresme lágrima peas. Of course, to channel that magical touch that Mateu, Oriol and Eduard seek to impart in some of their servings, it was not as simple as that – the gnocchi were silver. These Spherical artichoke gnocchis4 with mollusc juice and peas were made from reverse spherifications incorporating silver colouring in the alginate-calcium gel of an artichoke purée. The illusion of gnocchi was cleverly created, not by the shape, but by their unexpectedly thick and starchy texture of the artichoke purée within, reminiscent of the heartiness of traditional gnocchi. As a garnish, fresh Maresme lágrima peas were added, providing a pop of bright green and sweetness while highlighting the seasonal local produce. The clam sauce was creamy and deep in flavour, suggesting the clams might have been blended into a base of Palo Cortado and aromatics. It reminded us slightly of moules marinière. A crisp artichoke chip introduced a welcome textural contrast.

What better for the wine pairing than the wine used generously in the sauce? The aforementioned Palo Cortado, from Lagar Blanco in Montilla-Morilés, brought nutty oxidative notes, along with the body and floral aromas typical of Amontillado.

Multi-spherifications have become a sort of trademark technique in Disfrutar. A technique that shows the continuity with the work from elBulli while also demonstrating that there has been some evolution since those days. Whereas it appears in a few dishes, the most eye-catching on this menu was Cuttlefish with multi-spherical Catalan peas. Around a ring of spherical peas, we found a butifarra sauce with Port, a couple of grilled baby cuttlefish and spherifications of olive oil. The dots of transparent and black oil were hard to identify, they mostly added colour.

To make multi-spherifications, more alginate is required to gel the spheres together, resulting in a slightly thicker membrane than a normal spherification. The magic of eating multi-spherifications is that, when eating a segment containing multiple intact spheres, the experience is akin to the universal pleasure of popping bubble wrap. A smooth cream intensely flavoured with peas and mint suddenly burst in our mouths. The sweetness of the peas was matched and surpassed by the delicious sauce, necessitating the added sugar of the Port to prevent being overpowered by the spheres. It carried good acidity as well as the distinct white pepper notes of traditional Catalan butifarra, which are highly recognisable.

The line-caught squid (calamar de potera) was perfectly cooked and tender. The butifarra sauce was an excellent pairing with the flavour of the squid’s offal. Rich, umami, full of iodine and pleasantly intense, it paired perfectly with our mineral and volcanic Vijariego Tinto 2018 from Borja Pérez under the Ignios Orígenes brand.

From these tapas-sized dishes, we went back to a set of snacks emphasising saline and umami flavours. Served in a wooden box, adorned with seaweed and enshrouded in a mist of dry ice, were three distinct offerings: a Codium Margarita, a Raspberry umeboshi and a Crispy seaweed ravioli. The margarita, presented in an oyster shell, was infused with codium seaweed and crowned with a layer of salt air, giving off a scent reminiscent of the ocean. Contrary to expectations, the flavour veered unexpectedly towards green apple, instead of the traditional citric notes of a margarita. Its sweeter profile was designed to offset the seaweed’s savouriness, creating a successful balance. This was especially true when paired with a piece of codium, merging sweetness with the freshness of the sea.

The raviolo was a continuation of the exploration of this concept, a journey that began with elBulli. Here, by using two layers of oblaat painted with nori oil, a texture reminiscent of pommes soufflées was achieved. On top of it, rather than inside, a garnish of cucumber, wasabi, shiso and miso ensured each bite was a balance of crispiness and iodine-rich freshness. The last bite, the raspberry umeboshi, was a creative take on umeboshi utilizing raspberries instead of plums, and sugar in place of salt for dehydration. Although one might assume that it was simply dried, we believe it was a spherification of raspberry dehydrated, creating a sweet soft core and a salty and craggy outer layer from the dried alginate gel that resembled that of umeboshi.

Even though we opted for the Festival menu, it included some dishes from their past menus. We believe that for many who visit occasionally, these older dishes might still seem fresh and inventive. The ‘Suquet’ hake and ‘Suquet’ cappuccino, for instance, are actually from 2016, yet they wouldn’t be out of place today in Compartir, Cadaqués. The hake suquet is modernised with elements like potato purée spherifications, parsley air, alioli, and hazelnut praliné.

As the dish arrived, a scent of crustaceans permeates the air. Rich and concentrated (probably thickened with xantham gum), the sauce was certainly heavily based on a shrimp stock,  but also carried the traditional garlic notes typical of suquet. The hake was cooked to perfection, rivalling that served with the empedrat. Traditionally, suquet sauce is thickened with potato, a practice deconstructed here with the spherification of potato purée. These spherified potatoes retained a very pure flavour and a starchy texture akin to that of the spherical artichoke gnocchis. We found the streak of aliloli with the dot of hazelnut paste very creative, though the sparing use of hazelnut left us yearning for more. Meanwhile, the parsley air replaced the traditional chopped parsley garnish.

The cappuccino, an homage to Alain Chapel’s Bouillon de champignons comme un capuccino, consisted of a potato foam atop a cream of suquet. The brilliantly executed contrast in textures – the potato’s starchy softness against the smooth, rich suquet infused with a deep crustacean flavour – was both harmonious and delightful.

A Bierzo, Palacios – Villa de Corullón 2019, was the pairing here. It bore a resemblance in structure to the Vijariego, albeit with a distinct flavour profile that leaned more towards dark fruits such as dark cherry and blackberry. The midpalate was marked by a notable presence of iodine, and lots of dried herbs and pepper in the finish. Excellent, but even better with the next dish.

Here, the Disfrutar team brings back that magical side of them that they love to incorporate throughout the menu, fostering moments of fun and conviviality. They claim that they have found The goose that laid the golden egg, presenting them to us in a basket. Shortly after, the egg arrives fried, with a golden yolk. Suddenly, the air is filled by an aroma of fried shrimp. To heighten the surprise, we are told the details will be explained later. And it will indeed require an explanation, since this is another intricate serving: on the egg we find fried camarones, fresh ginger, a soy sauce vinaigrette, three dollops of satay sauce, shrimp and coriander leaves.

As we break the yolk, the magic is revealed. This is not an egg from Aesop’s Fables but fried egg of crustacean. The egg white had been cooked separately, perfectly until its edges turned crisp and golden brown. Only then was the multicoloured spherification of chilli crab sauce, made with shrimp, placed on top.

Drawing inspiration from the traditional Singaporean chilli crab, this version of the sauce emphasised the rich flavours of shrimp heads, but with a milder chilli heat. When mixed as suggested, the contrasting textures and flavours came to life: crispy fried egg whites against the smooth sauce, mimicking the texture of a real egg yolk, paired with tender sweet shrimp tails. The sauce’s richness ensures a lingering finish, while hidden dollops of satay sauce beneath the shrimp brought the dish together through a combination of umami and sweetness in each spoonful. A sprinkle of shichimi togarashi added a more heterogeneous and subtle heat. Finally, a streak of dry shrimp and parsley powder simply gave colour and flair to the presentation.

A Pigeon rested in amazake, kombu and laurencia arrived, announced as the end of the savoury part of the menu. The same balanced complexity continued here, with numerous components once again plated in an aesthetic that reminded us of elBulli’s latest years. Served on a bed they call ‘kombu spaghetti,’ lay a pigeon breast macerated for 34 hours in amazake, both elaborations glazed in a jus de cuisson. Accompanying this was a sauce made from amazake and a garnish of almond and grape. Despite the menu listing laurencia, it was conspicuously absent, presumably replaced by an unspecified leafy garnish.

The pigeon was cooked exceptionally well—rare, tender, and juicy, likely sous vide. The amazake influence was not noticeable in the flavour of the meat, except perhaps on the skin. Its skin, thanks to the sugars of the amazake, caramelised beautifully, and the fat rendered in such a way that, at times, the pigeon seemed almost like duck. On the other hand, the kombu, transformed into thin spaghetti and tied in a knot, was cooked long enough to soften its fibrous texture. This resulted in a tagliolini-like texture and introduced a very unique minty or eucalyptus-like flavour, which we could not decipher how it was done. The glace of pigeon further accentuated the savouriness of the combination. 

To the side, an amazake sauce was plated with the intent of being eaten separately with the garniture and offer a respite from the richer flavours of pigeon and kombu. This amazake sauce was intriguing, akin to a mildly sweet, starchy sake cream, with a powdery finish and a slightly astringent quality. We were advised to consume the grape last, transitioning us to the upcoming sweet courses. The pairing of grape and amazake sauce evoked an aroma of green almonds, contrasting with the actual roasted peeled almond provided and the dishes to come.

For quite some time, for the meat course Disfrutar has been serving an aged Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedès, a Jean León – Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva. In 2021, we enjoyed the 1997 vintage which at 25 years of age was drinking very well. The tertiary characteristics were prominent, featuring tobacco and leather; however, the fruit presence was still notable. You could detect dried cassis and pencil shavings over medium chewy tannins and a crisp acidity. We particularly enjoyed how the tobacco and balsamic notes worked together with the kombu.

Wine is not typically a separate course in tasting menus, primarily because the roles of the chef and the sommelier are distinct, as are their menus, cartes and lists. But in special occasions, and crucially if the kitchen gets involved, it can happen. Such was the case of their Dealcoholised wine.

Employing a girovap, a tabletop version of the original rotavap (first used in a restaurant at El Celler de Can Roca around 2003), the wine is gently agitated at 35 to 40 degrees Celsius in a partial vacuum. This process evaporates the alcohol, while aiming to preserve the wine’s aromatic integrity to some extent. As a result, Disfrutar can offer the first dealcoholised wine pairing in a restaurant. Although the sommelier team still suggests the traditional wine pairing for a fuller experience, this approach represents a viable alternative for those seeking to reduce their alcohol intake without compromising the quality of a well-curated wine pairing. 

Rather than opting for the full dealcoholised wine pairing, as part of what Philippe Regol would describe as ‘demonstrative cuisine’5, the sommelier encouraged us to compare the before and after of this procedure with a specific wine, Morenita, a cream from Emilio Hidalgo in Jerez de la Frontera, made with Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso.

Despite this delicate process, the removal of alcohol noticeably reduced the wine’s aromatic complexity and diminished its overall sensory impact. The dealcoholised version was lighter, shorter and lacked the same depth and density as its alcoholic counterpart. Moreover, the flavour profile was notably altered, with an emphasis on caramel sweetness rather than the rich nuttiness of the original wine.

Interrogating the sommelier about dealcoholised wines

OF: Objective FoodieS: Sommelier

OF: How about white wines? They are often more floral and delicate. How does this affect your selection process for dealcoholising?

S: We choose wines with a distinct personality and character because they need to retain their essence even after parts of them are removed.

OF: So, would you prefer using a wine like Viognier over Picpoul de Pinet for dealcoholisation?

S: Exactly. Whether it’s Viognier or an expressive Sauvignon Blanc, the key is to use varieties that are vibrant and not bland.

OF: Would this mean that you would choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc over, say, Sancerre?

S: Yes, that’s correct. Although both could be used, it’s essential to choose wines with complexity and character. Whether it’s from New Zealand or Sancerre, a simple wine without depth wouldn’t be suitable.

OF: When it comes to the aromas, are there specific types that tend to be lost more than others during dealcoholisation—like floral, fruity, or mineral notes?

S: Indeed, mineral notes such as flint or crushed rock are typically lost. It would be unwise to dealcoholise a wine like Silex from Didier Dagueneau or a Latricières-Chambertin due to their complexity.

OF: Well, but those are very complex wines, aren’t they? [Laughter] I know what you mean, it would be sacrilegious to dealcoholise these kind of wines.

S: Absolutely, it is. It’s better to focus on wines that can withstand the process effectively. For example, sake and sherry are excellent choices due to their inherent structure and higher alcohol content. The result still has structure and flavour.

OF: Finally, how do you manage oxidation, given that the wine is exposed to oxygen during distillation?

S: The dealcoholisation process typically lasts between 30 to 40 minutes in the machine, which minimizes the impact. The extraction of volatile aromas and alcohol [from the wine] are far more noticeable. In any case, we seal the bottles in vacuum bags and strictly control how long we might have the bottle open when serving it. This is never longer than three or four days.

We transitioned from savoury to sweet with a sequence that substitutes what in France would normally be a cheese course. The first serving was introduced as Musings on walnuts, a title that could aptly describe the two-part sequence showcasing various walnut preparations. Initially, we were each given a walnut along with a golden, vintage nutcracker. This mirrored the beginning of the meal where we were encouraged to crack open almonds with a rock, though this time we were provided with a proper tool for the walnuts. Surprisingly, the walnuts were filled with a piece of smoked walnut and a cube of manchego cheese, having been delicately opened with an oyster knife, stuffed, and then carefully resealed. Apparently, achieving a single intact stuffed walnut typically required three attempts with different walnuts.

The second elaboration, Green walnut with Idiazábal cheese, featured a variety of walnut and shell preparations paired with Idiazábal cheese foam. Starting from the 6 o’clock position, a crunchy piece of fresh walnut stood out for its distinct green freshness. Moving to 9 o’clock, there was a green walnut skin, softened in the OCOO machine, offering a slightly bitter after-taste and a fleshy texture reminiscent of English pickled walnuts. Next in the sequence was a sweet element, a candy made of walnut praline encased in oblaat. The final component at 3 o’clock was a piece of walnut shell that had been softened in sugar syrup for 50 days and flavoured with ratafia liquor. The result was a soft yet leathery texture with aromas characteristic of ratafia including cinnamon, clove, and honey. The transformation from the hard shell we had just cracked by hand to this soft version was striking. The waiter recommended enjoying each component separately and then together with the creamy cheese foam, which brought out the nutty, smoky flavours of aged Idiázabal cheese. The addition of umami from the cheese cleverly complemented the dish, with a brunoise of lime providing a refreshing note.

We followed with the first pre-dessert, Flower explosion. Although the dish was presented in a single plate, it consisted of two main elaborations. On the rim of the plate, there was a honey parfait with a concentrated coulis of tangerine reduced using the girovap. In the middle, a salad of frozen flower petals, frozen juice vesicles – another elBulli technique -, elderflower vinegar powder and pop rock candy. The texture of the honey parfait was similar to whipped cream, aerated and stabilised with gelatine, yet it carried a distinctly pure honey flavour that harmonised beautifully with the tangy tangerine coulis. On the other hand, the frozen flower salad created an experience akin to eating a cold powder, which melted instantly in the mouth, imparting a refreshing, citric sensation along with the delicate pops of the rocks echoing in your head.

As a pairing, we switched to a Sauternes, Château Laribotte 2018.

The second pre-dessert, a Waldorf salad, was a sweet and savoury deconstruction. On the bottom of the plate was a sweet green apple jelly, followed by celery granita, and topped with mustard ice cream and candied/crunchy walnuts. The mustard ice cream was a shocking element. It felt like a cream gelato, where the cream had been infused with mustard until all its floral and nutty notes had been absorbed, with a minimal hint of its pungency. Some mustard seeds within the ice cream provided some crunch as well as a beautiful distinctive look. Interestingly, Alain Passard used to serve a mustard of Orleans ice cream with his gazpacho in the 1990s, around the same time as elBulli’s first savoury ice creams6.

Candied walnuts provided additional sweetness and texture, with the granita helping to recall the classic Waldorf flavours when all the components were put together in a single spoonful. This made for a fun and refreshing dish, straddling the line between a savoury and a dessert.

As we approached the conclusion of our meal, the main dessert arrived – Black apple with noisette butter ice cream and flourless puff pastry. The intention here was to showcase their latest development, the black apple. As with the fermentations earlier, our waiter brought over a trolley with samples, explaining that these apples are preserved under vacuum at 60C for up to three months, peeled and vacuum-packed without any additives. Over time, they confit in their own juices, turning black and soft. We were given a chance to see apples at different stages: freshly peeled, matured for a few days, one month, and two months old. This technique, similar to that used for black garlic, retains more of the fruit’s original flavour compared to the ageing in an OCOO machine, where only the juice tends to retain the flavour.

To package this idea into a coherent dessert, Mateu, Oriol and Eduard resorted to a classic that they had already used in the past – a tarte tatin. Yet, they presented it in a deconstructed form this time. In a surprisingly linear plating, alongside the apples were pieces of caramelised puff pastry, Chantilly cream, and brown butter ice cream.

The linear arrangement seemed to imply that each element should be consumed separately. Starting with the black apple, which was warmed in butter and glazed with its own caramelised juices, the dessert offered a unique, deep flavour that recalled roasted apples with notes of black garlic or deeply caramelised onions. A few drops of vanilla oil pulled these savoury notes back into the realm of desserts, adding a sweet lingering finish. In the centre lay the Chantilly cream, light and infused with vanilla, topped with drops of texturised Calvados to add complexity. To the right was the brown butter ice cream sprinkled with salt and topped with crunchy puffed pastry made from oblaat. Although positioned at opposite ends of the plate, the apple and the ice cream complemented each other perfectly. The temperature contrast between the warm apple and the cold ice cream is a classic for a reason and always works.

To conclude our meal, petits fours were presented on a display that evoked the seabed, complete with dried corals. Though visually striking, the display’s large size made it difficult to see across the table. The assortment included a Basil leaf made from white chocolate and basil, a Raspberry marshmallow topped by a fresh raspberry, and a Raspberry conglomerate designed to mimic caviar, crafted from cocoa butter. The Matcha tea rock, reminiscent of elBulli’s microwave sponge, also had a citric flavour. The chocolate offerings were excellent, especially the mint Cotton candy coated in cocoa powder, as well as the Chocolate and passion fruit liquid bonbon, whose coating of chocolate was as thin as the Dry Martini served at the start of our meal. The delicate chocolate work allowed the fillings to melt as smoothly as the shell, offering a flavour combination similar to Pierre Hermé’s Mogador. The least memorable was the Ginger with chocolate.


The display of culinary artistry and hospitality is impressive, encompassing all operational areas: the kitchen, cellar, dining room, and service. The exceptional value offered at 235€ in 2022 is rare outside Spain, with only El Celler de Can Roca providing a similar experience at this price level. By 2024, the price has increased to 290€.

While the snacks played with a variety of ingredients and textures, the tapas-dishes showcased mainly seasonal seafood and mushrooms. Here, premium ingredients like cuttlefish, oysters, lágrima peas and pigeon were allowed to shine in elaborations that presented them with minimum intervention. Generally, the flavour spectrum spanned from traditional Catalan, Spanish or Italian combinations to more Southeast Asian influences. As it’s common in most of Europe, these Asian influences tended to be less bold in flavours and spices when compared to the authentic versions one could find in Asia or the USA.

Every dessert we tried was outstanding, with the black apple tarte tatin being especially memorable. Consistent with their savoury dishes, the desserts delivered bold flavours, but strived to retain lightness and deliver delicate textures.

In terms of style, the restaurant still draws inspiration from elBulli in its aesthetics and certain concepts, but has developed its own distinctive approach, moving away from minimalism towards more complex and layered dishes. Despite this complexity, the elaborations were balanced and conveyed their concept in a manner that felt coherent. Comparing it to another great elBulli offshoot, Enigma, Albert Adrià has pursued a path that emphasises minimalism, aiming to capture a sense of profound essence that was already present in some of dishes of elBulli’s latest period.

The menu was well structured, following an order that aimed to deliver a harmony of flavours while showcasing their technical tour de force. Sequences around certain ingredients, like nuts or mushrooms, are used strategically as focal points. This approach anchored the menu’s themes and constructed a clear cohesive narrative.

The technical proficiency in the kitchen is evident— the cuissons were finely honed, dishes were served at ideal temperatures, and sauces not only complemented or enhanced the primary flavours but also added textural finesse and length. The use of spherifications is particularly noteworthy, with alginate-calcium gels perfected to the ideal thickness and applied in the right context.

Their effort to develop new techniques is commendable. While none of the new techniques presented were revolutionary, some have opened new lines of work (or paths in elBulli terminology) like their experiments with the OCOO machine, conching fats or the nixtamalised coulants. Others do represent incremental innovations that are meaningful in the field. Notable examples include their advancements in multi-spherifications, multicolour spherifications, their research into various uses of starches, the dealcoholised wine pairings, and making walnut shells edible using the OCOO machine.

We appreciated the meticulous and unobtrusive style of service, with staff ready to engage deeply on the nuances of the cuisine crafted by Mateu, Oriol, and Eduard. Despite the extended duration of our visit, which lasted an impressive five hours due to our numerous inquiries, the attentiveness of the service remained steadfast. The wine service was excellent, with most of the pairings finding good harmonious combinations. Although it may not reach the same transcendental level of harmonisation that we have experienced in Mugaritz in the past, it’s important to remember that Mugaritz often tailors dishes specifically to complement certain wines, giving them an edge.

  1. Cocktails, snacks, tapas/dishes pre-desserts, desserts and morphs (petit fours, really).
  2. Or the Camanini brothers in Lido 84 and the Pourcel brothers in Le Jardin des Sens.
  3. It would later come with the following dish, which included Palo Cortado itself.
  4. sic.
  5. To be fair, we deliberately inquired about this technique after hearing about it in Madrid Fusión.
  6. The earliest documented example of a savoury ice cream dates back to Jacques Maximin’s green asparagus ice cream, which was made before 1984. However, as Ferran Adrià aptly points out, ‘The important thing is not to be the first, but to conceptualise it.’

One comment

  1. Bravo. What a complete and exhaustive review of Disfrutar.
    I totally ‘disfrutsar’ reading this piece of article. Very well research and written. I love the objective and very thoughtful points.

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