If you don’t want to plan 2 months in advance to score a seat at Albert and Ferran Adrià’s Tickets, check the sports page.
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.
“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.”
The décor and the food work in tandem to entertain patrons. Throughout meal service, a woman pushes an ice cream cart up and down the restaurant, offering almond popsicles. The food feels performative and whimsical as well, with courses such as crunchy octopus with kimchi mayonnaise and piparras, or Bresse quail stuffed with eggplant, tangy anticuchera sauce and quail egg.
Agudo has witnessed both the food and ethos of the restaurant change over time, starting as a stage in 2011 and later becoming head chef.
“People come to Tickets searching for El Bulli,” says Agudo. “But we try to make another sensation—traditional dishes with a twist. We have an evolution of dishes, like a gelatin of gazpacho and a tuna tartare with cherries. It’s not traditional, but it is special. In the first two years, these dishes were meant to be shared with people, but then we started making smaller dishes with a lot of technique.”
Since opening, seats at Tickets have been notoriously impossible to land. To make a reservation, customers must book at least two months in advance. After a New York Times review called the restaurant “the hottest opening of 2011,” their website crashed.
Quite kindly, Agudo offers some tips on how to snag a last-minute reservation.
“We had no-shows when Barcelona was playing [soccer] matches because a lot of locals on that day would not show up,” he says. “So it was a good tip to give to guests that you can try your luck on that day and check if someone cancelled.”
Despite its proven success, Tickets is still evolving. The restaurant will be closing this summer to refurbish their kitchen and mature as a restaurant.
“Tickets started as a very easy-going tapas bar, so the kitchen is not very convenient because it is meant for another kind of cuisine, and now we are struggling a lot to keep up with the complexity of our food,” says Agudo. “An example Albert Adrià always uses is that we have two electric fryers we are not using that much, because back in the day we were making a lot of croquettes. So we need a kitchen that adapts to the cuisine we are doing now.”
We hope they don’t get rid of both fryers. We can’t imagine a world without that crunchy octopus.