In Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy’s Wonka’s factory is a place that swallows you up and makes your worries disappear, where imagination rules over reason and a man in a purple suit and top hat who lives by himself in a factory is considered sane, even charming. Now the only thing more difficult than getting a golden ticket (and gaining entry to Willy Wonka’s fictional factory) is getting into Albert Adria’s very real Tickets in Barcelona. Opened by El Bulli’s Albert and Ferran Adrià in 2011, Tickets is widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world. What began as a casual tapas bar has transformed into a super-modern destination for reimagined Spanish fare.
A few minutes before Tickets opened for lunch on a recent visit, twenty people hovered outside, all with reservations. One couple showed up and was promptly turned away; it felt as though we were all waiting impatiently with our golden tickets. Once inside, the real circus began. There are five chef stations spread throughout the space, each with a different theme, like attractions at a fair. Fran Agudo, the head chef, controls these stations from a big screen to ensure everything runs smoothly. When I sit down with Agudo, I meet him in the dessert room, where massive strawberries and candy canes hang from the ceiling, taunting you to touch one. Heroically, I resist.
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“The decoration at Tickets was inspired by cinema, theater and the circus, because the venue was important for theater back in the ‘20s and ‘30s,” says Agudo. “Avinguda del Parallel was considered the Broadway of Barcelona. You can see now some theaters, but not as many as before. This was kind of a tribute to the cinema and cabaret.”