Dining at Tickets is like stepping through a funhouse mirror, like entering an Alice in Wonderland-esque culinary playground. Everything you know about eating tapas is flipped upside down — it’s vaguely familiar yet different all at the same time. Your customary bowl of olives is turned into foam, jamón iberico is wrapped around a hollow baguette. The presentation makes you question reality, but the flavors bring you back home. And your white rabbit guiding you is chef Albert Adrià, who yes, wants you to rethink tapas, but most importantly, to have fun.
After leaving El Bulli, the infamous restaurant he worked at with his brother and world-renowned chef Ferran, Adrià wanted to go his own way and start a solo project. Although he and his brother had become acclaimed masterminds of cuisine, the demands of El Bulli had become understandably exhausting. Adrià knew he wanted to open a tapas bar, so that’s what he set out to do at Tickets, his take on a Barcelona tapas bar. But he found his customers searching for that avant-garde spirit, so he realized that he had to encompass that and find Tickets’ style. And while years and years of always being “on” and “100 percent creative” at El Bulli had drained him, he embraced it fully at Tickets, stepping out of his brother’s shadow. “I had to become a monster. Because I’m El Bulli,” says Adrià in his episode of Chef’s Table.
Fifteen-hour workdays helped the staff at Tickets figure out the restaurant’s signature style and allowed it to turn tapas into an haute cuisine experience. Indeed, changing the notion of what tapas look like is avant-garde, especially when dining on tapas is so integral to Spanish cuisine. Old tapas bars are still perfectly preserved in many a Spanish city or village, some upwards of 100 years old. They are antiques that simultaneously honor the past while keeping a tradition alive. The bartender pours your glass of wine, opens a can of mussels in escabeche sauce, and serves it all with toothpicks and bread. It is simple, it is loved, and it is an experience that is uniquely Spanish.
Tickets is also uniquely Spanish, and uniquely Catalan for that matter. Barcelona is home to Modernista architecture from the likes Gaudí and others, who also pushed limits within their own discipline, defining what the city looks like today. Surrealist Salvador Dalí also hails from Catalonia, and Pablo Picasso became part of the Bohemian scene in Barcelona, painting, drinking and painting some more. If there is a place for avant-garde thinkers and creators, it is Barcelona, a place where Tickets can shine. Even the restaurant itself is located on Avinguda Paral-lel, a street that was once home to burlesque theater and nightlife.
So, what exactly will you get when you dine at Tickets? Creativity, first off. Limits are nonexistent here, so when you’re presented a delicate rose and asked to kiss it in order to taste the sphere made of lychee, raspberry and rosewater, you do it. It plays into the fun atmosphere at circus-themed Tickets, which has decorations like giant strawberries hanging from the ceiling and a bright sign showcasing its name. It’s a space meant to be playful, and when you see an ice cream cart being pushed around the restaurant, it’s impossible not to have fun.
You can take a look at the menu beforehand, but part of the experience is to let go. As the restaurant is constantly evolving and changing ingredients with the season, it’s best to let “La Vida Tapa” guide you. And though the restaurant is part of El Barri, the group owned by Albert and Ferran, along with the Iglesias brothers (also big-name Barcelona restaurateurs), it is clear that this Albert Adria’s solo project from start to finish.