Sky high in both location and quality, this is cooking with deep roots that reaches for the heavens.
Review: Dos Cielos restaurant, Melia Sky Hotel, Barcelona
The elevator ride from the lobby of the Melia Sky Hotel to the restaurant of twin brothers Sergio and Javier Torres on the 24th floor has a similar trajectory to the recent vertical rise of their media stardom. They have long been charismatic performers at various industry events but they are now rapidly becoming household names across Spain thanks to TV exposure.
Dos Cielos (‘two heavens’), which the brothers started in 2008, has long had a good reputation, and a Michelín star to back it up. Reports this year suggested that the brothers were currently at the top of their game. Buy how to tally that with the fact they must surely be spending less time there than ever before?
I was assured by one of the many young, slick and highly professional front-of-house staff that at least one of the brothers was in the kitchen almost every night. Not, as it turned out, on this particular occasion, but I did receive a phone call at the table from Sergio shortly after that conversation which was a nice touch. As it turns out, los Torres have organized their five-strong brigade impeccably, because what was cooked in front of me in the small open kitchen during my visit ranks as one of the best meals I’ve eaten this year.
The restaurant’s decor isn’t especially distinguished but there’s plenty for diners to feast their eyes on. Huge windows along one wall give panoramic views of the city, surely the best of any top restaurant in Barcelona.
At the end of the main dining area, the stainless-steel open kitchen is a brightly lit stage for the cooks, who turn out dishes for around 20 or 30 guests.
I was sat on a table right next to the action. But there was a slight problem: I wasn’t very hungry. Now I don’t expect sympathy, but a packed reviewing schedule of multiple tasting menus every week for over a month had left me feeling liverish and jaded. The thought of yet another unmpteen-course dinner did not appeal. I mention this only to put things in perpective: I enjoyed what was to come immensely despite not being remotely in the mood for it at the beginning. That’s the mark of a quality restaurant.
The first ‘snack’ in the €110 summer tasting menu (plus €45 wine pairing) was a ‘bizcocho de polvillo’. The dishes helpfully come with little cards explaining some key points (which you are encouraged to read only after the meal), otherwise there’s no way I’d know that is is based on an 18th century Brazilian recipe involving tapioca. It was a little cloying but filled with an intriguing, earthy and almost wasabi-like cream.
A cold, fresh white bean in a fermented broth played successfully with contrasting temperatures, as befitting the season, and was silky smooth.
The first wine, a Domaine Ledogar 2013 Carignan Blanc was served with the first 10/10 dish of the evening, a fresh cheese made with almond milk and flowers, served with fresh almonds and purslane to be smeared on cloud-light blinis. Late-summer bliss.
A Celler Solergibert Conxita Serra Gran Seleccio, Pla de Bages Merlot (2002) accompanied a aubergine dish, which had been whitened and fried, re-wrapped with edible silver around a fragrant, fleshy heart spiked with spices like cumin and coriander, served in exquisite style with amaranth, purslane and dots of sauces including mustard, red pepper and more I can’t remember. The herbs were little firecrackers of flavour, the aubergine subtle and smooth. And it came on a proper plate.
Just look at it. It’s enough to turn you vegetarian.
I was then put to the test by the waiter who served ‘The Chalice’. He asks everyone to try to guess the main ingredient; luckily for me I was spared blushes due to the fact that I’d cooked with some of it only the week before: black garlic. This purple garlic turns dark and liquorice-like due to long fermentation and loses its distinctive pungency. In this context, it was served alongside a peaty Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay malt whisky and a communion wafer. A malty crumble added to the earthiness of the dish, which was autumnal – appropriately for mid-September – and sensual.
Continuing the theme of the changing seasons was a white llanega mushroom (dove-coloured tricholoma, according to Wiki) in a rich, cocido-based broth. My notes here are mainly blasphemous, so I’ll spare sensitive readers from my first vocabulary choices, and just say halleluljah: this is fantastic.
The only criticism of it was a so-so wine pairing, the first and only of the evening to miss the mark. The Costers de Segre Cérvoles Blanc 2013 served didn’t work for me here. Better was the Fernando de Castilla fino that took us to Andalucia for tuna belly with a sauce of Iberian ham, fresh and flavoursome tomato and herbs. I can’t get excited about tuna the way some people do but the jamón here really raised the dish and kept the smile on my face.
The following dish had a Brazilian theme and came with a caipirinha. Cassava ravioli around the meat of male crabs (which have less in their heads than females but are of better quality, apparently; you can insert your own joke here) served in a foaming pool of deep and velvety broth made with palm oil. Simply lovely.
A dish starring a magnificent carabinero prawn from Huelva, served with a Clos d’Agon D.O. Catalunya 2011 white, pulled off the difficult trick of improving on the principal ingredient. The prawn’s legendarily good head juice, often wasted by squeamish international diners, is here refined into a hollandaise, alongside spheres of cucumber, pickles, seaweed and tarragon.
Free-range Extremaduran kid, cooked sous-vide for 12 hours then grilled over oak, served with a reduction jacked up with a touch of anchovies beside seasonal plums, apricots, and homemade breadcrumbs. Wine was a minerally and well-structured Ferrer Bobet 2012 Priorat. A very, very good dish that fell short of being outstanding. Perhaps a touch more black pepper and a heavier hand with the anchovies would not have gone amiss.
At this well-fed stage, and bearing in mind that I wasn’t hungry at the start, you will understand my mixed feelings when the sadistic staff rolled out a groaning cheese trolley. Oh god, I couldn’t possibly. But look at that. Mmmm. Well, go on then…
Cheese: resistance is futile. I worked my way through a Catalan goats’ cheese, two French cows’ cheeses and one Irish but I could have happily had a crack at the lot of them, and cursed the limited capacity of my stomach. A nitrous-blasted marshmallow cylinder of eucalyptus cleared the palate and left me ready to face the final rounds.
¡Viva Mexico! was a fun trip around the country in question, featuring various textures of papaya, melon, coconut and cactus, plus a glass of Torres (no relation) Rocado 100% agave tequila. I’m not 100% convinced that it fits well in the menu, or if it’s what I want in a Catalan restaurant, but regardless of that I really enjoyed it, which is what matters in the end.
The ‘gin tonic’ was gelèe of gin, yuzu, cucumber flowers, a lime spiral and a host of other treasures that added up to a heavenly end result. A great, great dessert.
To conclude, a box is brought to the table containing ‘The Jewel’.
Opening it reveals a chocolate sphere, filled with cupuaçu butter and who-knows-what else. It is a dark star in the choccy firmament, a multi-layered marvel of flavours that gradually reveal themselves, and it left my jaw agape.
Sergio and Javier are making some very special food at Dos Cielos right now. The restaurant must be a strong contender for a second star on this kind of form. The service is excellent from the entire front-of-house team and the cooking consistently hits the difficult sweet spot of being both daring and fundamentally delicious. Criticisms? Very few, and most of them are subjective. There were perhaps one too many wanderings away from Catalonia and Spain in the menu, but the roots of the brothers’ cuisine were still detectable throughout. I prefer wine pairings that mainly stick to wine, but the multi-booze odyssey here was well chosen and didn’t feel forced.
Dos Cielos has been one of my dining highlights of 2015 and I look forward to my next visit with great pleasure .
Dos Cielos: Melia Sky Hotel, Pere IV 272 – 286, 08005, Barcelona; Tel. (+34) 93 3672080; Metro Poble Nou; Closed Sundays